It's taken a long time and a lot of work for Myo Lin Thway to find a permanent place to sell his excellent Keema Palata—that light, chewy, freshly griddled Burmese flatbread he seasons and stuffs with onion, egg, and minced chicken. Grab a hunk, dip it in the accompanying sauce, and you have a world-class snack.
For many years Thway only served his specialty at church gatherings, before gradually adding a few street fairs into the mix and then, in 2016, joining the Queens Night Market under the name Burmese Bites, which quickly became one of the weekly food festival's most popular booths. But still, he dreamed of bringing Burmese food, which remains relatively rare in New York City, to an even broader audience.
"I've wanted to bring Burmese Bites to this kind of big environment for a while," Thway told Gothamist last weekend. "But with the pandemic... it took me about two years to find the right place. So when the opportunity to open in the Queens Center Mall came, I grabbed it. I'm really proud of being able to put Burmese Bites among the big boys here like McDonald's, Chick-Fil-A, and Panda Express. I'm really happy."
Burmese Bites, which is very much a family operation--on Saturday the entire staff was Thway, his wife Rebecca, and two of their teenage sons--is located in the mall's huge food court, vying for the attention of weary shoppers alongside some of the world's most familiar fast-food brands. Thway shares the booth with fellow Queens Night Market-er C Bao, but otherwise it's definitely a David and Goliath sort of situation down here.
To lure in mall visitors who may not already know how good his food is, Thway has expanded the Burmese Bites menu for the new venue. In addition to his signature Keema Parata mentioned above, there are four other varieties of flatbread available: Chicken Curry, Potato Curry, Plain, and a vegan Pea Palata. Dip these beauties with abandon into their various sauces, and you'll quickly feel rejuvenated, even after wandering through the mall's seemingly endless corridors of commerce.
Shan Kaukswe is another new dish for Burmese Bites, and it's a good one. Using a pile of slippery rice noodles as his base, Thway ladles on some well-seasoned chicken curry, then adds pickled mustard greens, bright snow pea leaf, crushed peanuts, and a hefty glob of chili oil sitting in the corner just waiting to start a fire. Chicken Dum Pot, which Thway described as "Burmese Biryani," and three varieties of Rice Boxes, including a Shrimp Curry number, round out the new entree-feeling options.
Don't skip over the sides and salads though. The Tea Leaf Salad is superb here, the funky fermented tea leaves giving the dish its character, a mound of "mixed crunchies" in fish sauce adding both texture and depth. Also very good is the lively Burmese Tofu Salad, as is Thway's foray into the french-fry game, a box of Crispy Tofu triangles with a tamarind sauce. And longtime Burmese Bites fans will be relieved to know that Thway's coconut chicken noodle soup, or Ohno Kaukswe, is still available too.
Another substantial addition to the Burmese Bites experience are the drinks, which Thway couldn't pull off at Queens Night Market but has ample space to offer here. Most of these are really more like desserts than beverages—I had the Mont Lat Saung, a super sweet coconut drink thick with "green rice flour droplets," but next time I think I'll go all in and get the Faluda, which features both pudding and ice cream.
As far as the overall vibe of eating in a mall goes... I have only been inside one of these beasts a handful of times in my life, and found Queens Center to be overwhelming. But the scene is lively, and I didn't notice a single shuttered or empty storefront on my long, multi-level hike from whatever door I entered until I finally found the food court.
"It's been good so far," said Thway of his first couple of weeks. "The surprising thing is that a lot of Burmese showed up, and they are very happy for me, they are very proud. They know it's not easy to have a place inside Queen Center Mall, even though my place is very tiny and not that significant. They want me to be successful. They are proud to see Burmese food in the mall and among the big boys. So they are really excited to support Burmese Bites and that touched my heart."
Burmese Bites is located within the Queens Center Mall food court, at 90-15 Queens Boulevard, and is currently open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Sundays (@burmesebites) Note: security guards check proof of vax before you can enter the seating area.