First Look: Rangoon Burmese Kitchen

Honolulu’s newest Burmese restaurant hits high marks with an extensive menu of curries, salads, soups, rice dishes and more.


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Biryani

Biryani 
Photos: Katrina Valcourt

 

When Restaurant Epic closed last year, downtown workers anxiously awaited the spot’s next tenant. Then we heard that the owners of Dagon, the Burmese restaurant near UH, were opening a new concept there. Just like that, we were sold.

 

Burmese food is a bit of a combination of Thai and Indian, with spices, curries and stews. (No wonder, since Myanmar—formerly known as Burma—is located between Thailand and India.) Rangoon is the former name of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and former capital.

 

Hanging umbrellas

 

Rangoon Burmese Kitchen had its soft opening in August. Colorful umbrellas hang from the ceiling, with a gong near the entrance and festive artwork adorning the walls. Bottles of wine stacked near the back seating area are just for show, as the restaurant is currently only BYOB. (There are no beverages available other than some soft drinks and water.)

 

SEE ALSO: The Best Wine For Any Restaurant: A Complete Guide to BYOB Wine Pairing in Hawai‘i

 

Three of us went in around 11:45 one morning and found only a few tables occupied. We were seated right away and completely overwhelmed by the menu, which had more than 70 shareable items, typically between $14 and $16, separated into appetizers, soups, salads, noodles, pork, chicken, beef/lamb, seafood, vegetables and sides. We decided to order methodically: one appetizer, one curry, one signature Burmese dish and one rice dish.

 

Samusas

Burmese Samusa
Photo: Enjy El-Kadi

 

Our samusas ($12) came four to an order, steaming hot and filled with flavorful potato, onion and mint with a spicy garlic chili sauce for dipping. The crunchy outer layer is thinner and flakier than other pielike variations of this dish, which lets the filling take center stage. These triangular dumplings are a great introduction to Burmese flavors but were the least memorable of our meal.

 

Tea leaf salad

Rangoon Tea Leaf Salad

 

The dish I was looking forward to the most was the tea leaf salad. Ever since trying the one at Dagon, with stacked ingredients in a little tower, I haven’t found anything comparable. It has so many flavors and textures; miraculously, none overpowers the others. Here you can get the tea leaf salad ($14) with fermented green tea leaves, Romaine lettuce, garlic chips, beans, peanuts, split peas, sesame and sunflower seeds, tomato, jalapeño and lime, or you can get the Rangoon tea leaf salad ($14), which also incorporates cabbage, fish sauce, fresh garlic and red chili. We went for the Rangoon—though the garlic was a little strong, we had no complaints. One of my dining partners said this version reminded her of the scene in Ratatouille where Remy combines the grape and the cheese and sees fireworks.

 

Biryani

Biryani

 

We were also looking forward to the biryani, which is a popular rice dish from India to Southeast Asia. Here you can order it with a choice of chicken, beef or lamb ($20 to $22). We were surprised to receive it in a clay pot with a crust covering it, kind of like a pot pie without the sauce. We peeled away the crust to reveal a colorful mix of spiced basmati rice with raisins, tomato, mint, fried onion, coriander and cashews, along with lamb. This was a surprise hit for me, but even after second and third helpings, the three of us had plenty left over.

 

Pastry on biryani

BIRYANI topped with a flaky, buttery pastry crust

 

As for the crust, we dipped it into our chicken curry ($16): large, thick pieces of dark meat with potato, garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, paprika and fish sauce. We requested small bowls so we could mix the curry into the biryani and got to dunking. Thankfully, nothing we had was too spicy, which can sometimes make the flavors hard to distinguish from one another. And unlike Thai cuisine, which relies heavily on coconut milk, nothing we ordered featured it; only a small handful of items on the menu use it, including the oh noh kauswe (coconut noodle soup), coconut vegetable curry and beef or lamb coconut curry. For me, that was a big plus since strong coconut flavors are the main reason I don’t eat a lot of Thai food. Burmese cuisine has found a way to perfectly balance many ingredients in every dish, and that’s definitely the case at Rangoon.

 

Chicken curry

Chicken curry

 

With a menu so extensive it’s hard to call any dish a favorite, we look forward to returning at least a dozen more times to narrow it down.

 

Rangoon Burmese Kitchen, 1131 Nu‘uanu Ave., open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner Monday through Saturday, (808) 367-0645

 

READ MORE STORIES BY KATRINA VALCOURT

 

 

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