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$20 Dinner

Burmese Bites Brings Their Big, Funky Flavors to Midtown 

"My motto is: Burmese food should be known throughout the world."

Shan kaukswe and beef curry, $15 each. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Myo Lin Thway and his wife, business partner, and head chef Rebecca Nant began a mission a decade ago to bring the food of their homeland to a broader audience here in their adopted city of New York. At first, the couple set up a tent on the streets of Elmhurst and at church gatherings, before joining the Queens Night Market in 2016 under the name Burmese Bites.  

Back then—and, to some extent, still today—the star of their show was their keema palata, a Burmese flatbread filled with chicken, onion, and egg that Thway rolls, stuffs, and griddles in theatrical fashion at both their night market stand and at their three-year-old booth at the Queens Center Mall.  

And just last week, Thway and Nant opened their first Burmese Bites outpost in Manhattan, in the form of a modestly sized booth in an otherwise unremarkable lunch spot called Mona's Kitchen, located a block away from the United Nations.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"My sister works at the UN," Thway told Hell Gate, "and one day, she saw that this place was empty, and talked to the owner to see if he wanted to lease it out. And the owner said, 'Yeah sure why not.'" She then called Thway and told him about the space. "I said, 'Yeah, sure, why not, let's give it a try!' So here we are." 

Before you get too excited, there's no grill at Mona's for them to use, so there's no keema palata on the Manhattan menu. But definitely still get stoked, because the five dishes they're serving here are all terrific. I spent 16 years in the '80s and '90s eating mid-ass Midtown lunches and, although I gather things have improved a bit, back then, I would have killed for a bowl of Nant's shan kaukswe, a lovely tangle of rice noodles laden with big, funky flavors from minced chicken in tofu paste, fermented mustard greens, and plenty of chili powder. 

Shan kaukswe, or Burmese rice noodle salad, with chicken meat sauce, $15. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

I would have also needed a nap. The portions at the new Burmese Bites, served in bowls leftover from the previous tenant (some sort of poke spot, it seems) are enormous. Really, if you can restrain yourself from finishing it in one go, you could probably get lunch and dinner out of a single serving.

Another epic dish at the new Burmese Bites is Nant's impossibly tender beef curry over white rice, a Manhattan exclusive that Thway told us he wanted to introduce mostly because it pairs really well with balachaung, which he described as a "stinky fish paste" beloved in Burma but little seen in New York City. "It's our kimchi," he said. "If the Japanese can introduce sushi to America, and Koreans can introduce kimchi, why can't I do that with balachaung?" Why not indeed! It's potent and delicious. 

Beef Curry with fish balachaung, $15. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There's also a thick udon-style rice noodle salad with chicken and fish sauce, a wheat noodle coconut ramen dish, and the zippy dum pot biryani, which features a huge hunk of saucy chicken over a mound of well-seasoned basmati rice. Everything is halal, and everything costs $15.   

Dum pot biryani with braised chicken, $15. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Mona's has a bunch of seating scattered around the sprawling space (in addition to Burmese Bites, there's also a burrito bar and a bibimbap stand), but the move here is to snag a table at the pocket park next door and have a picnic. 

"A lot of people ask if this Burmese Bites is temporary, but I hope it's going to be here for a long time," said Thway. "If everything goes according to plan, I want to expand somewhere else too. This is just the beginning. My motto is that Burmese food should be known throughout the world."

The Manhattan Burmese Bites is located inside Mona's Kitchen at 310 East 44th Street, between First and Second Avenues, and is currently open on Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

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