Tag Archives: San Francisco

The Willows: When a cheeseburger alone just isn’t enough

Yes, your eyes didn’t deceive you. That featured photo was neither your standard grilled cheese, nor your standard cheeseburger. It is an insane, lusty menage a trois wherein two textbook American grilled cheese sandwiches surround, yet manage not to completely overwhelm, a meaty cheeseburger. Yes, what I’m describing is food porn and nearly almost is too obscene to write about.

I can give you a million reasons why I shouldn’t have given into the Willows’ heart-stopping concoction. Why would anyone need to make a burger anymore artery-clogging, triglyceride spiking, carb-laden, diabetes engine than the restaurant burger already is. Western society, thanks to the plethora of burger joints in the past 10 years, each of which constantly fights to be distinctive, has moved far beyond the paltry fast-food hamburger. (Hey, don’t knock the McDonald’s classic cheeseburger! Yes, it might be short on actual meat or “meat products”, but it’s tasty and only a respectable 320 calories). A quarter-pounder? Not enough. You’ll rarely see a restaurant burger that is less than a third of a pound on any menu. So to substitute grilled cheese sandwiches for the standard buns?

It’s emblematic of everything stereotypically wrong with America and yet its iconography. I wonder what first-time visitors to the U.S. would think if exposed to this maddening concoction. The Willows, a San Francisco-based gastropub, certainly isn’t the first or only restaurant to throw down the gauntlet with such a sinful mash-up, which I fondly refer to as the Turducken of burgers.

I could have lost my willpower somewhere or another time else, but thanks to some work stress and open-minded co-workers, I lost my burger innocence in San Francisco, thanks to The Willows.

That morning, I certainly began the day, like many of us, with every intention of eating healthfully. But after hearing a coworker describe that his daughter found a place where one could get a burger with grilled cheeses instead of buns, a few of us were intrigued. I opted to ask them to mule me back one of these burgers, going to a yoga class while they ate in the restaurant. It was a weak attempt to earn that burger.


Any of their amazing burgers can be customized with the grilled cheese “buns.” I chose The Mary burger. It wildly exceeded my expectations. The burger itself was fantastic – excellent quality meat, perfectly salted and seasoned, cooked to juicy pink center. Cheddar cheese to compliment the American grilled cheese, bacon, and avocado, as well as pickles and crisp lettuce added so much flavor and texture. Then, adding the grilled cheese – completely upped the game. The grilled cheese sandwiches themselves are your childhood variety – not the gourmet, raclette and gruyere filled versions you might see at your average San Francisco gastropub. These are all basics – basic white bread and that slightly metallic tasting tang of processed American cheese slices. Underwhelming alone, these sandwiches make the perfect bookends for that awesome burger. It’s a truly terrifying sight, not to mention the pangs of regret one feels a few hours later realizing the extent of the sin.

So yes, I felt pretty terrible after eating it. Terribly awesome…! Sometimes, one just has to throw common sense to the wind for a spectacular experience. The Willows was just such an occasion, and it didn’t disappoint.

San Francisco’s Greens: A fine dining experience to excite vegetarians and surprise carnivores

Vegetarians are accustomed to limited options at fine restaurants. Yet San Francisco’s Greens has given generations of vegetarians (and their carnivorous friends!) living or visiting the Bay Area meatless, international farm to table experiences since 1979.

If you are a vegetarian in the Americas or Europe, your restaurant dining options typically force you to choose between casual restaurants that cater to vegetarians and vegans, mainstream restaurants with a few veg-friendly options, or the fine restaurants with one vegetarian main course (if that). If you want a truly memorable meal and want to get a bit dressed up, you might find yourself reading through sample menu after sample menu on restaurant websites in search of something you can eat.

