March 25, 2011

San Francisco Eats: Burma Superstar!

Burma Superstar. "Yikes," I thought when I first heard that name. How good can a place be with such a ridiculous name?

After eating there, I now know the answer to that question: pretty darn freaking good. The name fits the place and the food perfectly, I now understand, and I even feel that it deserves an added exclamation point.

On the one afternoon that Graybeard had a couple of hours for sightseeing, we went down to Fisherman's Wharf and did a wine tasting in Ghiradelli Square, where the bartender told us about Burma Superstar. So when a guy standing next to us chimed in with his glowing review, we were sold. We canceled our reservations for Zuni, yet another place with New American food, and decided to go to Burma Superstar! instead.

I should preface this by saying that I have loved Burmese food ever since my former Queens roommate introduced me to it. It was love at first bite, and for years I took everyone who came to visit me to eat at NYC's glorious Burmese restaurant, Mingala. Tragically, the East Village location closed, and the Upper East Side location has never been of comparable quality, though having the same owners. Ever since the East Village location of Mingala closed, I have been missing Burmese food.

And San Fran has it. Good thing SF saved the best for last, or my meals there might not have been so varied.

Burmese food is like no other food I've ever had. It's a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Thai. Burmese food has such unique and addictive flavors, that I have no idea why there aren't Burmese restaurants on every other block. This can only be explained by the dearth of Burmese restaurants, so this food is still largely undiscovered by the U.S. population.

We were warned that they don't take reservations and there's always an hour wait. The locals call an hour ahead and tell them that they're coming, and then head down there and grab a drink at a local bar, or meander around and explore the neighborhood if it's not 40 degrees out, and Burma Superstar calls them when a table is free. That's what we did, and good thing, because the place was jam-packed.

Burma Superstar! is a nondescript place, not at all trendy like the other places we'd tried, and the least expensive place we had dinner the entire trip, and it was my favorite by far, and the one that I will go to the first night of my next trip to San Francisco.

I read reviews on Yelp before going, and people raved about the Green Tea Salad, which has been featured on the Food Network, so we ordered that (minus the peanuts). It has a bunch of unusual ingredients, such as fermented tea leaf (They say on their website: "Yes, we really do go to Burma to get the tea for this salad, and it's worth the trip."), fried garlic, split yellow peas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, tomato, and dried shrimp. Totally random, and totally divine. If it didn't have to go to Myanmar for the tea leaves, I would make this weekly. (OK, nightly.) (OK, hourly.) There is zero correlation between how it looks in the picture below and how it tastes. Please, next time you are in San Francisco, go there, and order this. If you do that, you will like me. A lot. Which I want you to do. So go there and eat it already. The mix of textures and flavors is like nothing you've ever had before. (If you have had something like it before, tell me where, because I will go there immediately. (As long as it's in Manhattan, that is.))

Don't just take my word for it. The Amateur Gourmet loves it too, as does Tara from Tea and Cookies. I even found a recipe here that claims to come close to it.

Next up, the Samusa Soup, also highly recommended by Yelpers. And according to Burma Superstar!'s website, "Featured on Food Network and Bay Area Backroads! Even though it's vegetarian, this remains our most popular soup for both meat eaters and vegetarians alike." Deservedly so. The samosas stay crispy for a while, and that texture and flavor combination is fantastic.

For better pictures of the Tea Leaf Salad and Samusa Soup check out this posting on Tea and Cookies.

Our entrees were Pumpkin Pork Stew ("tender pork stew slow cooked with kabocha squash and ginger") and something else I can't remember now, but that looked the same as the Pumpkin Pork Stew. Those were okay, but it really wasn't fair to them to have to follow the Tea Leaf Salad and Samosa Soup.

I had also read that the coconut rice is amazing, so of course we had to try that too. And it was amazing. I've tried twice to recreate at home, and I'm getting closer.

It was a total foodie trip. As it turned out, Graybeard had to work all day every day, including the weekends, and could only escape for dinner, so we made the most out of that time. As you can tell.

Of course the locals know best. Locals, you are awesome (even if you do wear lots of spandex and inadequate coats).


  1. What's coconut rice?

  2. It's rice made using coconut milk (in place of most of the water), coconut oil, and dried coconut. I'm not sure whether Burma Superstar used something else too, as theirs was way more rich and delicious than the recipe I used. That might be because I used lite coconut milk. Next time I'll go for the full-fat stuff and see whether that does the trick.