SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.
Mandalay Restaurant, in the Inner Richmond, has become the dowager of Burmese restaurants. After 27 years, she is encrusted in glinting baubles ― Christmas decorations never taken down ― not inclined to rush, and the source for a proper tea leaf salad, unadulterated with lettuce or whatever else the kids are getting creative with these days.
And while Mandalay's soupy, coconut-rich “Mandalay special noodles” show up on many of the tables, there's more intrigue to the kaw soi dok, listed right below. The pairing of nutty and tangy ― toasted garlic and the low, long squeeze of tamarind ― is singularly Burmese. So are the variegated crunches: brittle fried onions, watery cucumber shreds, the bean sprouts' cool bursts, all popping and crackling in syncopated rhythm over the basso continuo of an oily split-pea sauce. It's not a flashy dish, and after two bites you worry that you'll tire of it quickly. But then a cilantro leaf flashes through and you encounter another clump of fried onions, and you're soon dredging the last yellow noodles up out of the bowl with your fingertips.