San Francisco’s notoriety for its progressive culture – as one of the first food-obsessed US cities, the Mecca for “granola” hippies (now, a new generation of hipsters), and a general health consciousness – led me to conclude I would find a host of great vegetarian and healthy restaurants when I relocated to thw city. Now, I am not a vegetarian, but I enjoy eating and cooking vegetarian food, and I am empathetic to my vegetarian friends. It came as a surprise that finding a great vegetarian menu in the Bay Area was more difficult than I expected.

Nourish café’s Bibimap salad – a fantastic detox meal

When I finally discovered Nourish, a tiny, casual vegan café, I was ecstatic. I had so many options to choose from, and the salad (photo above) I finally chose did not disappoint me. Nevertheless, Nourish is a stereotypical veg/vegan restaurant: It is tiny, cramped, and minimalist. It frequently has a long line out the door for its patrons, predominantly ordering takeout (as you wouldn’t have room or time to really sit and mingle). It’s also not open for dinner, and its Inner Richmond neighborhood location is not exactly accessible for many San Franciscans, not to mention tourists.

When a vegetarian friend introduced me to Greens, it defied most preconceptions I have for vegetarian restaurants. First, it occupies prime bayside real estate at the Fort Mason complex (former Army post), wedged between the North Beach and Marina neighborhoods and which hosts an exceedingly popular farmer’s market and one of food truck festival Off The Grid’s weekly events.

  
Now Greens’ decor admittedly has an earth-friendly late 1970s vibe, but in a sleek and airy, blond wood and high ceiling sort of way. An artful petrified redwood tree greets visitors upon entry, the restaurant’s only real indication of its roots in the “crunchy” 1970s California health food movement. Its large dining room is otherwise tasteful and timeless, with perhaps the city’s best restaurant view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the marina.

Greens’ menu is a study in internationally inspired fare, carefully prepared from local California produce, grains, and cheeses. As expected of a fine restaurant, the menu changes seasonally, but it retains a few staples, such as a spring roll appetizer, hummous, and grilled brochettes. Notes of India, east Asia, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and the USA weave through the menu, offering the diner almost too many options.

  
The server was kind enough to let my friend and I split the special mushroom and barley soup as an appetizer. From the description, I expected a bisque but found what my friend described as a “lighter, vegetarian French onion soup” – well, with barley. It could have used more melted cheese than its delicate topping of grana padano, as well as crostini to make it even better, but I had no complaints.

  
We split the hummous platter, and as my friend is an understandably particular Arab, her endorsement spoke volumes of Greens’ quality. High quality olive oil and the right amount of tahini makes all the difference.

 

A meal so good, i forgot to take a photo until it was half gone!

 
Having eaten a heavy lunch, I had to pass up wonderful main courses such as a butternut squash and sweet potato gratin or spinach and chard filo pie. I chose a single vegetable brochette as my main course. My friend explained that one of this dish’s draws was its locally produced (Hodo) tofu. The skewer, which included unexpected chunks of refreshing fennel bulb, peppers, onions, and mushrooms, was grilled nicely without an overpowering marinade. It was served with couscous and a green herb puree reminiscent of a light, more subtle chimichurri. My friend chose a heaping portion of red curry with spring vegetables (pictured in the featured photo), which was delicious.

The dessert menu was extremely tempting. Alas, Greens’ healthy portions left us without room. A banana-chocolate cake particularly caught my eye. Next time!

So vegetarians, vegans: if you haven’t tried Greens, you are missing a true treat. Omnivores: Greens is for you. A wide variety of hearty but restrained options will leave your stomach full and tastebuds more than satisfied. Carnivores: Don’t turn your nose quite so quickly; you will find yourself pleasantly surprised to find your favorite international comfort foods never needed the meat in the first place!

Cotogna: Escaping El Nino with cozy, boutique Italian

There are memorable meals, and there are those meals that give us the sensory equivalent of a photographic memory. Every flavor, every texture is etched into vivid memory. The latter was my experience with Cotogna, one of San Francisco’s outstanding boutique Italian cafes.

