Mingalaba, Portland. (That means "hello.") The oft-neglected cuisine of Myanmar—the official name for the country of Burma—has landed.
Owned by husband-wife duo Kalvin and Poe Myint and open as of February 1, Top Burmese (833 NW 16th Ave) is what they call a "virtual" restaurant. As in ... it's take-out only. The Myints fulfill all their orders via Postmates, Caviar, GrubHub, Uber Eats, and similar services. Kalvin says he will also run pick-up orders of chicken paranthas or coconut rice out to your idling car.
Until now, the salad-centric Southeast Asian cuisine could really only been found in town at NE Killingsworth's BurmaSphere cart, run by part-time chef Tommy Schopp. Schopp—who says he has never been to Myanmar and based his food on recipe book research—was inspired instead by the tastes of Burmese restaurants of the Bay Area, like Burma Superstar.
The Myints know that Bay Area scene—they lived there.
"We moved [to Portland] from San Francisco in 2003," says Kalvin Myint, 41. "Burmese food over there and in LA is not something new. Out here, it's a rarity. When we created our Facebook page and Instagram, it was overwhelming. Lots of our local Burmese community reached out to us. The reception has been super exciting."
The Myints, you see, are also Burmese—both emigrated to the Bay Area from Myanmar as young adults. And this isn't their first food venture; shortly after moving to Portland and falling in love with the city's then-nascent food cart culture, the pair opened their first cart, Taste of Rangoon.
"It was actually a mix between Thai and Burmese. When we purely introduced Burmese at the time, a lot of people didn't recognize what it was," he says. "We had to add something familiar to it."
Taste of Rangoon didn't last long, but with Top Burmese, the duo is aiming to stay, with a focus on traditional recipes from Poe's repertoire. (Kalvin, a tech strategist at Nike by day, handles the marketing and operations.)
The menu is still small—mohinga, the national fish stew, is absent—but the pair has plans to expand it slowly as they go. The ginger salad is bright and fresh with spice and lime juice. The nan gyi thoke, a fresh noodle and chicken salad made with cold, thick rice noodles, dried ginger powder, and chiles is the star of the menu so far. Samosas are lacking in bold flavors and spice but to be added soon: ohn no khao swè, a rich, crave-worthy coconut noodle dish related to Northern Thai khao soi. (Expatriate serves a version.) There's also malt-forward Myanmar beer available by the bottle. The restaurant's most popular dish so far is the lahpet thok, a traditional, pleasantly acidic salad made of fresh lettuce mixed with lime juice, fermented tea leaves, and nuts. Fermented tea leaves? Yep. They taste like pickled herbs. Just go with it.
The Myints hope to offer sit-down dining in the future. In the meantime, a to-go version of their fermented tea leaf salad is available at World Foods—at both the Pearl District and Barbur Blvd locations.