Burma Superstar: Blending Southeast Asian Cuisines Seamlessly

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Burmese Food San Francisco

From the few restaurants I’ve managed to find in Los Angeles, Burma’s blend of Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisines has been more enticing in concept than execution. Thankfully, Burma Superstar is only 400 miles away, serving as a Stateside beacon of what the rarely-seen Southeast Asian food can be. Since 1992, Burma Superstar has occupied a small space on the Inner Richmond thoroughfare of Clement Street, which hosts some of San Francisco’s best, and most affordable, ethnic restaurants. The restaurant from Desmond Htunlin and wife Joycelyn Lee is crowded at almost any time of the day, and there’s a no-reservation policy, so waits can get long. Sign your name to a legal pad and cross your fingers. We lucked out and only had to wait twenty minutes for a table. At Burma Superstar, that’s a victory.

The décor is similar to what you’d see in a restaurant in Bangkok, with a lot of gold, and plenty of shout-outs to Buddha. This gilded figurine greets people at the entrance.

The dining room features some other uniquely Southeast Asian design elements, including spade-shaped fans and interesting light fixtures, which scatter colored light on diners below. Uh-oh, I’m discussing light fixtures. I better get to the food, fast.On the menu, Burmese items are indicated with an asterisk. Apparently asterisks don’t just accompany home run records.

Burma Superstar specializes in salads. It’s unusual for my family to order a single salad at a meal, but we split two after our waitress convinced us they were unique. This is the “Before” shot of the Rainbow Salad * ($8.75). At Burma Superstar, the wait staff prepares salads at the table. The Rainbow Salad is made using 22 well-balanced ingredients, including four types of noodles, green papaya, tofu, onions, dried shrimp, peanuts, diced tomatoes and a piquant tamarind dressing.

Our second salad: the Tea Leaf Salad * ($8.25). It centers around a finely chopped mound of imported Burmese tea leaves, which impart a subtle tea flavor. Unlike the Rainbow Salad, which was noodle based, this was greens-based. Other components included diced tomatoes, dried shrimp, powerful fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and split yellow peas. This was the rare meal where salads weren’t a waste of stomach space.

Burmese Style Curry * ($11.75) is a Burma Superstar specialty. We were given a choice of shrimp or catfish. We chose the former. We spooned the rich, spicy curry over a side of Coconut Rice * ($1.75), jasmine rice cooked with coconut milk and topped with toasted coconut shreds.

Pumpkin Pork Stew * ($10.50) featured fork-tender chunks of pig meat and slabs of pumpkin in an orange stew. I must need to hone my chopstick skills. Twice, I dropped big chunks of pumpkin on my plate and they splattered on my shirt. That’s okay. I always wanted orange polkadots on my grey shirt.

Our waitress recommended a side of Big Leaf Pea Shoots ($8.75), a broccoli rabe-like stir-fry of Chinese greens, wine and garlic. They were surprisingly addictive.

The big finish was the Classic Burmese Chicken Casserole with Cardamom Cinnamon Rice* ($13.75), an entire braised thigh and leg, baked in a clay pot with spice-topped raisin and nut biryani. This was the closest we came to an Indian dish all meal. The meat was fall-off-the-bone, infused with cinnamon, and the pea-capped rice had a nice blend of savory and sweet notes.

When I first ate at Burma Superstar, about five years ago, I drank the best mango lassi of my life. Unfortunately, they pulled it from the menu in the interim, so I ordered ginger lemonade ($2.75). It was good, with a little bite, but it was no mango lassi.To end the meal, we were so full, we didn’t even bother to ask about dessert.According to the Burma Superstar’s web site, “Burmese cuisine is inevitably influenced by the spices, seasonings, ingredients, and cooking styles of its neighbors. Yet it is the way that these ingredients are combined which make Burmese dishes unique.” Based on the two meals I’ve now eaten at the restaurant, it’s obvious they’re living up to their mission statement.

NOTE: To accommodate the often-overflow crowds, the owners of Burma Superstar opened B Star Bar down the street. According to a flier they’ve posted to the Burma Superstar window: “Great DRINKS, APPETIZERS and SALADS! Beer, wine, Burma coolers, Jasmine Blossoms, Lychee Martinis! Heated outdoor patio! It’s just a block away!”


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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