I realize that saying “one of” doesn’t exactly sound like an overwhelming endorsement. Allow me to explain. If you are not from the western U.S. or other major US or international city, then you must understand this Fact 1: San Francisco is a major food city; trying to label something as “THE best of…” is like trying to judge the Miss Universe pageant with a constantly changing lineup when you don’t even know the contestants… Fact 2: San Francisco’s rich Italian immigrant history is often overlooked and underrated (see also my posts about fabulous pizza at Tony’s and Il Casaro). Fact 3: Cotogna is a project from the owners of Quince, a San Francisco culinary landmark (even if it’s been long displaced in the ranks of SF restaurants with a month-long wait list after redeveloping their concept). And now, an opinion: I’ve tried several good Italian restaurants in my short time as a San Francisco resident, but none hold a candle to Cotogna.

Cotogna defines its menu as “rustic Italian,” but I believe that is a misnomer. Cotogna’s ingredients may be rustic, but its execution is nothing short of exquisite. Precision and delicacy are perhaps better descriptors. Every bite is one worth savoring, as if you’ve been given the opportunity to sample a museum artifact – a small portion of something you may never see again, because it again may never be replicated.

The setting
Cotogna’s location itself provides great insight as to its type of establishment. In the farthest northwest reaches of the Financial District, it is a stone’s throw away from the dozens of historied Italian restaurants that demarcate Little Italy, but it’s just southeast of the main tourist drag of Columbus Avenue. In other words, it is a bit too well-heeled (or Tory Burch flat-heavy) to be lumped in with Little Italy, but it has more personality than much of the Financial District.

Cotogna is small (typical San Francisco), with perhaps a dozen simple wood tables that glow from the cozy flames burning in the tandem fireplace and pizza oven in the rear. The bar stands opposite and is meant to serve diners, not simply those in search of a cocktail or Italian wine. Consider yourself fortunate if you are able to get a reservation or walk-in seating at the bar. After a windy, rainy El Niño week, Cotogna was a warm Italian embrace.

The wine
Having snagged seats to dine at the bar with a friend, it turned out to be the perfect location to watch some of the behind the scenes action from Cotogna’s busy and knowledgeable staff. My friend might as well have earned the status of San Francisco native based on her twenty-ish years in the city (sorry to those of you actual SF natives, but compared to many of the tech transplants…). As such, she is no stranger to Cotogna and has both rave reviews and high expectations. She also is a true wine connoisseur in that she knows exactly what she likes but is open to recommendations from the bartender – which serves to keep bartenders on their game!

Confession: Italy isn’t one of my favorite regions for wine. I find too many acidic, harshly-oaked reds or simplistic whites to consider them reliable enough to chance ordering (except Prosecco!). But with the help of Stephen, general manager of Cotogna turned bartender for the evening, both of us found a few gems.


A 2013 Li Veli Susumaniello was my favorite taste of the evening. From the region of Puglia (Apulia) in southeastern Italy, it hails from ancient grapes local to the region. A rare fruit-forward but balanced, medium-bodied red, it didn’t overpower my delicate pasta or starters.

The antipasti
My friend and I split two fantastic starters: a burrata con pasticcio del orto and roasted Brussels sprouts al gratin.


The burrata (a cream-filled ball of mozzarella) was silky, its liquid center almost indistinguishable from the texture of the exterior. It was topped with a fresh garden vegetable relish that seemed like a more sophisticated, autumn version of giardiniera. Poached chanterelles surrounded the cheese. I rarely see chanterelles cooked any style other than sautéed or roasted, so they appeared a bit ghastly, but they were tender and not overwhelmingly earthy – which was a good fit for the dish. Toasted rustic bread accompanied the cheese – perhaps the only item I tried at Cotogna I’d bother to describe as “rustic”.


Brussels sprouts are everywhere these days, and I certainly have written about a few incarnations of them over this year in the Culinary Diplomat. I have to recognize Cotogna, though, for a deftly executed rendition. Roasted to perfection and tossed with olive oil, citrus, and Parmesan cheese seemed almost too simple to be that delicious. The earthy vegetable also complimented the burrata dish in a way one would have thought they were – or should have been – paired together.

