While there are a few different options, dining on Main Street in downtown Buffalo tends to fall into the category of ‘useful’.
Office workers need places to grab a quick bite. Fans on their way to the arena or theaterneed something to fill their stomach.
The new Rakhapura Sushi and Mutee is a happy exception. Born in 2013 out of a small kitchen in the West Side Bazaar, Rakhapura is a one-stop shop for the most popular Americanized Asian dishes. If you want a California sushi roll, Thai-inspired papaya salad or chicken fried rice, you can have it all on the same plate.
Rakhapura is owed by Khaing M. Thein and Win W. Shwe, a married couple originally from Burma. The restaurant started in 2013 as a food stall at the West Side Bazaar. Thein said issues at that location inspired him to move to Main Street, just south of S Division Street.
You may think it odd for a couple from Burma to be serving food from other Asian countries, but Burma is located at a continental crossroads where many cuisines mix. At Rakhapura, you could order Japanese or Thai food, (the papaya salad ($10) is a fiery symphony of Southeast Asia flavors and textures) but if the chef is a Burmese lady, you should at least try the Burmese food.
The Burmese food I tried at Rakhapura was light, but hardly delicate. Spice, herbs and aromatics trigger all kinds of sensations on the palate. Case in point is the fermented tea leaf salad called laphet thoke ($8), of which the late Anthony Bourdain said: “(It) does not sound good, but you’d be wrong to think that… Simple, delicious.”
Salty and savory, the tea leaf salad has flavor so deep, you’ll be digging around to figure out where the meat is. But there is no meat. The tongue-weighing umami mostly comes from the fermented tea leaves, called laphet. Garlic and lime added balance to the salad. Fried beans and roasted peanuts added crunch.
Mutee soup is another popular Burmese dish on the menu. But speaking recently with co-owner Thein, he convinced me to try the adolescence soup ($9), which comes from the majestic Arakan province of Burma.
“Our soups were very popular at the Westside Bazaar,” he said. “Recently, I created this ‘adolescence soup’ that is very unique. Many customers said it’s better than the mutee soup.”
The ‘adolescence soup’ ended up being a brilliant cauldron of flavors and textures. The familiar combination of lemongrass and garlic bathed healthy amounts of chicken, green beans and cucumber-like calabash melon. (Pro tip: avoid the slices of lemongrass, possibly the chilies if you don’t like ass-searing heat)
The portion sizes were big, and the prices were reasonable, especially for downtown. Beverage options included two types of tea ($2), Burmese coffee ($3) and soft drinks. Cake ($5), mochi ($4) and mango sticky rice ($7) were the dessert options.
While Burmese food isn’t front and center at Rakhapura, Thein said he’s proud to be part of the growing number of Buffalo’s restaurants offering this food. Also, if his customers start demanding more Burmese options, he’ll happily oblige.
“I strongly believe that Burmese food is getting more popular,” he said. “I’m always working to create a better restaurant. I want to hear from my customers. That’s so important, to learn what they want to see in our food. I’m always eager to learn what they want or what gives them comfort.”
Hours at time of publishing (subject to change): Tuesday to Thursday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday CLOSED
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