Welcome to Dining On A Dime a feature in which Eater surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
Yoma Myanmar is one of the oldest serving Burmese restaurants on the West Coast. It's been open since 2001 and continues on these days with a small, but dedicated, staff. The ambience here appropriately reflects the location: A neighborhood dive in the surburban city of Monterey Park, a few miles East of Los Angeles borders. The front room consists of a handful of glass-covered tables and plastic chairs providing seating for about 20. On hot summer days, visitors ought to opt for wife-beaters as the derelict building offers little cooling. Still, despite the architecture and design faults, Yoma remains one of the most precious Asian cheap eats in West SGV. It has been difficult to watch LA food critics traipse by — Mr. Gold waxed merely 78 words on the restaurant in 2003 — without providing deeper insight into Yoma.
Joan Lam, proprietor and head chef, explains that Burmese food has been influenced by Thai, Chinese, Shan, and Indian people. There are at least five distinct types of Burmese curries, all of which are offered at Yoma. And as the fourth owner, Lam has operated Yoma the longest at seven years.
An exotic $20 meal for two at Yoma can be: samusa salad ($5.99) , super funky fish paste ($3.99 and not for the weak) with crudites, and spicy fried catfish ($7.99), all accompanied with rice. Alternatively, order the much-beloved fermented tea leaf salad ($5.99), pork belly with pong yi ge ($7.99, pork belly in Burmese soy bean paste), and finish with Shan noodle salad ($5.99). Sounds too rich and porky? Settle for (mung bean) tofu salad ($5.99), eggplant curry ($5.99), and samusa "soup" ($5.99). Too boring? Go for the mohinga ($4.99, fish curry soup), the off-menu Kachin salad of daikon, cabbage, garlic, green chili, peanut, lemon/fish sauce, fried beef ($7.99) and goat curry ($11.99).
Still not enough choices? Fear not, as there are stir fried bitter melons, fish cake curry with cabbage, Shan Khat vegetable stir fry, sour watercress soup, and a (Bengali) hilsa fish curry. The progenitor of Thai khao soi, ohno khao swe, can be found here as well, in its most primitive form. Is there another restaurant in all of America that offers all of this? It's difficult to say, but we're going with no.
The CliffsNotes read as such: There are perhaps a hundred combinations to order up Burmese flavors at Yoma. Burmese food may be most well known for the tea leaf salad thanks to the San Francisco Myanmar food movement, but don't default to it. Yoma Burmese is so legit it embarrasses the menu at infamous Burma Superstar. Yet it doesn't alienate, nor is there an hour line. One of the oldest employees here is a Latino gentleman who speaks Burmese and has memorized the menu down pat. Ask him for help.
Pro tips: Street parking only, do not park in the Banh Mi Che Cali lot. The $4 breakfast menu of mohinga, oh no khao swe (chicken curry noodle soup), etc. starts at 9 a.m. daily. A $6 two-item lunch combo can be created from 17 choices. There is a wine bottle opener. The back room can be configured to seat 30 upon request.
·All Dining on a Dime in the SGV Coverage [~ELA~]