I’m not sure what Buffalo did to deserve Burmese restaurants, or if I even believe in civic karma to begin with, but this I do believe: they are a blessing. At once familiar and exotic, Burmese cuisine’s melding of Thai and Indian – two once-scary cuisines now blended into our dining vernacular – makes it one of the safest bets in town for seekers of edible adventure, offering new routes to satisfaction for every eater in town, from unapologetic carnivores to earnest vegans. If I haven’t convinced you to try Burmese yet, perhaps the story of my dinner at Lin Restaurant, Buffalo’s fourth Burmese place, will get ’er done. ¶ Lin Restaurant is across Tonawanda Street from the southeast corner of Riverside Park. Owner Khin Maung Soe started selling his countrymen groceries on Grant Street before opening a restaurant in December with his wife, Thain Hla.
He has another Asian grocery here; turn right in the vestibule to enter the restaurant.
Inside, the dining room has been lined with wall-sized color photographs of Burmese sights.
The menu features salads, soups, noodles, curries, stir-fries and seafood dishes, separated into Burmese and Thai. Choose your own adventure from a palette that ranges from placidly comforting to hurts-so-good spicy.
Samusas ($4 for four) are crispy-skinned fried Burmese ravioli stuffed with curried potatoes and onions or chicken, and served with gently spiced ketchup. It’s a dish that’s nonthreatening to the point of boring. Paratha with chickpeas ($4) is a multilayered griddled flatbread with a dab of tender garbanzos simmered in sesame oil and spices and topped with fried shallots. It’s a satisfying vegan snack. The menu’s vegetarian section offers four entrees, like spicy eggplant with basil ($8).
Owno koksware is a chicken noodle soup that has soothed the jangled nerves of many a Burmese restaurant first-timer. The broth, gingery and golden with turmeric, was enriched with coconut milk and thickened with a pinch of chickpea flour, making it slightly grainy. It was loaded with egg noodles, tender chunks of chicken and sliced hard-boiled eggs, and topped with crunchy noodles.
Another safe bet is pad see u ($10 with pork), a Thai stir-fried noodle dish that starts with big flat rice noodles and tosses them in a blazing wok with egg, carrots, Chinese broccoli, baby corn and sweet soy sauce until it caramelizes and picks up a wisp of smoke. Then it’s topped with chopped peanuts and scallion, and sent out with a lime for squeezing. Perfectly harmless, even a little bland. “It’s the mac and cheese of Asian noodle dishes,” Cat said.
Slightly more adventurous: Le phet thoat, or tea leaf salad ($7), a revelatory plateful of Burmese deliciousness. The Burmese pickle the best leaves of green tea plants, drying the rest to drink. At Lin Restaurant, the pickled greens are tossed with shredded cabbage, chopped tomato, roasted peanuts, fried beans, sesame seeds, garlic oil, lime juice and topped with tiny dried shrimp. It’s tangy, crunchy, juicy, savory, and those dried shrimp? Not scary at all. They’re raisins of the sea.
Ginger salad, or gin thoat ($7) is also worth meeting. It uses tender shredded ginger as a vegetable, tossed with a similar lineup of crispy peas, peanuts, cabbage, onion, tomato, and lime juice before being crowned with crispy fried garlic. There’s a light ginger burn, but it’s remarkably refreshing.
From the Thai side, we tried a lively tom kha gai, chicken coconut soup with tomato and mushrooms ($3), and soothing yellow curry with beef and potatoes ($13). Both were solid versions, though the curry was weaker than I like. The papaya salad, som tam ($7), was worthy, too. Shredded green papaya was tossed with tomato, long bean, and carrot in a lime dressing and a sprinkling of dried shrimp.
Burmese curries are built on cooked-down caramelized onion, ginger, turmeric and other spices. Lacking cream, they seem more intense than like many Indian versions, though tamer in chile heat level. The pork belly curry and chicken curry (both $8) were a small helping of tender meat topped with fried shallots and surrounded by a pool of golden oil. There was too much fat in the pork for some diners, but the bone-in dark meat chicken won universal favor.
Then there was the fish that got me in trouble. It was a fried whole sea bass doused in a Burmese chile-garlic-lime sauce ($23). You can get fish steamed, or topped with a pineapple vegetable combo, too. Not me, though. I’m all about that bass. Deboned, you can eat it stem to stern, dunking the crispy-skinned hunks of tender flesh in a rousing, addictive sauce that did a sweet-sour-funky tango on my tongue. I kept eating it with my hands, even after Cat shot me warning looks. The salads and that fish were the best versions I’ve had in town.
Service was amiable but sluggish, with one or two other tables filled. We had no language issues, and eventually got fresh plates when we asked for them.
Lin Restaurant is a Buffalo family restaurant that, like many others, offers competent cooking at a fair price. It happens to be run by Burmese people. Now that the Burmese are part of the Buffalo family, sharing their pride-and-joy dishes with their adopted community, stop by when you’re hungry sometime, and say hello to your new neighbors.
Lin Restaurant - 7
Solid family restaurant adds Burmese to Riverside sit-down dining choices.
WHERE: 927 Tonawanda St. (260-2625)
HOURS: Burmese traditional breakfast 8 a.m. to noon; main menu from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, salads $4-$12; curries, noodles and entrees $10-$23.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No, three steps.