Before the MCI Center came along to encourage Legal Sea Foods and other chains to open in Chinatown, Burma was the first non-Chinese restaurant to thrive in the neighborhood. And that was despite its second-story dining room, which once housed a martial-arts school. It owes its success to the novelty of being one of the nation's very few Burmese restaurants--the opening of Mandalay in College Park gave the area an embarrassment of riches in this ethnic category--attracting patrons in search of an exotic dining experience. This is a fascinating cuisine that borrows products and condiments common to the pantries of China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia but combines them in a manner very much of its own.
It has the spiciness of Thailand and Szechuan, as well as the gentle delicacy of Vietnam. A few dishes that resemble those of other cuisines: Crisp and soft pan-fried rice noodles topped with a stir-fry of pork, chicken, and scallions could pass for Hong Kong chow mein. What keeps regulars coming back are such uniquely Burmese specialties as squid stir-fried with salty shreds of country ham; a salad of pickled green-tea leaves tossed with shrimp and crushed peanuts; vigorously spicy Burmese beef curry; bean curd simmered in tomato-curry sauce; and a spicy-sweet Burmese mango pork.