Burmese Food in the SF Bay Area

I’ve often wondered about that, since it’s owned by a Burmese woman They even advertise in the local Burmese newspaper (which you can find at Little Yangon). If they have a mohinga (catfish chowder) too, I’ll add it to the list.

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad at a place like the Tennessee Grill, now that’s an “only in San Francisco” thing. Whee else can you get a Tea Leaf Salad with your Chicken Fried steak? :slight_smile:

As we were paying our breakfast check at the cash register, I asked about mohinga… he said ‘not yet’.

Just noticed the liquor license for Tennessee Grill was JUST transferred from Min Min Defevere to someone named Kyaw Soe, so there may indeed be more changes in the works.


Advance apologies for the long post.

If you are/have been in NYC, you know that there is a current dearth of Burmese restaurants (I think Mingala might still be around on the Upper East Side, but am not sure, & it was never very interesting): Burmese Cafe in Jackson Heights, a tiny place that served some of the funkiest food I have ever eaten, closed years ago; & last December was the end of Crazy Crab, a crab boil place out in Queens near Skyview Mall with a rather eccentric appearance. It was a former deli & retained its bright orange-red tile walls & indeed its license to sell Lotto tickets; one of the chefs was Burmese & I believe one owner was from Yunnan, so the menu included several Yunnanese dishes & a good range of Burmese ones, plus superb mohingar now & then if you called ahead & asked nicely. Cannot say how much I miss it; we took friends there several times, went by ourselves for carryout, & always enjoyed it immensely. There are also a few pop-up/night market stands with limited menus plus a noodle joint in Industry City (Brooklyn) to which a fellow Burmese food fanatic made a pilgrimage, but reported back that he was underwhelmed. So until Ma Sophie, the Burmese chef out at Crazy Crabs, resurfaces (she cooked Burmese dishes at a Thai restaurant before Crazy Crabs, so perhaps …), we are now left with several festivals/charity/church/temple events that are held during the summer: Burmese home cooking at its best. But the biggest & most delicious event, the Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair, was held this summer on a weekend we were scheduled to be in San Francisco. (When I found out, I nearly cancelled the trip. I’m serious.)

Which is why I’m posting here.

I vaguely remembered from the old Chowhound days that Burmese restaurants were far more plentiful in the Bay Area, so we thought we’d try to make up for the heartbreak. (Again, I’m serious about heartbreak. If you are in NYC when it happens, go to the Fun Fair if you do nothing else. But bring earplugs, b/c the entertainment at the fair includes a few bands that play at earsplitting volume. You might consider a forklift, too, for hoisting you onto your feet so you can waddle home. You can buy portions of tea salad & many other fine things to take home. You may intend to share them at work or with those you love, but somehow they’ll be gone … .)

I don’t want to name names here, b/c I can’t really blame the restaurant owners for dumbing it down if that’s what their customers demand, but oh the horror. We tried one Burmese place in San Francisco & were shocked (I’ve had numerous variations on mohingar, but boring was a first). OK, they’ve got to make their rent, I thought – perhaps this is what the customers want (we also had the same problem with Thai food at two places), gentrification blah blah blah. But we had somewhat higher hopes for another place in the East Bay. That restaurant had the most beautiful presentation of fried Shan tofu I’ve ever seen – but no lethal sour dipping sauce, just a ribbon of sticky sweet glop drizzled over it; this tasted approximately like old-school American Chinese sweet-&-sour sauce. The tofu was good; the sauce was horrible.

In both places, the tea salad abounded in assorted fried crunchy bits (I guess these are generally inoffensive), & the actual pickled tea leaves tasted fine when I could find them hiding in all that lettuce. But the laphet at the first one contained no chiles at all or even garlic, fried or raw. The second place had, again, a beautiful presentation of laphet, which was mixed at the table; but it contained only a few slivers of fried garlic & one pathetic bit of jalapeno from which the seeds had been carefully removed. Neither of them had the least trace of dried shrimp (despite claims on the second menu) or anything else with, you know, flavor. I honestly wondered if something was wrong with my nose or tastebuds.

