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Sep 29, 2007 08:45 AM

REVIEW: Golden Triangle Burmese Restaurant, Whittier

I call them the "lost cities" -- the towns you've heard of but couldn't place on a map if your life depended on it. Duarte, Lomita, Stanton, Montebello, Temple City and Villa Park are all part of the "Lost Cities of Los Angeles" club, and Whittier is definitely lost too.

Part of the problem is that it's really bloody hard to get to Whittier. It's not especially freeway-convenient, and the freeway it is near (the 605 between the 5 and the 60) is not a stretch of road most Angelenos (or Orange Countians) ever drive. I assumed that because Whittier touches Orange County that it couldn't be that far away -- but it took me 45 minutes to get there at 6:30 on a Friday night from Anaheim.

Nevertheless, Uptown Whittier (which is its business centre, the Whittwood Mall notwithstanding) is a cute place, on a hill near Whittier College, and absolutely nowhere near anything else... and it contains, amongst the sprawl of creperies, Italian and Mexican places, and barbecue shacks (including a Santa Maria style place that I will need to check out)...

...a Burmese restaurant. Yes, one of the only (if not THE only) Burmese restaurant in SoCal. Except it's disguised as a Thai restaurant, and most of the patrons on a busy Friday night were eating quasi-Thai food. The menu is a mixture of Thai, a few Laotian and several Burmese dishes. The Burmese dishes are mostly called out on the menu, but there aren't separate Burmese and Thai sections, which would be a good thing here, I think.

I wanted Burmese food, and said so to the waitress, who had suggested shrimp rolls, angel wings and pad Thai to me. She smiled and pointed out the specialities. I ordered mixed laphet thoke (called "lap pad dok" on their menu), mo hin nga, and dan bauk htaminh. (A note here: I speak twelve languages, and can at least not embarrass myself in ten more -- and Burmese, at least as transliterated on Golden Triangle's menu, beat me like a red-headed stepchild. I pronounced it on a guess, the waitress repeated it, and it was NOTHING like written. I gave up. Irish Gaelic is easier to guess at.)

I also ordered tea, which came with sugar. I was surprised at this, since it was standard jasmine tea, always drunk neat in Chinese restaurants. If it had been more like Indian chai (boiled to death with milk and sometimes spices) I would have sweetened it, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Laphet thoke ("tea leaf salad") is not a salad. It is more like Indian chaat, where you take one ingredient (laphet, or fermented green tea leaves) and add all sorts of toppings to it, then mix it together. ("Thoke" or "dok", pronounced "doh", means "mixed" and appears to be the uniting theme behind Burmese food.) My laphet thoke contained ginger, coconut, sesame seeds, lentils, lentil crisps, lemon, and God only knows what all else. You know when you're making granola bars and you've got that kind of not-quite-solid, sticky-type substance that you press into the pan to solidify? That's the consistency of laphet thoke. You can eat it with your hands.

The taste was fine (I would have preferred less coconut, it detracted from the astringency of the tea leaves), but it was missing something -- until I ate it with an entire round of jalapeno pepper, which cut immediately through the fray. It made it so much better that I asked for a dish of jalapeno peppers. The waitress called over the hostess (and proprietress), who seemed surprised that I would want so much capsaicin. It isn't the best laphet thoke, and there are restaurants in the Bay Area that serve it with the chopped leaves and the toppings in separate containers so you can "roll your own", but it was tasty enough, and it came with that same slow rise in energy level from the caffeine in the leaves.

Next came the dan bauk htaminh, which is Burmese-style biryani with goat curry. It can also be ordered with baked chicken, but I figured in for a penny, in for a pound. The biryani, which is baked rice, contained little veins of shrimp paste and cashews. It was quite dry, but that was the point of the goat curry, which was absolutely fantastic. It wasn't oily, it was complex, the meat was falling off the bones, and when I spooned the curry onto the rice (and added a bit of dried chilies from a tray on the table -- what can I say?) it made the rice a perfect counterpart -- a little starchy, a little sour (from the shrimp paste), a little meaty, and very, very complex.

