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How We Can Have Nice Things

September 15, 2014

Today I have something to ask of you. And it’s something important.

Presumably, if you are reading the FLB, there is at least a small part of you that cares about good food. And most likely, you happen to live within spitting distance of the Capital Region. Without a doubt, the food in this corner of the world has been slowly but steadily improving. And that’s thanks to people like you. People who support some incredible ethnic restaurants like Tara Kitchen, Ala Shanghai, La Mexicana and Parivar.

These places are well beyond the comfort zone of many diners. They offer bold, authentic flavors of cuisines that may seem familiar on their face, but in practice present plates that defy expectations. Yet, by all outward appearances, the restaurants above seem to be surprisingly successful.

There is one other restaurant that is a relative newcomer to the area, and it needs your help. Despite its favorable write-up in the Albany Times Union, and several glowing posts from the region’s culinary cognescenti, this delicious destination hasn’t been getting the traffic it deserves. Albany Jane noticed this fact recently.

Part of the problem could be the restaurant’s name.

Shwe Mandalay may not roll off the tongue, but after going there to eat, your tongue may be too happy to speak. This small restaurant is on Central Avenue in a building that used to house the Hong Kong Bakery once upon a time.

It even has off-street parking. This is huge for people from the suburbs who may not feel comfortable venturing out anywhere near downtown Albany.

The menu may also be a bit overwhelming and jam-packed with a host of unusual yet delicious sounding items. Yes, I know that we should all have such problems. However, it can be a bit paralyzing. And paralysis is a significant barrier to entry.

Fortunately, portion sizes are relatively modest, and the prices are low. And while you may not *need* to order two (or maybe even three) dishes per person, you might simply *want* to try as much as you can on your first trip out.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Almost everything is delicious. The Southern Shan Sausage is what I’m craving the most after my first visit. Small, well-caramelized bite-sized  links of sausage are filled with a silky mixture of sticky rice, beef, pork, and vermicelli. Man, that stuff is fantastic, and I’ve never quite experienced anything else like it before.

The pork curry with coconut rice, was amazing. So was the paratha with vatana beans. Soups, noodles, salads, appetizers, entrees were all delicious. Perhaps the chicken dishes weren’t quite as good as everything else. But still, this is a very special place.

Very special places will only continue to exist if we support them.

Get there. Do it this week. Or maybe this weekend. Go with your friends. Try to get a table of six so you can try as many things as humanly possible. Forgive the speed of service, for they probably weren’t expecting you.

This is a tough town in which to do well if you aren’t a chain restaurant. Albanians sure do love their chains. I’m sure there’s a metaphor to be found somewhere in there. But regardless, things are on the upswing. It’s within your power to keep this forward progress.

Move beyond your comfort zone. Try new things. Be amazed. And if Shwe Mandalay can make it through, I’ll be a very happy camper indeed. This place is great. It would be a shame to lose it.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2014 9:40 am

    This place has been on my radar screen for some time. Unfortunately, they are no longer open for lunch which is too bad because it’s difficult for me to get down to Albany in the evening.

    They do have an online takeout menu which I may have the opportunity to try. I’ve eaten at other Burmese places (my favorite is Burmese Kitchen on Larkin in SF, not the more popular Burma Superstar) and the menu looks like the real deal.

  2. Josh K. permalink
    September 15, 2014 10:48 am

    Definately want to get there at some point very soon.

  3. Josh K. permalink
    September 15, 2014 10:49 am

    I definately want to get there at some point very soon.

  4. Jamie permalink
    September 15, 2014 11:06 am

    Maybe the next Fussy Little Meet Up should be here.

  5. September 15, 2014 11:43 am

    Generally agree, although I have to add that to state the obvious the love of chains is not an “Albany” thing but an “American” thing. To the extent that the region is an outlier, it has a wider variety of independent restaurants than one would expect given the size.

  6. DEN permalink
    September 15, 2014 11:58 am

    That stretch of Central Avenue in Albany could really use an organized marketing plug, with all the interesting ethnic restaurants there. The Central Avenue BID should be plugging that area as “Eat Street,” or some other catchy name, like similar blocks in other cities. It might not hit the heights of Tara Kitchen or La Mexicana, but Albany’s Taiwan Noodle, Van’s, Casa Dominicana, Shwe, just to name a few, really provide a wide array of decent choices in a fairly concentrated area.

    • September 22, 2014 6:15 pm

      Dear DEN and other fans of food,

      I work with the Central Avenue BID and we are tremendously excited by the reputation our restaurants are garnering. We have 74 restaurants from 19 different countries and 8 ethnic markets with goods and groceries from across the globe, which prompted us to create the Central Avenue Dining Guide, which we distribute at cultural and visitor destinations across the city. We also launched a big advertising campaign for the guide when it published in 2013. It’s also available for download on our website: This spring, we will put out a completely updated version, adding several new spots to the directory, including Flavors of India, Umana Wine Bar and Restaurant, Champy’s Jamaican and American Cuisine, Irie Vybez, and The Low Beat. Hopefully, if all goes well, Terra, too.

      We are also getting ready to launch a marketing campaign for our arts and entertainment district, an area we are now calling the Midtown Grid. This area is located between North Lake and Ontario, and includes 12 international restaurants, five groceries, and two performing arts venues, as well as The Low Beat and Pauly’s Hotel, which are becoming known for their one-of-a-kind music and poetry performances. While the campaign won’t focus only on dining, this campaign will certainly put that aspect of the Midtown Grid front and center. We have great restaurants and cultural institutions here on the Avenue, and I hope that you will continue to take advantage of them!

      Molly Belmont

  7. September 15, 2014 3:22 pm

    Love this place, their meals are so affordable and delicious!! Try the traditional Burmese soup!!!!

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