What on earth?

I finally had to ask. After paying & tipping well (not the waiter’s fault), & telling the manager (I think) of the second place how beautiful his restaurant was, I asked him why the food seemed to be blander than any Burmese food we’d had before. He said rather sadly that strong flavors simply did not sell, & he had to give the people what they wanted. (Apparently they did want; we were there early, since we had a flight to catch, but even on a weeknight the place was filling up fast by the time we left.)

I realize that these days, it is all gluten-free this & low-carb that everywhere. But flavor-free Burmese?

Were we just unlucky? I do realize that the Bay Area itself has become richer & duller (my mother’s from California, my parents met at Berkeley, & since childhood I’ve been spending time out there – the change in just the last few years is startling), just as Manhattan has – is that the problem? Or what?

p.s. And anyone in NY who knows where Ma Sophie is now, please, please tell me. Thanks.

You didn’t mention the two restaurants you tried, so it’s difficult to comment on your experience, but chin up, there are another 48 or so places to try in the Bay Area.

It’s hard to say–people posting online to boards such as this have been bemoaning Burma Superstar for dumbing down dishes for ages, and from what I gather the Rangoon Ruby empire too. Many times this isn’t necessarily true for all the dishes, and for cases like laphet thoke can be remedied by requesting less/no lettuce or cabbage. I don’t think I’ve been served it without fried garlic, though.
A small percentage of restaurants list the Shan tofu on their menus, and often they are out/didn’t make it that day. Though when I have ordered it, it’s been served with a hot sauce, that is sour and lightly sweet.
On a sad note, it looks like Burma Superstar is being investigated for wage theft. https://twitter.com/DarwinBondGraha/status/774277922697859072

Tharaphu Burmese Street Food is open in DT Berkeley. More knowledgeable posters on Burmese cuisine will need to comment whether there are enough street food to distinguish themselves from other Burmese restaurants.

It was originally listed as BoBo Dinks in my list, which I recently modified to reflect the name change.

50 San Francisco Bay Area Burmese Restaurants

My Bay Area Burmese restaurant list is down to 48 with the closure of two of William Lue’s enterprises, Tender Loving Food nd The Grocery Cafe (possibly temporary for the latter).

If you are aware of any other closures or new starts let me know . It’s difficult t keep tabs on all the outlying ones.

Santa Rosa now has a branch of Best of Burma

Best of Burma 2
Burmese Cuisine

528 7th Street
Santa Rosa, CA


I haven’t been yet.

the refined palate, orinda is also closed. (health dept.)

Thanks for the info. Does it appear to be a permanent closure?

That was another William Lue operation. Has his bubble burst?

papered over at least 2 months. health dept. has a card on door. involuntary closure no doubt.
see closures as not following/violating health codes, etc.
could burst Lue’s bubble if not fixed…

Laphet at 448 Larkin Street is soon to open, permits pending. Tea tasting service offered, banquet-style dinners by William Lue.
The small dining room is quite lovely -

We had lunch today at Mandalay, for the first time(!) despite having lived in SF for 12 years. Very amiable service and delicious tea leaf salad, flatbread with curry dip, Singapore noodles, and sizzling rice soup.

Tea Leaf salad at Mandalay is a favorite because it isn’t stretched by the addition of cabbage or lettuce - the serving of fermented tea leaf is ample.


Their Nan Gyi Dok and Kaw Soi Dok Noodle Dishes are my favorite versions I have had.
Full flavored Curry with a nice balance of the Garnishes.

Got one more now in Benicia- Aung Maylika

[Mod: This post and the next are split from Aung Maylika discussion]

Thanks, I’ve updated my Bay Area Burmese list, which now stands at 49.

It’s my first update in 6 monthe – have I missed other openings or closures?

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One more Burmese restaurant update: Happy Myanmar Cafe in Daly City, which opened a year ago but I just discovered by trawling Yelp. Our list is back up to a round 50!

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