Yangon’s most famous foreigner-friendly watering hole has steadily been leveling up since coming under the ownership of the ever-stylish Pun + Projects earlier this year. Once an unambitious sports bar whose patrons were largely united by their straight-white-maleness, 50th Street Café Restaurant & Bar is now setting its sights on a foodier, more diverse clientele with captivating, creative dishes, and it’s striking pretty close to the bullseye.
Last week, 50th Street unveiled a newly updated menu, which introduced 14 new dishes and filed one dish into the archives (goodbye, meatball sandwich). On a recent visit to the century-old building that houses the now-hallowed eatery, we tried some of these new items and came away happy and full.
An immediate favorite were the Cheesy Anajito Bites – crispy tortilla wrapped around cheese and jalapeño bits and served with a zesty homemade salsa. Simple and inexpensive, they’re a perfect starter or a standalone vegetarian snack.
The next dish – the BBQ Beef and Cheddar Sandwich – also hit it out of the park, taking the universally inoffensive combination of sweet, slow-cooked beef, fried onions, and cheddar cheese and presenting it in a better-than-average package in a chewy ciabatta bun. The restaurant’s staff told us the sandwich is already a crowd favorite. The taro chips are a big step up from the greasy, bland potato chips that used to accompany 50th Street sandwiches, but we will never be fully satisfied until they come with fries.
After the sandwich, things got fancy real quick. The Lamb Shank with wine sauce was as tender as it was good-looking, and the polenta was creamy and comforting. The savory flavors were perfectly offset by the caramelized carrots, which melted in our mouths.
The BBQ Ribs live up to their menu description – the sweet, saucy meat falls off the bone with the slightest pull of the human snout. However, the tenderness could have been complemented by a bit more crispiness on the outside, so consider mentioning that when you order. Some of us were of the opinion that the ribs’ accompaniments outshone the ribs themselves. The corn and chorizo slaw was sweet, crunchy, and addictive; the cornbread was buttery and moist. Altogether, the dish was a filling and flavorful take on an American backyard barbecue.
The most impressive dish of the evening was the Salmon Fillet with quinoa risotto. The slab of Norwegian salmon was seared to crispy perfection on the outside and tender on the inside. The risotto was creamy and smoky. All of these flavors were accented by the tangy lemon-parsley sauce.
One common criticism of 50th Street’s menu is that it has favored size and instant gratification over complexity and originality. “There was no big statement being made other than being creamy,” one member of our party said about the Fettuccini Primavera. Another member said the Shrimp and Sausage Étouffée lacked “zing” – a condition we all agreed could be cured with a pinch of salt.
However, on the whole, we found that the new menu is a sign that 50th Street is gradually growing bolder, easing its customers into bigger and stronger statements that test the boundaries of what sells in this town.
The new menu has kept alive its tradition of massive portions of heavy substances that go just right with a big beer, but added a bunch of new options that go even better with a glass of wine.
Our meal came to a happy close with a creamy, fluffy Cheesecake topped with a tangy berry compote and a Crispy Apple Pie with vanilla ice cream. These are the comforts that keep people coming to 50th Street, and they are sure to bring us back, too.