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Nick Sherbo, David Sai, and Alex Saw are the co-chefs, co-owners, and co-everythings of Rangoon Bistro, the Burmese restaurant that opened earlier this year in Southeast’s Breathe Building after lives as a farmers market stall and a takeout operation from a commissary kitchen. “We wanted to do the farmer’s market to build recognition and a customer base and figure out recipes until we could open a restaurant,” says Sherbo. “Then Alex found this place and it all worked.”
The three are old friends who met working together just down the street at Bollywood Theater’s Division location. The time they spent building recognition at the farmer’s market has paid off: Rangoon Bistro is now seen by the public as destination dining and by local industry as a vital part of the community, having been previously mentioned in Dining Confidential interviews with Shardell Dues of Red Sauce Pizza and Colin McArthur of Malka.
“We haven’t had the competitive thing,” says Sherbo. “People shout us out and want their customers to eat here.”
“We just want friends, family, whatever–” says Saw.
“All in the same industry,” says Sai. Eater sat down with the restaurateurs to talk about their friends and favorites in the industry, from breakfast on the go to hosted pop-ups to local farms.
Eater: I imagine you’re here a lot, and probably eat here a lot—
Nick Sherbo, David Sai, Alex Saw: (all laugh)
Maybe all the time?
NS, DS, AS: Yes.
So where do you like to go when you do get to go out?
NS: I go to Sweedeedee. The dinner there, not to take anything away from the daytime, but you can walk in on a Friday night and get a table no problem.
It’s kind of an underrated dinner.
NS: Hugely underrated. They had this tomato toast – a thick piece of toast and a huge amount of olive oil – that was probably the best thing I’ve had to eat in the past year.
DS: And their semolina cake is similar to the Burmese dish.
NS: Kind of Italian and Burmese.
What do you get after work?
NS: As we were getting ready to open, Alex would come almost every morning with Hong Kong style pastries from King’s Bakery. Buns with barbecue pork or hot dogs in them, we ate a lot of those.
AS: It’s easy to grab and go! I go to Bollywood to eat. I order all the side dishes: dal, sambar, kati chicken.
AS: That place is really good. “Only if you know the place” good food. You have to know to go there.
DS: We probably should mention Beulahland on 28th, too. Alex goes there to watch Arsenal games and have breakfast. Nick’s homie Justin has been tending bar there for the last ten years. We love that place!
Are you still shopping at farmer’s markets and working with farms for the restaurant?
NS: Oh yeah. Stewards Valley Farm–
AS: That’s our main supply.
Are there fresh ingredients that you guys need for your food that only certain people are growing?
AS: Yes, Stewards Valley–
NS: They grow special stuff for us. This lemon basil for the cucumber salad–
AS: Something we can’t get outside, and they grow it for us.
NS: And they grow these snake gourds, which are these long summer squash, but the inside is pithy and seedy like a bitter melon.
DS: A really traditional dish in Myanmar and in neighboring Thailand.
You used to do a lot of pop-ups, and now you’re in a space where you’re getting to host a bunch. Can you shout out some of your faves?
NS: There’s a sandwich pop-up called Hey Lady which is awesome. Fancy bread, fancy ingredient sandwiches, like poached tuna with harissa and hard boiled egg. And Lobo, their last menu was like fried game hen, wok fried greens with tofu, everything was really good. And then Kau Kau, which is Hawaiian, they make these plate lunches — mac salad, rice — they made this thing that was pork belly wrapped in kombu.
DS: Kombu maki, a really traditional dish with Japanese origins. That one is super good.
NS: They’ve done pop-ups here and have plans to come back. All three of those were great. The pop-ups are often the only food we get to eat that isn’t our own.
Can you talk about your roles a bit, or do you even have them? You’re all owners, you’re all cooking, you’re all staff, right?
NS: I always say that no one is really in charge, but David’s the boss.
AS: Yes. No stress at all, we are very happy.
NS: Just cook the food! And make it better.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.