Alhambra's NADI Myanmar Cafe Is Rich With Bold Flavors
Mote hin khar, or mohinga, is the first thing listed on the menu at NADI Myanmar Cafe. It's also boxed in with the "breakfast" category.
Seeing as how we're used to appetizers being listed first, and how we often treat breakfast as a quick prelude to the rest of our day, you may mistake mohinga as something fleeting. But fans of the dish know it as a rich and satisfying soup, one that's somehow both flavorful and understated.
As noted by NPR, mohinga is the de facto national dish of Myanmar. You can find it in household kitchens, in roadside stands, in restaurants with a loftier price range. It is, in fact, served for breakfast, but it's also acceptable around the clock (yes, the breakfast menu is all-day at NADI). Preparation starts with catfish fried in a pan, which is then shredded into thin flakes, and added to a soup that carries the heady vapor of onions, fish sauce, lemon grass, tumeric, and ground pepper, among other things. Rice powder is also added to give the soup a thicker consistency.
Burmese food, while not exactly ubiquitous in L.A., can be found in certain pockets in the San Gabriel Valley, and mohinga is served at many of these establishments. While our scope is admittedly limited, we have to say that, so far, NADI's take on the soup is our favorite. Its appeal is immediate. Fragrant and peppery, the flavors come at you all at once. At other places, the dish is a bit more modest in flavor, but NADI lets everything hang out.
There's also a small helping of vermicelli; while it can be a big feature in other soup noodle dishes, here it's added merely as a means of giving the soup a fuller body, and bringing in a different texture to liven things up (though there's no reason for you to get bored). Also, shards of corn fritter top off the whole enterprise. They somehow maintain their crisp even as they're drowning in the soup. It almost makes you giddy to bite into one of these.
Certainly, there are other dishes of note at NADI. The kyay oh, another traditional favorite, is less ostentatious in flavor, but very satisfying as a cold weather dish. Here, a heap of vermicelli swims in a sea of pork bone broth. The meatballs of ground pork are nicely marinated, and samplings of offal draw out the taste of the broth. And NADI's curries, served with either chicken or pork, are sharp and lively. They suggest the potential of heat, but never quite ignite. Naturally, a large plate of white rice serves as a contrast in tone.
For a dry option, you can hang with NADI's noodle salads. You'll have to re-tool your idea of the term "salad," however, as the plates include prodigal helpings of noodles dressed in aromatic sauces. The khauk swe thoke includes thick egg noodles, while the nan gyi thoke is a spread of rice noodles garnished with pieces of chicken. The appetizers are similarly generous. The pa zon kaute kyaw is a liberal mix of fried shrimp and bean sprouts. The samosas are filled with potatoes that are deftly spiced, making each bite a profound experience.
Also, take note that the chefs regularly turn out surprises that aren't on the main menu, so be sure to ask the server if there's anything new that week. And did we mention that our meal (for four people) came in at under $40? Surely an embarrassment of riches for us fair customers.
NADI, as the manager tells LAist, just opened back in November. This may explain why the facade is still largely unmarked. It's a little curious how inconspicuous the restaurant seems from the outside, as the menu is geared at making big statements.
NADI Myanmar Cafe is at 5 N. 4th St, Alhambra, (626) 782-7249.