I find ritual and routine are comfortable signposts in an otherwise hectic life. By creating rituals, they put the mind and heart at ease by helping surround you with familiar experiences that you enjoy, and of course, wish to repeat. Burma Superstar is one of those rituals for me. Any time i am in the Bay Area, I meet up with some good friends of mine, one whom happens to be vegetarian. Usually, trying to find a restaurant that can accommodate a vegetarian, and a serious meatatarian is a difficult prospect. Burma Superstar happens to be one of those perfect compromises.
Let’s start with the basics. The room is a bit crowded. While things are tight, i do not find it uncomfortably so. .Service is extremely friendly – though they will often pretend to remember you, even when they don’t. There are no reservations, so there are often long lineups, and a crowded “lobby”. Arrive during non-peak times for your best chance at a table. Let’s face it – San Fransisco is not exactly short on vegetarians. If you happen to end up on the list, and starving, there are a lot of other snack options nearby (including a crepe place across the street) that can provide excellent pre-meal snacks.
Once you finally get a seat, order a Ginger lemonade. A perfect balance of sweet and tart, with a nice ginger zing, it used to be non-stop refills. I believe too many people taking advantage of this has resulted in only one free refill being offered.
As you peruse the menu, you’ll notice that most dishes can come in a meat option, or a vegetarian option. Surprisingly enough, go vegetarian for many of your choices – they are just better.
Whenever we go, we always start with one of their signature dishes – the Tea Leaf salad. Like table side Casear salad, the server will toss together the tea leaves, tomatos, lettuce, fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and yellow peas if you ask. This is really a can’t miss – a salad with a really unique flavour with a fantastic crunch, and bursts of flavour with every bite. It is both refreshing, and does a great job of readying your palette for a variety of flavours.
There are certain dishes that we’ve found that appeal to both vegetarians and non vegetarians alike. The Tea Leaf salad is definitely one of them. Another big favorite is the Samusa Soup. Samusas are Burmese samosas – handwrapped and filled with curry spices, potatoes, and then deep fried. Even though it’s vegetarian, it is a very popular soup with both vegetarians and meat eaters – in fact, it was on almost every table the last time we were there. Made with samusas broken up with falafels, lentils, cabbage, and onions, this is a delectable, curry flavoured soup, with great harmony between flavour, texture, and heat.
For those who are wondering if I have gone veg, I am happy to report they carry a good selection of meat dishes as well. As I mentioned, most dishes come in your choice of veg or meat. The Burmese Curry, available in lamb, beef, or pork, is a slightly spicy, nutty, flavourful curry. But it’s nothing exceptional, especially when compared to curries of many other nations. It will hold its own though.
I’ll be honest though, in most cases, the vegetarian dishes are all better. The Poodi, for example, is a potato curry served with puri breads – great for dipping! I like this better than the meat curry.
Lastly, another signature dish, the Chicken Dahl. Our “final” dish we always order a new random dish. This has included tofu dishes, sea food dishes, veggie dishes, etc. Too many to list, but usually, quite hit and miss. It’s never bad (hard to go wrong with anything on the menu), but just not as exceptional as some of their other dishes.
First, let’s be clear on something. My distaste for vegetarianism is well documented among those that know me. While i can accept the idea that some people just don’t like meat, I refuse to accept that there is anything immoral, or wrong, with eating animal flesh. My point isn’t to stand on a soapbox, but to point out that any pseudo-vegetarian restaurant that can hold my interest is something special indeed. Burma Superstar is a rare place that truly appeals to both vegetarian, and meat eaters alike. If you find yourself on the west side, and need a good value restaurant that will satisfy that all the different types of eaters in your group, this is the place for you. This is not apologetic vegetarian food, nor is it mock meat. This is Burmese food, and it’s tasty, meat or no meat.