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Mandalay Kitchen: Burmese Food You Didn’t Know You Needed

St. Paul’s University Avenue is legendary for tons of awesome Asian restaurants, but there might be a new challenger on the block!

Mandalay Kitchen opened in November 2023. It’s been on our to-do list for some time, but otherwise we haven’t heard a ton of buzz about this unassuming spot.

How wrong that is…

We just got back from one of our best meals in A WHILE. Read on to find out why!

DiscoverTheCities.com Approved Menu Items

(In order of how much we love them…)

  1. Knyaw Pumpkin Curry
  2. Tea Leaf Salad
  3. Shan Khao Soi

About Mandalay Kitchen in St. Paul

Mandalay Kitchen opened in November 2023, and the new restaurant is headed by Chef Chris Tunbaw.

Chef Tunbaw grew up in Burma/Myanmar until age 10. In 1996, his family fled the dictatorship, finding themselves in a Thai refuge camp before eventually ending up in Frogtown, St. Paul, just steps from where his restaurant sits today.

In a city that’s packed with Thai food, Vietnamese food, and lots of other Southeast Asian cuisines, Turnbaw hopes to highlight the underrepresented Myanmar cuisine. But that’s also not stopping him from drawing on his unique life history and travels along the way – at Mandalay Kitchen, you’ll find a Pad Thai right alongside a Juicy Lucy! (S.E. Asian -style, that is!)

Fun trivia: The Mural on the restaurant’s exterior portrays Tunbaw’s grandmother. She was the schoolmaster at a refugee camp in Thailand in the 1990s. When Angelina Jolie visited the camp at the same time, her conversation with Tunbaw’s grandmother directly inspired the actress to become involved in the local community.

Location, Vibe & Atmosphere

mandalay kitchen location st pual

Mandalay Kitchen takes over the old Marc Heu Patisserie corner spot on University/Western.

There’s casual restaurant seating downstairs (along with a bustling take out counter) plus an upstairs area that houses additional seating and even a market for traditional Burmese Karen goods.

We found the restaurant to be what I’d call “St. Paul Busy” on a Saturday night – no lines out the door, but the restaurant had a comfortable, lively vibe.

Service is pretty casual, with the wait staff doubling as bartenders and take out servers.

mandalay kitchen vibe and atmosphere

Menu

What is Myanmar cuisine, you ask?

Now, that’s a tough question.

The country borders Thailand on one side and India on the other. If that sounds like the recipe for a melting pot of flavor, you’d be right. (I’m told another factor in the unique cuisine, which I won’t even pretend to be qualified to talk about, is the country’s tumultuous history, which has seen frequent leadership changes and a tragic and seemingly never-ending civil war.)

That melting pot of flavor is on full display at Mandalay Kitchen:

  • For appetizers, the menu includes things like samosas, egg rolls, and burmese falafel dip.
  • Under salads, you’ll find traditional Burmese salads alongside Papaya salads, either Thai or Lao style.
  • For entrees, there’s stir fries and curries galore, and as previously mentioned, even a S.E. Asian spiced Juicy Lucy!

We fell in love with Tea Leaf Salad during a recent visit to Thailand, so we knew that would be a must-order. From there, we consulted the handy “chef’s recommendations” chalkboard (love this!) and eventually decided on a pumpkin curry, khao soi, and you know us… the Chapli Juicy Lucy burger.

Tea Leaf Salad

tea leaf salad

Wow, this took us back. As previously mentioned, we fell in love with this dish while touring authentic Burmese restaurants in Thailand. In fact, we booked our dinner here as soon as we saw this on the menu!

To say it didn’t disappoint is an understatement. This beautiful mix of leafy greens alongside crunch, heat, and acid was just as good as the famous places we ate overseas, and we will certainly be back every time we’re craving this. Which I suspect will be a lot!

Khao Soi

khao soi mandalay kitchen

kao soi

Another famous dish we fell in love with while traveling in Northern Thailand. And once again, Mandalay Kitchen’s version fills some very big shoes.

Put simply – this is a spicy bowl of flavor-packed greatness. Fantastic.

Pumpkin Curry

pumpkin curry

At this point in the meal, we were already sold on Mandalay Kitchen being the real deal. But this was the part of the dinner where, in our minds, this place propelled itself into the “untouchable next-level amazing, we’re gonna call all our friends immediately and tell them how they have to visit this place” level.

Lily took one bit of this Pumpkin Curry and exclaimed that she was having visions of being transported back to Thailand, tasting her favorite Masssaman Curry of the trip after a long day hiking Khao Ngon Nak.

I took a bite and was equally blown away. Guy Fieri would call this Flavortown USA, but I think I’d call this Flavortown World! This was some next level deliciousness. WOW!

Chapli Juicy Lucy

chapli burger

chapli juicy lucy

Gotta love this…

The best way I can describe this is like the spiced-meat filling of an Asian dumpling, but stuffed with lots of American Cheese, of course.

If you’re looking for one of the more unique Juicy Lucies in town, this will hit the spot in spades. It’s the perfect addition for the Minnesotan who might not want to venture too far down the Myanmar corners of the menu.

That said, the rest of the menu is so authentically fantastic, that I will probably focus on those parts of the menu when I come back.

Dessert – Knyaw Iced Salad

dessert

Look at that beaut. Our waitress described it as shaved ice with sweet syrups and jellies, and I’m not sure I could do a better job than that.

Final Thoughts

What a home run.

As we were leaving, we commented how jealous we were of the folks coming in with empty stomachs.

Manadalay Kitchen was one of the most enjoyable menus we’ve explored in a long time. The authentic staples took us right back to our time spent in Southeast Asia, which is no small feat!

We will be back again and again.

…And yes, we did call all our friends on the way home to tell them about how they had to eat here.

Random DTC Protips and FAQs:

Cost?

About $15 an entree, with most appetizers under $10.

Service

Casual wait service, plus the usual Asian restaurant take out operation.

Parking?

There’s a tiny lot in the back and quite a bit of side-street parking nearby.

Reservations?

Yes, although we had good luck walking in on a Saturday.

Location

383 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103

 

Website

https://www.mandalaykitchenstp.com

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