The mains:
Cotogna’s frequently changing menu follows the traditional Italian “primi piatti”, “secondi piatti”… multi-course concept. Rarely have I ever followed that menu suggestion myself, but luckily, Cotogna suggests, but does not expect, one to do so. Except for its multi-course Sunday suppers!

After such robust starters, a single course was enough for me. The category was a no-brainer. Hearing Stephen describe each house-made pasta choice, I quickly decided on a pasta as my main: a tortelli di zucca (it also happened to be the one description I understood without assistance!).

 


The tortelli – a filled pasta and cousin of tortellini – was filled with squash or pumpkin, sautéed with sage, brown butter, and hazelnuts. If you note the above photo, you might notice the absence of sauce. Rather than swimming (which, for the record, is usually fine by me!) in sauce, the pasta was coated gently. Doing so meant the pasta itself was the solo performers the other flavors were not vocal crutches, but back-up dancers, to use an analogy. The pasta was cooked to a gentle al dente, filled with sweet squash. The caramelized brown butter and chopped nuts mellowed the sweetness, while the sage and a hint of cheese added savory balance. I have tried several pastas around the US with this flavor profile – most notably before in Portland, Oregon – but Cotogna’s was, by far, the best and most true representation of this dish.


My friend ordered the black sea bass (listed in English) from the secondi list. I was lucky enough to sample it. It reminded me of the amazing cod dish I had at Nonna’s Kitchen at Alphonse in Washington, DC earlier this year. That is the highest compliment I can pay any cooked white fish. The bass had a defined but subtle crust and moist interior. The stewed greens that accompanied it had just enough acidity to harmonize the fish. Had I eaten more than two bites, my endorsement probably would have been more robust, but alas, I was distracted by the foodgasm from my own pasta.

Though we had no room for dessert, my friend highly praised the dolci, especially the chocolate budino, and encouraged me to try it someday. Oh, I most certainly will do so – a second visit to Cotogna is definitely on my agenda!

Tony’s Pizzeria Napoletana:  A San Francisco North Beach landmark

Walk into Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in the heart of San Francisco’s Little Italy in North Beach on most days, and without fail, you’ll encounter a bustling, boisterous vibe – and a wait for a table. See what the hype is all about as you sample both Italian and American pizza making traditions and watch the hoarded of locals, tourists, and business meetings alike.

Tony’s is one of those establishments that successfully caters to everyone. Who doesn’t like pizza? With so many styles from across the boot of Italy and coast-to-coast America, the menu can seem overwhelming with possibility. Love Neapolitan pizza? Try their prize-winning Margherita (limited availability), fired in a 900 degree (Fahrenheit) wood-burning oven. Or go Roman – long and thin from a 700 degree gas oven. Of course, who could forget their Sicilian pizzas, which also have garnered international recognition. 

Perhaps you’re feeling a bit more nostalgic for Americana. Maybe massive New York – or Trenton – style pies are your taste. Or head to the Midwest, where you can try a Detroit style pie in a Detroit steel pan, or a super-thin St. Louis style pizza. If those don’t hit the spot, go California-style with the state’s trademark alternative spin on tradition, with a crust made from a range of flours (including whole wheat and spelt), fired to 900 degrees in a wood-burning oven, and with toppings one might not expect. The Hang Ten, for example, pairs Korean BBQ short ribs, pickled vegetables, and mozzarella.

So what did I choose? Both times, or selections were from the Classic Italian lists. 

  
I couldn’t resist the combination of basil and Rosemary, so on my first trip, I chose the Di Napoli (pictured above). Slightly more complex than a traditional Margherita, the savory rosemary and basil were perfect for a cool, damp evening.

