The most craveable restaurant dish I’ve had in recent memory wasn’t a house-ground burger, handmade seasonal pasta, locally cured charcuterie, or brined-for-days roast chicken. It was a salad, of all things.
If you are skeptical that salad can be revelatory—something worth traveling (to Riverside) for—know that the salads at Lin Restaurant, a stellar Burmese/Thai joint on Tonawanda Street, are not garden variety. They are studies in contrasting flavors and textures, and they can be utterly addictive.
At least that was my experience with Lin’s le phet thoat (pickled tea leaf salad), which marries fried peanuts and other assorted legumes; sesame seeds; garlic chips; shredded cabbage; onion; and tomatoes with finely chopped pickled tea leaves and dried shrimp by way of a bright lime dressing. When doctored up with the fresh, sliced chilies that accompany the dish and a sprinkle of punchy chili flakes, you have a dish that is at once earthy, sour, salty, pungent, bright, nutty, fresh, garlickly, spicy, and crunchy—in a word, complex. I could not put my fork down.
Lin’s refreshing jinn thoat is boasts many of the same elements (legumes, cabbage, tomato, and garlic) but replaces the assertive tea leaves and shellfish with young shredded ginger. It is the piccolo to the tea leaf salad’s bass in this Burmese symphony, and it is especially good eaten in concert with some of Lin’s fierier dishes.
An off-menu crispy tofu salad (not to be confused with shan tofu, listed under the starters section) is another bright option. Unlike the soy tofu we are all familiar with, Burmese tofu is typically made from a mixture of split-pea and chickpea flour, which is rendered goldenrod-yellow by the addition of turmeric. In Lin’s preparation, fried freeform pieces of Burmese tofu are combined with the usual suspects—cabbage, onion, and tomato— but this time enlivened with cilantro and sliced scallion.
Despite commonalities among all three salads, they eat very distinctly. And though they can certainly be enjoyed on their own as a complete meal, they are also fantastic accompaniments to the other soulfully prepared Burmese dishes. A favorite was nang gyi thoat—noodles with chicken curry and hardboiled egg—and sake thar hin—slow braised goat curry. Just be sure to really stress you can handle the heat if you like your food spicy; otherwise, the kitchen errs on the side of caution.
^ Image: Lin restaurant