Finally the mohinga showed up. This dish epitomises the concept of Burmese food as a bunch of stuff mixed up together to great effect. It looks horrendous -- a bunch of yellow food with noodles and brown bits and whatnot sticking out of it -- but it was the best dish of the evening. Mohinga is catfish broth -- no actual catfish pieces need apply -- with what the Vietnamese would call banh hoi (very fine rice noodles), and then "toppings", some of which I couldn't identify. There were two hard-boiled eggs (perfectly done, too), there was dried tofu, there were soft lentils, there were lentil crackers, there were pieces of pickled cabbage, there were pieces of simmered onions, there was a fish ball, there was shrimp paste, all floating above noodles in a very tasty, curry-laced catfish soup. I, like a greedy pig, ate the whole thing. It was unctuous, it was flavourful, it was fragrant. It's also hard to eat -- you have the very slippery noodles, the toppings, and the soup, but you're provided a fork and spoon.

Because I ate all the mohinga, I didn't have room for dessert, which caused great consternation amongst the staff, since the Burmese (they said) pride themselves on their desserts, which range from Indian-type rice pudding to fried bananas with cream to soups that resemble Vietnamese che. "Next time," I said, "and I'll bring friends."

The dishes are between $6 and $9, as is most of the menu. Portions are plenty. Parking is free and available even on a Friday night.

It was stunningly delicious, a real palate-opener, and I'll definitely be back -- but not at rush hour on a Friday.

Golden Triangle Restaurant
7011 Greenleaf St.
Whittier, CA 90602
(562) 945-6778

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  1. There is another Burmese restaurant on Garvey at Orange in the lost city of Monterey Park which borders on the lost city of Montebello. I've never eaten their so can't say if it's good or bad. Doesn't seem very busy whenever I pass it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Neta

      I think it's this one -- haven't tried it though.
      Yoma Restaurant, 713 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park, CA, (626) 280-8655

      I also found this one mentioned, anyone been?
      Tea Shaker and Vegetarian Food, 7258 N Rosemead Blvd., San Gabriel, CA 91775, (626)287-5850
      We tried Hot Stuff Cafe, but didn't see very many Burmese dishes on the menu -- I think it's just one special a day or something.

      1. re: Chowpatty

        I think Yoma is somewhat authentic is a Burmese only restaurant but also serving some Thai food such as pad thai.

        Hot stuff cafe only has Burmese dish because the owner married the daughter of owner called Romantic Steak House(which is a burmese/chinese restaurant) which use to be on Valley Blvd near Hawaii Supermarket but doesn't exist anymore.

        1. re: fishybear10

          I did go to Yoma's once about three years ago, pre Golden Triangle. Overall, Yoma's was only a C+ and we all agreed, subsequently, that GT is better overall on a food rating scale. Nothing danced on our tongues at Yoma, tho' the service was friendly and attentive. At GT we had somosas, as well as the tea salad and mohinga, tho' I don't remember the cocoanut being the primary taste to the tea salad...ours was more bitter and definitely exhibited the essence of tea leaves...the mohinga was "Burmese comfort food" somewhat, hmmm...musky..., but everyone agreed their ginger salad was, and continues to be, the absolutely must-have item menu choice at Golden Triangle.

    2. Thanks for the review! I've been looking for a Burmese place around here since visiting a few in SF. The location is actually a plus for me - I drive from LA to the OC around lunch time on the 605 a few times a week, and have never found a good place to stop (until now!)

      1. Personally, I've found Burmese food to be very much like Indian food without as many spices, which to me is the reason I like Indian food. I had a similar experience with Nepalese food. It was OK, and I'm glad I tried it, but I would rather eat Indian.

