Earlier this year, Mandalay moved from College Park to downtown Silver Spring. What was College Park's loss is Silver Spring's gain. At Mandalay, you'll find some of the best Burmese food in this area. That said, I don't know of any other Burmese restaurants in this area besides Mandalay. The closest place I know of is Straits of Malaya in Adams Morgan.
This might surprise you, but before going to Mandalay, I actually did a little research about Burma, its cuisine, and history. If you look on a map, Burma (or what is now Myanmar) is located right between India, China and Thailand. This is an ethnic foodie's dream cuisine. Burma's cuisine is influenced by each country surrounding it - curries from Southern and Eastern India, noodles from China and Thailand (ok, that might be simplifying it a bit). Mandalay is actually a city in Central Burma. Blah, blah, blah. Enough with the geography lesson. Get on with it!
Well, last Saturday night, Amy and I went to try Mandalay's new location in Silver Spring. When we drove up, the area was not quite what I expected. Bonifant St. is partly residential and partly commercial. Mandalay's façade makes it look like it is an everyday Chinese $7 buffet. On the inside, it doesn't look much different except there is no buffet. Of course for foodies, these things don't matter. It's all about the food. Right?
We were sat quickly - there was no wait. The table next too us looked very satisfied with their meal. There were four people sitting there all of them talking about how they wanted to come back and rubbing their stomachs. Amy and I were enthused by the sight. Not that I needed to see that. Looking at Mandalay's menu online, I was very excited to eat there. The list of salads alone made my mouth water, nevermind entrees like WetThar MoteNyinChin Gyaw (Sliced pork sautéed with onion, sour mustard, and fresh cilantro) or KyetThar KyetHinGarThee Gyaw (Chicken sautéed with bitter melon and onion).
It took a little while for someone to come over and acknowledge us, but that was the only service hiccup the whole meal. The servers were all very friendly and attentive. We were handed the menu, but I already knew what I was planning on ordering. I had planned to start with the Let Phet Thoke (green tealeaf salad) and have KyetThar PinSane/NanNanBin Hin (chicken chunks simmered in onion-tomato curry with basil or cilantro) as and entrée. (I'm not sure what's up with the "/" in the name on the menu. Does the dish have two different names? Guess I should have asked.) Amy took a while to decide what she wanted because she had not previewed the menu ahead of time. Her initial comment was that the menu was large but that most of the dishes were a variation on the same thing. She ended up having the BooThee gyaw (squash fritters) and Nyat KaukSwe Gyaw (flat rice noodles stir-fried with yellow beans, bean sprouts, romaine hearts, crushed peanuts, and lightly fried tofu).
Before I tell you how the food was, I first should say that Mandalay has yet to acquire their liquor license. I kind of knew that this was a possibility before we went there, but I was hoping that they'd received it by the time I'd gotten around to visiting them. Oh well - like I need any more alcohol. Instead I had some hot tea because I've been coming down with something for the last week. The waiter brought me a teapot filled with fresh loose-leaf green tea. It was perfect for my sore throat.
The appetizers didn't take long to come out. With tomatoes, toasted yellow peas, cashews, cabbage, fermented tea leaf, sesame seeds, puffed rice, and Burmese dressing, my green tealeaf salad had a pretty complex flavor to it,. The salad had an overall bitter flavor with a sweet aftertaste. Amy's squash fritters were lightly battered and served with a sauce on the side. The sauce tasted like a combination of soy sauce, sesame seeds and chili oil. Imagine the vegetable tempura that you would get at a Thai restaurant with a slightly thicker layer of breading. Cooked just right, the squash was not mushy and had a firm texture.
We quickly finished our appetizers and our entrees came out soon after. When we ordered out entrees, the waiter asked us how hot we wanted them. Both Amy and I opted for a medium spiciness, but as it turned out, we both could have handled some more heat. When visiting at a new restaurant, you never know how that restaurant will define "spicy". My chicken in tomato-onion curry had a real hearty, comfort-food flavor to it. I don't think I could have had a more perfect dish for my looming cold. There was no dry overcooked chicken in this dish, although they use dark meat in the dish which almost always means you'll get a little gristle. With peanuts, wide rice noodles, yellow peas and fried tofu, Amy's entrée reminded her of a Thai dish. A bite of this dish started with an initial sweetness and ended with a touch of heat.
We quickly finished off our entrees and we ready to move on to dessert. We had seen another table eating the ShweJi (Cream of wheat, coconut cream, sugar, raisins, and milk, topped with poppy seeds, then baked until light golden brown). According to Amy, it tasted "like a macaroon". It had a firm texture like a cake. Overall, this dessert was pretty good. Amy liked it a lot...probably more than I.
At about $32, I would say this was probably one of the cheaper meals we've eaten in a long time. I would say the food was well worth it, despite the lack of atmosphere. Sometimes, though, you just want to go out for a casual meal and be able to get great food at the same time. It's probably too early to tell, but I'd say that Mandalay is just as good as Straits of Malaya, except it's considerably cheaper.
Silver Spring, MD. 20910
Monday-Thursday 11:30 am - 10:00 pm
Friday-Saturday 11:30 am - 10:30 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm - 10:00 pm
(Closed 3:00 pm - 5:00pm Every Day)
Dress Code: Casual
Reservations: Not Accepted
Parking lot on location and on street
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