By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
About a month ago, I walked to Brooklyn, which didn't take long (I was staying at a friend's place in Manhattan). Still, my dogs were barking by the time I returned, so I strolled up to a friend's rooftop deck, lit a cigarette, and just ... took it all in. It was a temperate day, at least for November in New York. The horizon was etched with buildings as far as the eye could see. East Coast hip hop boomed from the apartments across the street, a staccato underscored by the deep, unrelenting roar of a city I'd been 99.9 percent sure I was moving to until that moment. Today I'm 107 percent sure -- 112 percent if you figure in the pastrami at Katz's Deli, the pizza at Rosario's, and the Dominican-style roast chicken at Cibao -- all conveniently located within blocks of my new sublet on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Though I don't want to say too much in parting (farewells always make me teary), I'll miss my friends, my apartment, good dope, my weekly football game, and the kindly fishmongers at the Mission Meat Market. As for the food scene in San Francisco, well, I don't know anyone who'd claim it's as exciting as it was a few years ago, when cutting-edge places were opening as fast as I and other critics could review them. Mourn the lull if you must; better yet, take the opportunity to explore the Bay Area's greatest culinary treasures -- that special breed of eatery I've come to think of as the Top-Tier Ethnic Restaurant.
Such establishments tend to fall into a certain mold. They've usually been around a while, are often crowded, and deliver food so superb you may end up planning a return visit about three bites into your first meal. The place will, in all likelihood, have a certain flavor, which can manifest itself in the odd serenity of the Helmand, the skankiness of Tu Lan, or the bustling, after-hours scenes at Osha Thai and Yuet Lee. They're the nosh spots I dream about late at night, tossing in my wretched bed as I pine for the Persian stews at Maykadeh, the pozole at La Quinta, and the unbeatable sashimi combination at Kabuto. Tried the shabu-shabu at Maki? Dim sum at Koi Palace? Do so and you'll realize that, recession or not, some restaurants in these parts are so excellent that God himself couldn't kill them.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Region: Richmond (Inner)
Rainbow salad $7.50
Pork curry $8.50
Stir-fried squid $9
Bun tay kaukswer $6.50
Tan poi $1.50
Coconut fritters $5.75
Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., closed Monday
Reservations accepted for parties of six or more
Noise level: moderate
To the preceding list -- which could be much longer -- I would add Burma Superstar, a cozy Clement Street site that features the Thai-Indian-Chinese fusion developed by the good people of Myanmar (known as Burma until 1989). Though "Myanmar Superstar" has a nice ring to it, I wouldn't change a thing about Burma Superstar. The service is friendly, the line doesn't get too long on weekdays, and the décor is layered with knickknacks -- Buddhas, masks, branches intertwined with Christmas lights -- collected over the past 10 years. Before I hit the road, I may round up a large enough party to take over the lone banquet table, but during my final SF Weekly visit I brought my friends Lauren, who's been on a few of these trips yet somehow never got her name into a review, and Elsbeth, who's been on many, many outings. (For those who've asked, yes, she's that Elsbeth -- curly hair, shots of Fernet. What other Elsbeth could there be?)
Perhaps the best way to describe Burma Superstar is to say that you won't want to tell anyone about the place unless you've decided to move 3,000 miles away. Beverages run from tea and beer to a nine-bottle wine list ($15-22, all selections available by the glass). Thus far, I've found only one poor choice on the 67-item menu: an appetizer of pork and pickled radish served in lettuce cups with a thick, cloying dipping sauce. Beyond that, the kitchen knocks out exquisite, nuanced dishes that range from Indian-style curries to East Asian noodles and stir-fries. Soup is an absolute must. The samusa version pairs lightly browned chickpea dumplings with a rich, curried stock and ribbons of crunchy cabbage. Moo hing nga ("Burma's famous fish chowder") is a hearty porridge laced with rice vermicelli and onions, topped with crackling, deep-fried mung bean cakes, and served with wedges of lemon that spark this already ambrosial stew to an epic level of delectability.
Alternatively, you could start with the rainbow salad -- a whopping 22 ingredients arranged like dabs of paint on an artist's palette, then tossed into a neat heap by your server at the table. Wheat noodles, glass noodles, rice noodles, and even fried noodles meet (among other things) green papaya, fried garlic, tofu, shredded carrot, and a subtle tamarind dressing to produce a striking mosaic of textures and flavors. The restaurant always offers a few specials -- perhaps you'd like an appetizer of falling-off-the-bone spare ribs braised with a whiff of five spice, or a seasonal treat such as pea shoots stir-fried simply and perfectly with wine and garlic. Rice cookery is elevated to an art at Burma Superstar. Have a side of the barely sweet coconut rice, the Indian-style tan poi spiced with cinnamon and cloves, or the light Burmese fried rice with mung beans and onions.