Chef Myo Moe of acclaimed Burmese restaurant Rangoon has long been on a mission to bring the nuanced flavors and regional dishes of her native Myanmar to New York, and now with the opening of Mandalay Club, she can check off another box. On December 2, Moe and co-owner Daniel Bendjy are opening the doors of their sophomore project at an NYC outpost of CloudKitchens, a ghost kitchen chain run by disgraced Uber founder Travis Kalanick, located at 40-05 Skillman Avenue on the cusp of Sunnyside and Long Island City in Queens.
“This is a chance for me to give a little more depth to Burmese food, and I’m covering an area which was very close to my heart,” Moe says, recalling annual summer vacations with her dad’s side of the family in Mandalay, the former royal capital of Myanmar. While the food at Moe’s first restaurant, Rangoon, pulls straight from her mother’s family’s particularly mild variations of the seafood-centric food in the country’s port city of Yangon, also called Rangoon, the menu at Mandalay Club draws from an inland region rife with cattle farming. “It’s more rustic, more countryside,” Bendjy says.
At the new spot, Moe felt more freedom to stray from her family’s subtly flavored recipes; she saw Mandalay Club as an opportunity to “do something different” that would showcase her creativity just as much as the diversity of Burmese cuisine. The resulting menu here leans meatier, spicier, and punchier. Moe has expanded on Rangoon’s meat offering with forays into beef and lamb dishes that nod to the livestock farming culture of Mandalay: a “very intense” dish of mogok beef meatballs with fermented black soybeans and Chinese five-spice blend, and an anya lamb curry with a lamb fillet slow-cooked for two and a half hours.
There’s also a lot more pork dishes than at Rangoon, spiked with dried cayenne pepper. “But it’s not hot. It’s not like Thai-spicy or Indian-spicy,” Moe says. The cayenne pepper here is “used as just another flavor,” on par with the other ingredients of a dish. This spiced-up pork combination appears in the pig head slaw, with tender-boiled pig cheeks, ears, nose and tongue — a dish that Moe believes would appeal to the large concentration of southeast Asians in Queens, where she had also resided through the late 1990s. The combination also shows up in the restaurant’s pork shoulder curry, pork mee shay noodle, and a pork belly balachung, a salty, crunchy, spicy condiment that Moe prescribes for the lamb curry and coconut rice.
Between running Rangoon in Crown Heights, and juggling a crowdfunding campaign for their upcoming Chelsea restaurant, Moe and Bendjy were drawn to the low rent, convenience of a fully equipped kitchen, and the popularity of the takeout model during the pandemic to launch Mandalay Club in a ghost kitchen. They said they signed on in June with CloudKitchens, Kalanick’s Los Angeles-based company which rents out space to businesses nationwide to prepare food for takeout and delivery. The Queens location of the ghost kitchen is operating under the name Sunnyside Eats, according to Bendjy and two other vendors working in the space. CloudKitchens did not respond to requests for comment from Eater by the time of publication. Across the city, ghost kitchens have been taking off this year: Hungry House — which bills itself as an “anti-ghost kitchen” ghost kitchen — opened at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in November, and three locations of national ghost kitchen chain Kitchen United have opened in Soho, Hudson Yards, and Midtown West this fall.
For Moe and Bendjy, the ghost kitchen spot is one more step in the team’s mission to build a bigger stage for Burmese food. They’re now “in the thick of” renovating the Chelsea storefront, according to Bendjy, but they’re nurturing their new baby right now. “I’ll be at Mandalay Club every day,” says Moe. “I’m the cook over there.”
Mandalay Club is scheduled to open 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday for delivery and pick-up at 40-05 Skillman Avenue. Customers can order online at DoorDash, Caviar and the upcoming website, and on-premises for takeout only.
Mandalay Club’s menu: