Myanmar’s beloved Farmers-Market Stand Rangoon Bistro has finally become a restaurant in its own right

Rangoon Bistro is not some wacky restaurant iterating on crab puffs; in fact, it doesn’t serve the eponymous fried wontons. Instead, the place takes its name from Myanmar’s capital from 1948 to 2006, the birthplace of two-thirds of the staff.

After half a decade of selling tea leaf salads and chickpea tofu to weekend farmers’ market – while working day jobs – the trio behind Rangoon Bistro now have a restaurant. The space, on a stretch of Southeast 50th Avenue just off Division Street, is as warm as the richly spiced noodles served there. Windows line the small room; Modest but comfortable dark wood tables and blue-cushioned chairs seat around 30 people. And while this may be a counter service restaurant, don’t take that for a second as a sign that you will be less than genuinely catered for.

Nick Sherbo, Alex Saw or David Sai will greet you personally – the three co-owners are the restaurant’s only full-time employees and are in no rush to change that: can’t we be the mopping people,” says Sherbo.

Although born in Myanmar, Saw and Sai fled the country when they were 15 and spent their formative years cooking in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Ironically cooking everywhere, but Myanmar has left them well equipped to cook Burmese dishes, as the cuisine is largely a mix of dishes adopted from its neighboring countries.

“Every day,” Sai says, “we improve it a little bit.”

The dishes reflect this quest to perfect childhood memories of their native foods.

Take, for example, cucumber thoke ($10) – a Burmese salad. Heaps of grated vegetables rest in blue-rimmed enamel dishes, not at all fussy but full of intention. What you might call cucumber noodles are generously dressed in a bright yellow turmeric oil, slices of Thai chili provide a pleasant heat and a handful of lemony basil packs an aromatic punch – the poached prawns ($4) are a not-so-optional add-on. It’s a salad that causes both a gasp and a smile.

Noodles (which are not cut from cucumbers) are mandatory with all meals at Rangoon Bistro. The menu describes the khao pyan sane ($9) as “a really big dumpling,” and it more than delivers. The gloriously “extra large” rice noodle dumpling is stuffed with ground pork or seasonal vegetables and smoothed in a sweet and tangy chili sauce. It is the size of a baked potato and is wrapped in banana leaves and when sliced ​​becomes a lush bowl.

The Burmese classic si chet khao swe ($16) – wheat noodles with pork shoulder and jowl – combines Saw’s culinary roots with his years of carbonara cooking at Il Lido, a famed Kuala Lumpur restaurant run by the Michelin-starred Italian chef Andrea Zanella. The dish has all the textural markers of a dough that means business, with full-bodied notes of fish sauce, garlicky pork speckled with black pepper, and a bright bloom of mustard greens.

Pork, you will understand, is king at the Rangoon Bistro. Jumbo cubes of pork belly ($17) shake as they hit the table, braised in mango until tender. A Punjabi-style mango relish, enriched with fenugreek and nigella, falls on top – its sweetness balanced by the pleasantly bitter, still-intact mango skins and a Burmese chilli-garlic crisp called balachaung.

Chana dal, peeled and split chickpeas (resembling yellow lentils), are fried and served on salads; powdered, grilled and sprinkled over cold noodles (khao swe thoke, $12); and slowly simmered in a creamy sauce for the rice noodles (tofu nway; $14, $16). When cooked and cooked, chana dal becomes Burmese tofu or chickpeas. The tofu is served both as a salad – chilled and thinly sliced ​​(tohu thoke, $12) and crispy fried as flat dimpled donuts ($11) half the size of a playing card to dip on a vegan ranch.

This dance takes place without hierarchy. No one is chef or room manager at Rangoon Bistro. The three co-owners greet customers, cook during service, develop recipes for the menu, wash dishes and mop the floor – the energy that they form as a capital-T team is palpable.

“We’re not ‘cheffy’ at all,” says Sherbo, the only American on the crew, a conscientious student of Burmese cuisine. “So our bread and butter is about doing all the little things right.”

And this spirit animates the place. The atmosphere is easy and unpretentious, extremely laid back and extremely hospitable. The music is loud, the smiles are big and above all, the food is delicious.

TO EAT: Rangoon Bistro, 2311 SE 50th Ave., 503-953-5385, rangoonbistropdx.com. 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday to Sunday.

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