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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

Lunch at Burma Superstar

The famed Burmese restaurant offers delicious meals in a busy environment
Neal Wong
Burma Superstar’s garlic noodles with duck on May 20, 2024. The food was ordered to go before being plated and photographed. (Neal Wong / Golden Gate Xpress)

Burma Superstar, a restaurant in San Francisco’s Richmond District, is credited with popularizing Burmese cuisine in the Bay Area. I’ve passed under its brown awning hundreds of times (I live in the neighborhood) but had never gone in before, so I decided to have lunch there one day.

I arrived at the restaurant at 11:40 a.m., but it was already halfway full. Conversations spilled out onto the sidewalk, creating a lively buzz.

An empty dining parklet was just past the curb, where parking spaces used to be. In the evenings, the inside of the restaurant and the parklet are both full of people. If you were walking between the parklet and the restaurant at night, you’d feel like you were in somebody’s living room during a gathering. I’ve seen the line of hungry customers sometimes stretch to the doors of nearby businesses. That’s why I felt lucky when it only took three minutes to be seated for lunch.

A man in a black hoodie and red apron appeared and asked how many were in my party.

“Just one,” I replied.

The exterior of Burma Superstar in San Francisco on May 20, 2024. (Neal Wong / Golden Gate Xpress)

He grabbed a menu from the server station next to one of the bright red doors, which stood out from the brown facade. He led me into the dim dining room, past the mostly off-white interior to a corner at the back with red walls, placed the menu down toward the brown leather banquette, and left.

I sat at a small square table across bottles of wine stored above a station with stacks of plates, bowls and napkins. There was a wall to my left. A two-foot-tall wooden Buddha bust was displayed on a shelf mounted to the wall.

I scanned the menu. I’ve had mango salad before, so I knew I had to try it. The vegetarian samusa soup and the garlic noodles with duck also sounded good. Water appeared as I was reading, but I wanted to try the lychee iced tea.

A server who looked to be in her fifties, who was also wearing a red apron, came to take my order and I listed what I wanted.

Within three minutes, the tea and soup arrived.

One peeled lychee sat in the tea in a glass carafe, with another lychee topping a glass of ice. I filled the glass and took a sip. It was just a little bit sweet and just a little bit bitter. It was like floral-smelling pear juice and was refreshing.

I moved the plate, fork and chopsticks to the side of the table so that I could position the behemoth bowl of soup closer to the smaller bowl provided so it would be easier to fill that bowl with the ladle provided. It was like moving a pumpkin.

The soup didn’t taste that spicy, but I could feel the mustard seeds and chiles making the back of my throat and inside of my nose tingle. Other ingredients in the soup included chopped potatoes, lentils, cabbage, cilantro, mint, and a bunch of spices. The cooks probably keep a giant vat of the samusa soup hot throughout the day and top it with chunks of falafel when people order it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been crispy when I picked them out with the chopsticks to try them.

The soup was packed with flavor but it wasn’t overwhelming. It was as perfectly balanced as the tea, which I continued sipping throughout the meal.

Two minutes later, the mango salad arrived. It was in an oval serving dish and had shredded mangoes, red onions and cabbage, fried shallots, garlic chips, half-moon slices of cucumber and a sprinkle of cilantro. I mixed it up, placed some on the plate and gave it a try with the chopsticks.

Burma Superstar’s mango salad on May 20, 2024. The food was ordered to go before being plated and photographed. (Neal Wong / Golden Gate Xpress)

“Too salty and not enough mango,” I thought.

The mango didn’t taste ripe when I tried it on its own. The garlic chips were my favorite part of the dish. I tasted one by itself and it was an explosion of garlicky, pungent flavor packed into a tiny sliver of fried garlic. That flavor was subdued by the rest of the salad. I’ve had better mango salad.

Five minutes after that, after having more soup, the garlic noodles with duck arrived, also in an oval serving dish, almost straddling the edge of the table. The piping-hot wheat noodles were topped with red onion, cucumber, scallions, and some sort of crispy topping. There didn’t seem to be any shredded duck as promised until I mixed everything and the duck rose from the bottom.

This was my least favorite dish. The sauce coated my lips while I ate and the dish was a little too spicy for me. The duck was really salty, like it had been brined to keep it tender, but it was still a little tough. It was also stringy since it had been shredded and not sliced. I think the dish would’ve tasted much better chilled.

After finishing the portion of noodles, I downed the rest of the tea. I stabbed one of the lychees with a fork to make sure they’d been pitted. They didn’t taste fresh but still retained a bit of their flavor. Then, I asked for takeout containers, a bag and my bill.

My total before tip was $65.62, which I felt was a fair price. The remaining portions were enough to feed at least two other people. My table was cleared as I packed and paid; I admired their efficiency but felt a little rushed to leave.

Burma Superstar is located near the intersection of Clement Street and 4th Ave. The restaurant opens daily for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner service at 5 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Neal Wong
Neal Wong, Co-Copy Editor
Neal Wong (he/him) is a third-year journalism student and minoring in urban studies and planning. He was born and raised in San Francisco and attended Washington High School. He has photographed and written for Golden Gate Xpress first as a contributor, then as a photographer, and now as a copy editor. His photos have also been published by the San Francisco Bay ViewSan Francisco Public Press, Mission Local, and Xpress Magazine. Neal has also created and taught four SFSU Experimental College courses. His hobbies include traveling, cooking, and reading.

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