 

Classic Italian Diavola

 
On the second visit, my local friend – a regular well-known to the staff – was convinced to revisit her favorite pizza, the Diavola (substituting prosciutto for the sopressata). This pizza is a wonderful juxtaposition of salty meat and cheese with slightly peppery, fresh arugula all on a thin, not quite Neapolitan crust.

Lest you not feel like pizza, or you’d like a vegetable main or side dish, don’t skip their other offerings. The quinoa salad is a light, satisfying meal or side dish, with a citrus vinaigrette bringing together arugula, quinoa, red onion, and feta.

 

Insalate Quinoa

 
The best insider secret is to customize their insanely mouth-watering deep fried green beans by asking for them to be topped with burrata and shishito peppers (that addition does not appear on the menu, and it went far too quickly to photograph). I never would have thought to pair creamy burrata with garlicky green beans, but the combination is a wonderous taste and texture explosion. How is this not a thing?! It almost made me forget about pizza entirely, had it not been for a few glasses of rosé wine.

Whether it’s your first or 18rh visit to Tony’s the experience will never grow old. Your options would take a lifetime to cover!

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival

Ghirardelli, a San Francisco icon, is the perfect host, and its bayside Ghirardelli Square is the perfect setting for a festival celebrating all things chocolate. Experience the gluttony and homage to all things chocolate.

For 20 years, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has hosted an annual chocolate festival outside its factory at Ghirardelli Square near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Sponsored not only by its host, vendors of chocolate, coffee, ice cream, baked goods, wine, beer, and even coconut water participate. From boutique businesses to large corporations, these companies tempt festivalgoers with their products, vying for their tickets. It’s done in the name of charity; this year’s charity was Project Open Hand.

Two types of tickets are available for purchase: The Chocolate Road, which allows tasting samples, and the Chocolate and Wine Pavilion, which is indulgence central: sugar plus fermented sugar. Mmm!

I visited both pavilions – possibly accidentally (umm, they might have given me an extra ticket). I started with the Chocolate and Wine pavilion. I was slightly disappointed to see large, lower-quality wine producers represented. Call me a wine snob, but I tried very few wine samples that I truly enjoyed. All was not lost, however, because chocolate makes everything better, and most wine enhances most chocolates.

Leffe Blond and chocolate covered popcorn. A strange but surprisingly good combination!

Chocolate and peppermint covered popcorn paired surprisingly with Leffe Blonde ale of Stella Artois, offered in complimentary souvenir tulip glasses.

Socola’s rich confections

Boutique chocolates from Socola were rich and more intense when tasted with red wine.


A local cupcake confectioner distributed mini cupcakes, including an outstanding cookie dough flavor that was unlike most cupcakes I’ve tried. A moist chocolate and espresso cupcake frosted with toffee buttercream was quite a contrast from the former but was no less scrumptious.

After that pavilion, I needed to take a break from the gluttony (something I never thought I would say). After a salad break, I returned to the festival, recharged and ready for more sweets.

Along the Chocolate Road, Ghirardelli was front and center with tents handing out their mini chocolate bars. Nearby, rich drinking chocolate samples caught my eye. Though less intense and slightly sweeter than my favorite European varieties, the flavors evoked memories of fine hot chocolate. Get me back to Europe!

Three Twins ice cream and another local vendor served up rich and creamy tastes of their frozen desserts. Vegan and lactose-free rice milk “ice cream” and four varieties each of single-origin chocolate and vanilla ice creams were a nice departure from the intensity of chocolates and truffles. Two small toffee-making companies wooed festivalgoers with their various flavors – pumpkin, Oreo, and even white-chocolate covered pistachio and Cherry flavors called my name.

Other homegrown businesses offered small batch, fair trade dark chocolate bars, along with an assortment of truffles, cookies, and brownies. Some lines were too long for my taste, but plenty of vendors were more easily accessible. I certainly left the chocolate festival fatter and happier, if not a bit sick of chocolate.

Never fear – I was right back to eating chocolate the next day! Next year or any September, should you find yourself near San Francisco, stop in to a great festival at an American icon.