        1. We didn't have as good an experience when we did the chow tour of uptown Whittier (Golden Triangle and Churrolandia).

          I had Burmese food in SF and I think the one at Golden Triangle seemed rather bland. We had the famed ginger salad - OK, not that great. It's more like a salad with nuts and all sorts of crunchies with a ginger accent. Then we had the chicken curry with the coconut rice, a side of parantha (bread), Thai shrimp fried rice and the spinach/tofu with peanut sauce.

          I think the best out of the lot is the spinach/tofu, but the sauce is a bit too sweet (it's basically the peanut sauce with satay, except sweeter and thicker). Paratha is kind of like a chinese onion pancake, minus the onion, and greasier. Chicken curry was bland. Actually the TJ Korma curry sauce is more flavorful - go figure. The coconut rice was nice but I think I can do that at home with jasmine rice and coconut milk. The homemade soy milk was too sweet (and I can get similar ones at Chinese breakfast place).

          Overall the service is too leisurely for my liking, and the place smelled a bit too much like grease as we were seated close to the kitchen.

          For the price I can get better food elsewhere. Overall a ho-hum experience and I don't think we'll be back.

          2 Replies
          1. re: notmartha

            Weird. I've lived in Whittier for years and every time friends come in from out of town they want to immediately head to the Golden Triangle. The ginger salad is universally loved. Local friends drive from Orange County, the west side and the valley to eat there with me. I have a lot of foodie friends and they're all huge fans of the restaurant.

            I'll grant that the service is bad. But complaints about kitchen smells, too sweet, too crunchy? Your review struck me as whiny. It's great you can make coconut rice on your own at home but I hardly see what that has to do with a restaurant review. Also, I don't think a true foodie would order shrimp fried rice in a Burmese restaurant. And please don't use Trader Joe's curry sauce as a benchmark for flavor. I mean, come on.

            1. re: roxymonoxide

              Taste buds differs. Just because you and your friends love it doesn't mean I do. I do think a forum like Chowhound allows the difference of opinions to be expressed without having attacks on whether one is a foodie or not.

              It's just my unbiased opinion. It's not like I know the owners or any competitors, and I don't live in the neighborhood so I don't have any attachment to the area either.

              Have you walk by the kitchen? I had to in order to use the bathroom. It reeked of grease.

              I didn't say anything is too crunchy - I said that the salad has a lot of 'crunchies'.

              Yes, I did think the sauces on a lot of dishes were way too sweet. Seems kind of common in a lot of Asian food, especially Thai.

              I stand by my TJ's korma sauce remarks. I made a chicken curry a day before with the sauce (with only 1 cup of water instead of the instruction), and it has more flavor. It's not a benchmark for a _great_ curry, just a decent curry in a hurry when I don't have time to make korma from scratch. The irony was that it tasted better than Golden Triangle's burmese curry. That's the "go figure" remark.

              Actually fried rice is for my 9 year old, but I don't see anything wrong with fried rice - benchmark of good wok skills and a basic staple. We ordered tons of the burmese type food, recommended by others for other items - ginger salad, coconut rice, curry, and one that's 'chef recommended'. Foodie enough for you?

              I am a chowhound, but also a good cook, so I do try to replicate things I tried in restaurant, so I don't see anything wrong with pointing out that you can probably get the same results at home by using coconut milk instead of water while cooking jasmine rice.

              Lastly, I did go to other Burmese restaurants before, so I do have something to compare against.

          2. Das,

            Thanks for the amazing review! I have to give you an A+ just for remembering and spelling all those different dishes! We have been thinking about that place and wondering what it was like.

            Whittier a "Lost City?" I guess that's a good term. You're right about it not being freeway accessible, but that's because it's such an old town it grew up into a city well before freeways came into existence! Would driving north up Beach Blvd. until it T's and then turning left and driving in get you there more easily than driving out to a freeway? It seems to me that most of those signals going north are synchronized.