We're spoiled by the scope of Asian food in Los Angeles, having the luxury to choose between a Gujarati vegetarian feast or Punjabi-style tandoori dishes, ramen hailing from Hokkaido or Sapporo. But when it comes to Burmese food, it's likely that most of us can count the number of restaurants serving it with one hand and the cuisine's notable dishes with the other.
Shwe Lynn Chin opened the Golden Owl in La Puente for this very reason, intent on making mohinga (a fish vermicelli soup considered Burma's national dish), coconut chicken noodle and rainbow salad just as commonplace. Now in a soft-open phase, Chin is still tweaking the menu and trying to streamline kitchen protocol. At the moment, the restaurant features a reasonably priced, one-page menu with options ranging from noodles to rice bowls to sandwiches.
Chin began setting up the Golden Owl earlier this year, after having left her job as a molecular biology lab researcher at City of Hope. The idea of opening a Burmese restaurant itself dates back to her days of studying English when she first arrived to the United States.
"I took a class where the professor liked to learn about foods from other cultures, and we were asked to write about dishes from our culture. It made me wonder, 'How come people know about Japanese food and Thai food? How come nobody knows about Burmese food?'"
Made to order, the dishes are Chin's interpretations of family recipes and popular street food. Her background in science inspired her to put a more healthful spin on the dishes. "In Burma, mohinga, hand-mixed salads and coconut chicken noodles are considered fast food. Street vendors would focus on one dish. It made more sense for me to serve this type of food with the layout of my restaurant."
She explained the menu was designed to maximize the potential of the restaurant's small, two-room space. It shares a lot with a drive-thru dairy stand; both are steps away from a gas station down the corner.
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"Customers come back and tell me that they're craving coconut chicken noodle soup or rainbow salad. It makes me happy, you know?" she says. "I think, 'Hey, it's working.'"
The Golden Owl is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The grand opening is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 1.
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