If it weren't for Hurricane Lane, I would have told you last week that Rangoon Burmese Kitchen, a new outpost of Moiliili's Dagon Burmese Cuisine,
1. Opened mid-August in the old Epic restaurant space on Nuuanu,
2. Is BYOB for now, and
3. Has a 10 percent grand-opening discount going until this Friday, Aug. 31.
Anyhow. I would also have told you that I ate there three times in the first week. The space is sleek and about triple the size of Dagon, and prices, while a couple of dollars more for the same dishes, are still fairly affordable even without the discount.
But the draw is the food: It's at once exotic and familiar, exciting and comforting. Burmese food is a happy melding of Indian spices and curries, Thai herbs and fish sauce, Chinese ingredients and wok stir-frying and native Burmese influences. The menu is mostly the same as Dagon, with roughly the same number of dishes — about 70. In three visits I tried 11 dishes, new and old, with only one miss.
These are the dishes that draw me back.
Pumpkin pork stew, $17. Big chunks of fork-tender pork and potatoes cooked in a gentle, almost imperceptibly sweet stew of pureed kabocha pumpkin with onions, garlic, ginger and other spices. Homey, deceptively simple and memorable.
Mashed potato salad, $8. The most unexpected medley of flavors that's more than the sum of its ingredient list of potatoes, mustard greens, cucumbers, onion, garlic, ginger, fish sauce and garlic and chili oils. The potato flavor you expect is cut through with fresh and pickled hints of tang and a slight kick.
Mango salad, $14 (pictured at top). Fresh ripe mango slivered up and tossed with cashews, onions, fresh herbs and just enough fish sauce to give it an edge.
Coconut rice, $5 (pictured at top). Exotic, rewarding side dish of long-grain rice tossed with crispy dried coconut shavings, fresh herbs and fried shallots.
Moh hin ga, $15. The national dish of Burma. If the menu didn't say this was a fish chowder, you wouldn't know it. The fish is blended into a thick, hearty broth with onion, lemongrass, turmeric and other seasonings. Fat rice noodles up the comfort factor. Good especially on rainy days.
Crispy tofu with salad filling, $12. This is fun to eat; the crispy fried tofu pockets make it unexpectedly indulgent. The fresh-fried skin gives way to creamy tofu enveloping a riot of fresh, herbaceous crunches nestled inside, with lemon juice and fish sauce adding a bright lift.
Tomato shrimp relish with raw vegetables, $12. Spot-on juxtaposition of deep, tangy-rich, slow-cooked sauce with fresh veg. Normally crudites aren't something to get excited about. This one, I took home the tiny portion of leftover sauce. You'll want to pour it on everything: potatoes, pan-fried chicken or fish, steamed okra and cauliflower.
Best tip for trying Rangoon Burmese Kitchen is to go with a group of four or more so you can try all the things that will tempt you. My first time, three of us got through only the first quarter of the menu (appetizers and moh hin ga) before we were full. Second time, we flew through a salad, three entrees and rice. Third time I had to get my favorites from the first two times.
The only miss? A new item, the brussels sprouts with dried fish. Exactly what it sounds like, and less than the sum of its parts.
If there are only two of you, get the first four dishes here. Or be like me and just keep going back.
Rangoon Burmese Kitchen
1131 Nuuanu Ave.
Mon-Sat 11am-2pm and 5-10pm, closed Sunday
Parking on street or in Pauahi Street municipal garage on next block between Smith and Nuuanu (entrance on Beretania)
- Photos by Thomas Obungen