LA Has Awesome Burmese Food. Here's Where To Find It
Although you don't need to be a student of Myanmar's history to appreciate its cuisine, a little context never hurts. In 1948, what was then called Burma — an expansive nation bordering Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and China — secured its democratic independence. It quickly turned into a dictatorship and, since the 1960s, has been embroiled in a series of civil wars and genocides. Throughout the last 40 years, more than 670,000 Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in the predominantly Theravada Buddhist Rakhine State, have been displaced or killed, according to Human Rights Watch. They and other groups from Myanmar have become among the most diasporic peoples in modern history, with millions of expats living and working in countries around the world.
If there is any silver lining to this widespread displacement, it is that thousands of Burmese emigres have settled in Southern California (often by way of the Bay Area), bringing with them one of the richest culinary traditions in the world.
Like Myanmar itself, which remains ethnically heterogenous, L.A.'s Burmese food scene is a wonderfully wild stew of disciplines, recipes and locations. No two versions of a classic Burmese dish, whether it's a tapioca-filled mote leht saung coconut drink or a lahpet thoke tea leaf salad, taste the same. Whether you're already a hardcore fan or you're looking to explore the cuisine, these seven eateries are peak destinations.
NADI Myanmar Café
Many of the best Burmese joints in greater Los Angeles, like NADI, are in the San Gabriel Valley. The creation of Burmese-born restaurateur Si Thu, it's now in its fourth year of business in Alhambra. Eating there requires you to navigate a tight, two-hour-maximum parking lot, but it remains a charming spot. Revolving specials like fish with tomato rice pilaf or house-pickled seasonal vegetables keep regulars coming back. Staples like the garlicky curried spare ribs (#28) and giant bowls of kyay-oh sichet soup (made with ground pork, pork brains, pork intestine, quail egg, tofu, fish cake and mustard greens) (#22) are almost upsettingly generous at $10.50 and $10.99, respectively.
5 N. 4th St., Alhambra. 626-278-0144.
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Mutiara Food & Market
Myo Aung is the face most readily associated with Mutiara Food & Kitchen, the bustling South Bay café he owns and operates. Angelenos became accustomed to seeing him at Culver City's Jasmine Market, the halal Burmese restaurant Aung launched in 2007. While Jasmine remains open under new leadership (see below), Mutiara, now in its 10th year of business, has become every bit its equal as a source for street food with a Burmese Malay bent. We've written before about our love of international pancakes, so we never skip the murtabak stuffed with ground chicken. Vegetarians will prefer the kangkong, salty sautéed watercress drenched in Malaysian-style house sambal. If you want to avoid meat, beware the mislabeled sayur campur goreng. Its ingredients, listed as "mix vegetables," don't mention the fact that the recipe includes dried shrimp.
225 S. La Brea Ave., Inglewood. 310-419-7221.
If one restaurant had to serve as Southern California's ambassador for Anglo-Burmese cuisine, it would be Monterey Park's beloved Yoma Myanmar, thought to be Los Angeles's oldest Burmese restaurant. Yoma and its proprietor, Z Gyung "Joan" Lam, are widely acclaimed, and for good reason. Nothing here is less than great. Shallot-heavy shan noodle soup, with or without the broth, is stellar comfort food. Sugary, tender beef curry and fried mini-shrimps in blood-red chili paste make for a rich combination of sweetness and spice. Chin baung ywat, fried roselle leaf, is so tart it curls your tongue. The wonders of a meal here extend beyond the food; it's clear Lam reveres the community and recipes of her home state, Kachin. The restaurant is handicap-accessible with free street parking for several blocks
713 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park. 626-280-8655.
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Daw Yee Myanmar Corner
The late Jonathan Gold was fond of Daw Yee, a cool enclave in a crusty Silver Lake strip mall, where it's easy to drop $50 on a quick lunch for two. Daw Yee's portions aren't as generous as some of the other restaurants on this list and the parking-challenged brick-and-mortar is forced to make its steep Sunset Blvd. rent by charging high prices. Nonetheless, even their simplest dishes — mashed garbanzo bean triangles called platha, asone thoke noodle salad, garlic noodles with shredded duck — are gorgeous to look at and comforting to eat. If you can, come here when your friend who just sold a pilot to HBO is footing the bill.
2837 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. 213-413-0568.
Cetana Mon Myanmar Restaurant
A few bites of Cetana Mon Myanmar's buu thee kyaw, an appetizer of opo squash tempura, can be dangerous. Cut into three-quarter-inch strips and flash-fried in sticky rice flour, it arrives on a whopping plate of five golden fritters that could be a meal on its own. As delicious as it is dipped in housemade chili sauce, don't let it distract you from Cetana's #1 dish, its signature rice vermicelli mohinga, a soup of mashed chickpeas joined by white fish cakes and coriander leaves with a heavy dose of black pepper and chilled and chopped squash. The result is both comforting and unusual. Who says you can't have your opo and eat it, too?
3944 Peck Rd. Suite #8, El Monte. 626-522-1445.
Jasmine's Halal Market & Deli
The 1,000-mile Indo-Burmese border is notoriously porous and no Burmese restaurant in Los Angeles skews as close to serving Indian cuisine as Jasmine's (formerly Jasmine). Saeed Bholat, the canny chef who assumed management of the joint earlier in 2019, seems to be operating at the heart of a perfect Venn diagram. His menu features familiar Yangon dishes like mohinga and Burmese tofu paya soup with cow's feet; Mughlai-style keema paratha (multi-layer flatbread slathered in ghee) with spiced ground beef; and massive plates of chicken biryani. The clay oven-baked naan is as good as it gets. With his conscientious renditions of Burmese and Indian food, Bholat is like Los Angeles's culinary Frank Sinatra: An expert who takes standards and makes them his own.
4135 1/2 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. 310-313-3767.
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Last winter, the Los Angeles Times hipped us to the second (or third, depending who you ask) rebirth of chef Matt Kyin's edible historical lecture series, Myanmar101. In the dining area in his Echo Park art gallery, 88 Monks, Kyin has created one of this city's most enticing food pop-ups. The menus he and his mother design for their monthly extravaganza are lessons in Burmese street culture. This summer, they include paratha tacos with Burmese beef curry, house greens and pickled onions; traditional coconut chicken curry over noodles with mung bean powder; and the chef's signature take on lahpet, a salad made with fermented tea leaf dressing. In Kyin's words, "We love sharing our culture and story alongside delicious food."
625 N. Alvarado St., HiFi. firstname.lastname@example.org.