There's plenty of good food to be found in Mandalay, served in comfortable surroundings. And you can't beat the prices. Here are some recommendations if you're coming to town.
Local Tea Houses: there are open air restaurants everywhere. There's usually a TV playing and lots of men. It is not typical for Myanmar women to go out to tea houses. Don't be intimidated by that. I've gone to tea houses with a Myanmar man and with a Myanmar woman and never felt uncomfortable. You'll be noticed, for sure, but foreigners get noticed just going to the grocery store.
Prices at the tea houses are unbelievably low. But staff rarely speaks English. There's usually someone, though, willing to help you order. I'm fond of the "platah". I put that in quotes because I spelled it the way it sounds, not the way it's spelled. I like mine with an egg cooked in and topped with garbanzo beans. Price? $.15. You can also get them "sweet" with bananas and sugar sprinkled on top. Yum. Shan noodles are also awesome. As with most Myanmar meals, when you ask for noodles you also get soup, vegetables and sauces. Price is less than $1 for a meal.
My favorite tea house is on 74 between 27-28. The food is good, cheap and served quickly. Staff is friendly and the tea is hot and free. Because of Mandalay's heat and dust, I prefer to get my food to go.
Bistro Mandalay: For upscale dining, I prefer Bistro Mandalay. I eat there about once a week. The chef was trained by an Italian chef in Singapore. They have the best burger in Mandalay (most are deep fried, yuck!) according to AIS teachers, myself included.
They have an eclectic menu ranging from tapas to local food. Their pizza has a thin crust and is delicious. I also like the salad and usually debate between the tomato/mozzarella with balsamic vinegar and the orange, avocado and feta salad.
My menu favorites are the steak, lamb medallions and pasta carbonara. Be warned - it's local meat so a bit on the tough side, but delicious. I also like the drinks - the Long Island Iced Tea is my favorite, even though the just increased the drink price from 3500K to 4500K. That's $3.50 - $4.50. Pizza is about $9, the lamb are steak are each $5 and the pasta is $3. Salads range from $3.50 to $4.00
The only downside to this quiet, small air conditioned restaurant is that there is one guy cooking. The plates come out one at a time so if you're with a large group it can take a long time for everyone to get their food.
Bistro is on 74 between 26-27. Open from 7 am, 7 days a week, they have free WIFI.
Central Park is a small, outdoor, casual place with good food. They have sandwiches, pizza and a lot of foreigners. The owner, Wilbur, used to work at AIS and caters to us expats. He's been known to make flour tortillas when requested in advance. The atmosphere is very nice and it's a great place to hang out and have a good burger. On 27, near 73-74.
Cafe City This place has an American diner theme and free WIFI. The menu is similar to Bistro Mandalay and the food is good. It's popular with tourists and wealthy Myanmar locals. My favorite menu item is the honey grilled prawns (about $8). Service is friendly and fast (by Myanmar standards). If I want to chat with one of my students while I have dinner, this is where I go. One night, I complimented a Myanmar mom on her beautiful baby. She handed over the baby and left her with me for an hour.
Sedona Hotel I haven't eaten there, but I've heard they have great buffets at both brunch and dinner. Having worked in Las Vegas I'm a buffet snob so haven't been tempted. Plus, for $16 I expect a foot rub and complimentary cocktails. I'm unwilling to pay tourist prices when I can get great food elsewhere.
Golden Duck Popular with tour groups, this place is large and famous for it's duck. They also charge tourist prices but three of us had dinner there one evening - a whole roasted duck and several side dishes along with a couple of beers for less than $25. Not much on atmosphere but the food was good. And, because of all the tourists, they speak Chinese.
Restaurants at U Bein Bridge I spent a lovely rainy afternoon enjoying the view and snacks for sale at one of the many restaurants all connected on the lake. We had a plate of small fried fish (which reminded me of smelt along with some crab and shrimp. Cheap, great view, friendly staff who don't speak English but will happily let you look at what food they have on offer to help you decide what to order. Snacks, view, cold Myanmar beer. What's not to love?
All this typing about food has made me hungry. I'll add more later.