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5 Things to Know About Mandalay Kitchen, Bringing Cuisine from Burma and Beyond to Frogtown

Hot curries, savory-sweet noodle dishes—Mandalay Kitchen is the real deal.

Em Cassel|

Mandalay’s mohinga, an essential Burmese dish.

Welcome back to "5 Things," Racket’s recurring rundown of new, new-to-us, or otherwise notable Twin Cities restaurants.

Today we're taking you to Mandalay Kitchen, a cozy St. Paul lunch and dinner spot that opened in the former Marc Heu Patisserie space in November. The restaurant, from chef Chris Tunbaw, is named for the city of Mandalay; Tunbaw, who is Karen, immigrated to Minnesota in the late 1990s, and his menu is inspired by childhood experiences in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand, and Southeast Asia more broadly.

Here are five things you know before you hit this cute new Frogtown spot.

1. Say Hello to Mohinga

That dish pictured up top? That's mohinga ($12.95), a catfish chowder that's often referred to as the national dish of Myanmar. A colorful chalkboard above Mandalay Kitchen's register explains that the recipe differs from region to region—in Shan State it's common to add pounded soybeans, in Arakan State they add more fish—but throughout the country, you'll find mohinga, loaded with noodles and flavorful herbs.

The soup is often served at room temperature, and this bowl certainly was, which you may find a bit jarring—but wow, what flavor. The peppery broth is packed with stuff: fish cakes, crunchy split pea fritters, fresh herbs, a whole hardboiled egg. The resulting flavor is complex and earthy, and a little bit sour, with an absolute umami overload. Fish freaks will flip!

2. The Menu Travels to Burma and Beyond

Mandalay Kitchen's noodle soups, curries, stir-fry dishes, and salads draw heavily from chef Chris Tunbaw's childhood. Tunbaw grew up in a "melting pot" near the Burma-Thailand border, eventually fleeing to a refugee camp in Thailand to escape his country's military dictatorship. The menu reflects that experience, and it's representative of the food Tunbaw came to love after relocating to St. Paul and exploring the Little Mekong Cultural District.

Bayar kyaw, left, and Burmese stuffed tofu, rightEm Cassel

3. It's Snack Central

We loved Mandalay's bayar kyaw ($7.95), a seasoned, deep-fried Burmese falafel. Their crispy, tawny brown exterior gives way to a soft, neon-yellow center; I wrote "little discs of joy" down in my notes, and stand by it. The accompanying hot sauce was so tasty we also dipped the Burmese stuffed tofu ($8.95) in it, and it was tough to winnow down our appetizer choices down to just these two. The Yangon samosa and fried chicken wings with laab dry rub were also calling to us.

4. ...And Comfort Food Central

The pumpkin curry ($16.95), listed alongside mohinga on the "chef's recommendation" board, boasted a sneaky heat and huge hunks of squash and potato. The green curry ($13.95) was similarly hearty, its brightly colored roasted veggies shining in the spicy-sweet sauce. And the khao soi ($13.95) was classically perfect, bursting with flavor and texture, a common thread among all the dishes we tried. Everything was steaming hot, and served in portions—the curries, especially—that made 'em work for lunch the following day, too.

Inside Mandalay Kitchen's bright, plant-filled spaceEm Cassel

5. But You'll Have to During the Weekend to Get the Southeast Asian Juicy Lucy

We visited mid-week, when, to our mild disappointment, it turns out the Chapli Burger—chef Tunbaw's riff on a Jucy Lucy, as teased in Eater ahead of Mandalay's opening—isn't available. Tunbaw's version draws inspiration from the chapli patties his mom cooked when he was a kid in Myanmar, with spiced meat and yogurt sauce. It sounds heavenly. Swing by Friday through Sunday to try it for yourself, and let us know how it is, would ya?

Mandalay Kitchen
Address: 383 University Ave W., St. Paul
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

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