Best Restaurants 2022

Cult Burmese Pop-Up Rangoon Bistro Finds a Permanent Home

Tea leaf salad, or lahpet thoke, and seasonal specials are favorites at this former farmers market stand.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton November 21, 2022 Published in the December 2022 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Thomas Teal


o-owners Alex Saw, David Sai, and Nick Sherbo describe Burmese food as a blend of cuisines, including Chinese, Thai, Indian. But there’s one dish that’s purely Burmese: tea leaf salad. While many countries drink tea, Myanmar is one of the only places where tea leaves are eaten.

When the three started Rangoon Bistro in 2018 as a farmers market stand, they drew in hesitant customers with cups of tea leaf salad, or lahpet thoke. The tea leaves, grown in Salem and fermented in-house, are earthy like funky mustard greens. Cabbage and fried lima beans turn it into a textural delight.

It’s the most traditional thing and only permanent item on the menu at Rangoon Bistro, which has since grown into a counter-service restaurant. Sai and Saw, who both left Myanmar at a young age, met working in an Italian restaurant in Malaysia. They bring Italian influence to si chet khao swe, adding the noodles’ cooking water for a glossy sauce that wouldn’t look out of place in a trattoria. Their own creation, khao pyan sane, is a giant, ravioli-inspired corn and ricotta dumpling. It’s sometimes a tad overcooked, but points for taking risks.

Salads are seasonal. In winter, citrus meets chile crisp; in summer, mango mixes with cucumber. Specials change weekly, and the menu gets overhauled every quarter—so act quickly if there’s a dish you love. “When we worked in other restaurants, every day it’s the same thing,” says Sai. Change and creativity, though? “It keeps us alive,” he says. Us, too. 2311 SE 50th Ave,