Il Casaro – A cosmo-Neopolitan newcomer to San Francisco’s Little Italy

San Francisco’s Little Italy might not have the notoriety of New York’s. Within the city, it takes a backseat to SF’s more famous Chinatown. But newcomer Il Casaro is one example that proves it is worthy of the neighborhood monicker. It has added more youthful vibrance to a neighborhood steeped both in tradition and the trappings of tourism, which include several strip clubs.

When it opened in March 2014, Il Casaro attracted attention from the food media, including from industry powerhouse Eater. Public relations aside, Stopping in for a bite at this small but open, bright pizzeria, the true to form flavors and crisp, cosmopolitan ambiance will bring joy to your palate. 

  
The open dining room features a marble bar surrounding the visible oven and work area. This layout is perfect for watching the delicate clockwork with which the 3-4 cooks prepare everything from spiedini di calimari (skewers of calimari and zucchini roasted in the pizza oven) to bruschetta to fresh pastas to their signature Neapolitan pizzas.

Il Casaro serves Italian beer and an all-Italian wine list. On a hot day, the light rose I chose was perfection with both my salad and pizza.

  

Salad course

Needing a dose of vegetables, I chose the beets salad [sic] for a starter. This eye-catching salad pairs golden beets and goat cheese (the PB&J combination of the ’00s, but it still more than works) among spiky frisée and walnuts, all simply dressed in lemon juice and olive oil. It’s a synchronous combination that highlights the freshness and compatibility of each component of the dish. In my own case, I hit a stroke of good luck: My server informed me that the typical golden beets were supplemented by the fortunate purchase that morning of fresh purple beets. What a lovely, delicate plate.
Pizza Norma

Il Casaro’s menu is indicative of only small deviation from the purist’s Neapolitan pizza-making techniques. (I haven’t seen indication that any of their pizzas meet the strict standards for D.O.C certification). A fan of pizzas that skew vegetarian, I picked the Nonna (pictured in the featured image) for its eggplant and two cheeses. Its thin crust is layered first with a base of simple, but naturally sweet and tangy San Marzano tomato sauce. Salty, soft ricotta salata and fresh mozzarella offset lightly fried eggplant, the latter of which is kissed by a nutty extra virgin olive oil. Not a touch of excess grease remained, which made me very happy. Further, no single ingredient or flavor overpowered the others – a sign of a well-constructed pizza. The crust was nicely charred but not burnt, and the edges were nicely soft and chewy.
Il Casaro was a solo dining experience I more than enjoyed. For simple Neapolitan flavors in their natural habitat, and modern ambience, I’m hard-pressed to find anything for the restaurant to improve upon. I certainly will return.

Burma Superstar: Proudly sharing Burmese cuisine with the San Francisco Bay Area

This post was written in coordination with guest blogger the mEAT Baron, who is perhaps Burma Superstar’s biggest fan and ardent ambassador.

Isolated Burma and its cuisine aren’t well known in the U.S., but one restaurant and its satellites is working to change that. Burma Superstar of San Francisco transports one’s taste buds to the exotic flavors of southeast Asia.

Visit any one of Burma Superstar’s four Bay Area locations – or its sister restaurant, B Star – and you’ll see why tables are often hard to come by, and even regulars wait for over an hour! Trust me though, it’s well worth the wait.

While they don’t accept reservations, call ahead and get on their wait list if you’re on your way. Otherwise, take-out is also an option. Whether you are a local or visitor, make sure to stop in for one of their lunch specials (although the full menu is available) or for dinner – but try to go early! Your taste buds will thank you, as this is truly a San Francisco foodie experience that is well worth the wait.

Each restaurant’s seating is fairly limited, so groups larger than four or five persons require a much longer wait time. We do recommend against going solo, however, because the dishes are perfectly sized for sharing and sampling. They also have large communal tables, which offer either the fun of meeting and mingling with others who are just stopping by, or an awkward dinner, depending on one’s personality and openness to adventure. What better way could you find to make new friends while enjoying exotic new dishes?

