Top Burmese Introduces Portland to the Flavors of Myanmar, and They’ll Bring It Right out to Your Car

Why choose between quality and speed when you can have both?

(Sage Brown)

In the press gauntlet leading up to its opening in February, Top Burmese co-founder Kalvin Mylint made frequent mention that his forthcoming establishment would be a "virtual restaurant." Considering the sheer volume of takeout joints that now thrive on an endless stream of GrubHub and Postmates drivers to send their food out into the ether, the concept isn't quite as space-aged as Mylint puts on. Still, it takes gusto to accept the fact that customers would rather grab their food to go than hang out in a dining room. In that regard Mylint has put his money on the right horse.

(Sage Brown)

That's not to say you can't dine in at Top Burmese, but it's not entirely unfair to write off its humble "dining room"—which consists of a pair of square stainless steel prep tables, wooden stools and mood lighting probably procured from the Destination: Dorm section at Target—as a concession to hungry passersby who park their cars under the Interstate 405 overpass every day. You'll wonder why Mylint chose the bottom corner of a nondescript building in Slabtown over a food cart with higher visibility, but the few minutes spent waiting for your food reveal the true utility of a bigger kitchen space, which allows Top Burmese to crank out a handful of fantastic dishes with ruthless efficiency few cart-bound operations could match. Why choose between quality and speed when you can have both?

Given the profound popularity of the cuisine of its neighboring states, it's surprising that Burmese food has been a relative outlier up until now. Top Burmese aims to change that, and its unfussy take on dishes that are distinct yet accessible for fans of Laotian or Thai fare is certainly a step in the right direction. A good place to start is the la phet thoke ($12.50), a signature Burmese cabbage salad dusted with peanuts, seeds and a small ramekin of fermented tea leaves that serve as its meat. It doesn't sound like much on paper, but the warmth and subtle bitterness of the tea leaves go a long way to liven up a dish so simple and perfect you'll probably try to replicate it on your own and fail.

(Sage Brown)

After that, one of four noodle dishes serves as the meal's centerpiece. The nan gyi thoke, or chicken noodle salad ($8.50), is the best value and boldest flavor on the menu, with a heaping pile of warm rice noodles serving as the bed for hard-boiled egg, a chunky chicken curry sauce, fried garlic and a generous dusting of highly addictive tamarind powder. A little of this salty and effervescent dust goes a long way, but you should definitely ask for an extra shake if you're not worried about your sodium intake. It's easy to swap out the chicken for tofu for a vegan option if that's your thing, as the main attraction in most of these dishes is the seasoning and composite texture rather than the specific protein itself.

Equally as impressive and meat-free are the samosas ($7.50), which feature a golden-brown crust that's firm and crispy on the outside and loaded with rich potatoes, carrots and beans on the inside. I plowed through half the order before finding a tiny cup of Top Burmese signature sauce tucked under the foil, and though the samosas are perfect on their own, the vinegary tang of the sauce is a fine complement to the savory innards. If all you want is a hot and quick snack to stave off hunger at your desk, these and the tea leaf salad are an ostensibly healthy and convenient way to get through the day.

(Sage Brown)

A selection of rich curries round out the second half of the menu. More traditional options that are simply rice and a curry-doused protein can be found here, but the real star is the paratha ($8.50), which features a soft flatbread roasted in avocado oil and covered in curried chicken or pork. It's one of the few items on the menu you might tackle in your car, and the fact that Top Burmese offers curbside delivery service means you can smash one of these on the way home from work in lieu of a Crunchwrap Supreme.

Just give Top Burmese a ring or connect to its menu via one of the 10 delivery apps we counted, park your car and enjoy the exotic flavors of Myanmar with a bare minimum of human interaction. The premise itself is old news by now, but it still feels like a marvel of the future when it's pulled off so flawlessly.

EAT: Top Burmese, 833 NW 16th Ave., 11 am-5 pm Tuesday-Friday and 5-9 pm Thursday and 5-11 pm Friday, 5-11 pm Saturday.

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