Mandalay is packed with diverse and consistently tasty restaurants, partly thanks to the bountiful farms in the surrounding areas. With Mandalay being a crossroads for food influences such as Shan, Burmese, Chinese, Indian and now even some Western, it brings forth a wide range of restaurants and menus to sample from. Think high quality, low cost.
The city may go to sleep early, but rising early just means that breakfasts are extra good – in fact we find it one of the highlights of Mandalay. Teashops are filled to the brim starting at 06:00 and the food is fresh and hot.
Min Mahar Cafe will be packed inside with a line of motorbikes waiting for their take-away orders, even before 06:00. All types of noodles, coconut and seasoned rice, Indian nan, traditional soups or fried bread called ja-quid are on the menu. Stop by one of their three locations at either the corner of 38th and 82nd Streets, the corner of 23rd and 86th Streets, or on 26th Street between 88th and 89th Streets.
Shwe Pyi Moe Cafe is a teashop that opens around 05:00, and is also the first stop for the Golden Myanmar Air free shuttle bus (just next door to Sedona Hotel on 66th Street between 26th and 27th Streets). It serves breakfast all day but is not guaranteed to have many items past 09:00 – so get in early for the thick coconut noodles and tasty morning mohinga. They also serve up Indian food and breakfast with potato curry and nan.
Most of the markets in Mandalay do not cater to the hungry-right-now crowd, but the Shan night market on 34th and 76th Streets has a small row of food stalls serving up vats of hot tofu with noodles and fried dumplings for a early night treat.
The west side of the city has an area packed with Shan restaurants and buffets. Sometimes described as the best local food that Burma has to offer, Shan food has a bit more spice in some dishes and is generally less oily than its Burmese counterpart. Check out the area where 23rd and 84th Streets meet for a cluster of delicious buffet-style Shan restaurants.
Lashio Lay Shan displays itself the same way you find many Burmese stands. Walk up to the counter and point at any of the dozens of dishes of curries, veggies and meats and they'll serve them up with rice and side dishes. This place is cheap, clean and it satisfies.
Golden Shan is a fantastic place to appease your hunger. For about 4,000 kyat you get an all-you-can-eat, amazingly tasty buffet that seems to have every type of Shan food you can name. Travel weary Westerners may create a scene: the combination of tasty dishes and a large appetite can make the locals stare in amazement when they go back for third and fourth helpings.
Indian food is a big hit in Mandalay. Mutton – which means 'goat' in Myanmar – seems to be a popular item and from the way they cook it, we can taste why.
Pan Cheery hosts tables and menus to select different meat curries including mutton balls. For very little, you get a curry, several different side dishes and all the rice you can handle.
Another place we recommend for Indian food is a large street stall named Nay Cafe. Directly across from Unity Hotel, we watched a nightly transformation of a bare street corner into a giant spread of tables and customers digging into curry dishes including mutton brains, served with the stall's extremely popular and wonderful chapati.
Hunter's Cafe and Bar has by far the best chicken parmesan and satisfying burger we've had in Burma. You'll pay 4-5,000 kyat for a Western-size meal that tastes like it's from back home. It's also the first Western-style bar in Mandalay, complete with a pool table, darts, big-screen TV and pumping air-con.
V-Cafe is more like the average Western food restaurants you'll find in Burma, offering a large selection on their menu, including Thai food. Their pleasant decor, air-con and fast WiFi will keep you around long after you've finished your reasonably priced meal.
If you're in the mood for a high-end European restaurant, BBB boasts a fine-dining environment. Here you'll find burgers, pasta, seafood and steak. Liquor and beer are served with complex coffees and standard cocktails. It can be a bit pricy but it can also be a much-needed break from local food and will sate any serious cravings for Western dishes.
Early-rising Mandalay has next to no nightlife. Most places are closed by 23:00 but you can still find some quality beer stations with barbecue located around the city.
Our favourite beer station is Rainbow, almost solely due to the fact that it is the only beer station with a draft pour within a kilometre of the budget accommodation. It provides exactly what you need in a beer station, including a TV that religiously plays sports. Even though their barbecue food is quite poor quality, three Shan restaurants lie within 50 metres of the place where you can fill up before rolling yourself over for a mug.
Diamond Plaza also holds a concentration of beer stations and teashops lining 77th Street. These are true local spots that you can hop between to test out their draft or heavy teas. These are especially convenient after a quick trip to the Shan night market or after a movie at the Diamond Plaza cinema. If none of these grab your fancy, you can go to Beer King, half a block north of Diamond Plaza and across from an internet cafe. Beer King is also probably the only beer station that we can recommend eating at, as their food is higher quality and better cooked than others.
BBB European Restaurant: No. 292, 76th St, between 26 x 27 Sts; Chan Aye Thar San Township, Mandalay; T: (02) 73525; (02) 22935
Beer King: Near 77th St, between 32nd and 33rd Sts; Chan Aye Thar San Township, Mandalay
Golden Shan Buffet Restaurant: 84 St; between 22 and 23 Sts, Mandalay; T: (02) 23095; (02) 35278
Hunter's Cafe and Bar: No. 167, 27 St, between 80 and 81 Sts, Mandalay; T: (09) 4025 37298; firstname.lastname@example.org
Lashio Lay Shan Restaurant: No. 69, 23rd St; between 83 and 84 Sts, Mandalay; T: (02) 22653; Lashiolay.email@example.com
Min Mahar Cafe: Corner of 38th and 82nd Sts; corner of 23rd and 86th Sts; or 26th Street between 88th and 89th Sts.
Nay Cafe: Corner of 27th and 82nd Sts, Mandalay
Pan Cherry Indian Restaurant: No. 283, 81 St; between 26 and 27 Sts, Mandalay; T: (02) 39924; (09) 4306 1811
Rainbow Beer Station: Corner of 23rd and 84th Sts, Mandalay
Shwe Pyi Moe Cafe: 66th St, between 26th and 27th Sts, Mandalay; T: (09) 9104 1010
Shan night market: 34th St, between 77th and 76th Sts, Mandalay
V-cafe European and Thai Food: No. 408, Corner of 80 and 25 Sts, Mandalay; T: (02) 24688