After hearing endless praise for Burma Superstar from my friend the mEAT Baron, whom you may recall as a guest blogger for the Culinary Diplomat from his post about an Indian-inspired tandoori chicken recipe, I had to try this gem for myself. He proudly touts it as his favorite restaurant in San Francisco and as a true hidden gem. With that kind of endorsement, I had no choice but to try it!

 

Burma Superstar passionately honors the country’s Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi

 
At first glance, you might recognize familiar flavors of other southeast Asian dishes – lime, mint, chili, peanuts, garlic, ginger, tea, pork, coconut, eggplant, basil, and others typical of various dishes from neighboring countries, such as Thailand, Indonesia, China, India, and Laos. Noodles, rice dishes, and soups may look familiar, but the combinations will bring new life to your favorite Asian flavors. The restaurant also is sympathetic to any dietary needs or restrictions, so don’t be shy about asking for your dish to be prepared to your liking – even if that means extra spicy.

  
An absolute must-try at Burma Superstar is the tea leaf salad. A vibrant mix of textures, ranging from crisp romaine lettuce to crunchy fried garlic, sesame seeds, tomatoes, jalapenos, and peanuts – all flavorful in their own right – but then add Burma Superstar’s special fermented tea leaf paste on top with some fresh lemon juice, and the salad becomes a transformative experience. Pungent, salty, and tangy, the tea leaves are reminiscent of a sharp bleu cheese. 

 

mixing the tea leaf salad

 
Servers mix the salad tableside, melding individual components into a refreshingly light and eye-catching starter unlike any other. The traditional salad comes with dried shrimp but can also be ordered vegetarian. 
  
Their lightly fried salt and pepper calamari might sound run-of-the-mill, but it is nothing of the sort. A sizable portion, large enough for two persons to share as a full meal, it is tender, flavorful, and served with a sweet chili dipping sauce.
 

extra spicy mint chicken

 
The spicy mint chicken is an outstanding main dish – and was the mEAT Baron’s go-to entree of choice, always opting to request it extra spicy and with extra garlic. CD note: Spicy at Burma Superstar is truly spicy. Extra spicy might have killed me, so I’m glad I ordered no extra heat in my dishes. Packed with whole red chilis and garlic cloves, surrounded by minced chicken, and flavored with a light soy sauce, the mint chicken’s burn is slow but intense. The mint adds complexity to the unique flavor. Ask for fried garlic on the side, which helps offset the heat. The fried garlic adds an entirely new layer of flavor to any dish without the bite of raw garlic.

Tip: Order a whole coconut, which comes cored and complete with a straw to drink the sweet, cooling water. That healthy treat happily reminded me of the (much cheaper) coconuts that hydrated me throughout places such as Rio de Janeiro and Mysore (India). 

  
Garlic eggplant, sauteed in a wonderful sauce, as well as their white-wine and garlic steamed broccoli are great choices for both vegetarians and carnivores alike. Both are tender and full of flavor, and like most of their dishes, they are perfect for sharing – although they’re so good, you may want to have one all to yourself.

I rarely eat dessert at East Asian restaurants, and on my visit, I was too full to order anything. The mEAT Baron, who does not live in San Francisco, is well known to Burma Superstar’s staff for his reputation for consuming the double portions of mint chicken – extra spicy, extra garlic, and no rice. They offered him complimentary coconut ice cream, and when he refused, the other two of us could not refuse a taste. It was unexpectedly thick and creamy, yet light with chunks of fresh coconut meat. I couldn’t stop after one bite. It was that good.

Virtually anything you could try at Burma Superstar is a sure bet. If you’re confused on what to order, just ask the table next to you what they’re having or what they recommend. Everyone is friendly – both the wait staff and customers – and are eager to help. Take a short excursion outside of touristy Union Square to discover the hospitality and brightest food traditions of Burma at Burma Superstar!