Burma Superstar superb Burmese

SAN FRANCISCO — Just had an amazing meal — or just Ah-Maaz-zing as one of my DC friends says.

One of my new San Francisco food-loving friends Shawn took me to Burma Superstar.

(Yes, I know Ah-Maaz-zing was ridiculous but it is so hard sometimes to describe food beyond delicious because delicious is just so apt).

There are three Burma Superstar locations where diners can enjoy this brilliant Myanmar cuisine but we went to the Inner Richmond restaurant.  Reportedly the wait can be crazy at all the locations — Oakland and Alameda are the two others — but at lunch (seemingly the secret to all San Francisco dining) there was no delay. We walked in and immediately got a table.

The food was that exciting blend of Thai, Indian and Chinese flavors, which you happily sign up for with Burmese food.

We went way overboard with the ordering — this excuse that I’m writing about food must end soon or I’ll need to start exercising six hours a day.

Shawn insisted on starting with their famous Tea Leaf Salad that was featured on Food Network. If you want to see it on video (couldn’t find the Food Network one), here is one that was posted about five years ago.

For the salad they do actually get the fermented tea sent from Burma where it is considered a delicacy. The salad includes romaine lettuce, tomatoes, fried garlic, peanuts, sunflower seeds, yellow peas, sesame seeds and dried shrimp that can be omitted on request to make the dish vegetarian.

The components of the salad are served unmixed but after explaining the dish, the waiter tosses the ingredients with freshly squeezed lemon and oil that I think was olive at the table.

Burma Superstar’s famous Tea Leaf Salad
Burma Superstar’s famous Tea Leaf Salad. (All photos by Sarah Abruzzese)

With the salad we ordered another Burma Superstar must, the Vegetarian Samusa Soup.

This soup was also featured on Food Network and I can understand why.

It is this intriguing mixture of a light creamy curry with pieces of crispy falafel, cabbage and onions. There were nutty lentils, which I never really tasted. Shawn did and she said they were delicious. The soup derives its name from the pieces of wonderfully crunchy samusa, which is similar to an Indian samosa, that are thrown in.

I had to get used to the texture of this soup. It was really odd to me at first because it was both spongy — the falafel— and crunchy — parts of the falafel and the samusa — but that grew on me. And now thinking back it was one of the most memorable aspects to the meal.

For the main course we ordered the spicy but sweet chili lamb. This dish was made with Thai basil, onions and both dried and fresh chilies. My mouth still tingles delightfully even though I think we ordered it just regular spicy. You can ask for it even spicier.

We had the sweet coconut rice that is jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk and topped with fried onions. Amazingly the delicate sweet rice canceled out the fire from the chilies.

Chili lamb with both dried and fresh chilies
Chili lamb with both dried and fresh chilies.

I now want to eat pea shoots at every meal. What a perfect dish. So much better than spinach as Shawn said. The leaves of the pea shoots were perfectly wilted but the stalk kept a great fibrous crunch giving the dish so much more substance.

The secret, Shawn said, to retaining the firmness of the pea shoots, which are cooked in garlic and white wine, is to make the sauce first and then throw in the delicate vegetable.

The lamb, pea shoots and coconut rice were just inspired together, a really satisfying and balanced blend of sweet and spicy.

Pea Shoots cooked in white wine and garlic.

To go with the meal I ordered a Thai iced tea that was refreshing. Shawn ordered the ginger lemonade, which she adored and after tasting it I can see why. I thought my tea was refreshing but this was even more so. The staff also quickly refills your water glass when it empties, which ours did repeatedly.

Meanwhile, when we handed the table next to ours the remainder of our pea shoots, I thought we were done with our meal. (They happily consumed the rest of the dish.)

But done? Oh no, we weren’t done.

Our lovely waitress Fannie brought out dessert. (And no, she didn’t know I was writing about her restaurant. She is just that friendly. I heard her painstakingly discuss the menu with multiple customers and honestly she, like everyone else we met at the restaurant, is that nice. It didn’t hurt that I was with a long-time and very loyal customer.)

Of course, we finished the dessert — fried spring rolls filled with jackfruit covered in melted chocolate and served with blissfully light coconut ice cream and fresh cut strawberries. (See feature photo.)

So good.

After lunch we walked a few doors down to see if we could acquire some pea shoots. Shawn promised to demonstrate how to replicate this Burma Superstar dish. Sadly the store was sold out.

We didn’t walk down to the Burma Superstar sister restaurant, B-Star but it’s nice to know it is there.

You can find a link to Sarah’s last story here.