Golden Mandalay: The Other Burmese Restaurant
(Golden) Mandalay Restaurant
4344 California St
(between 5th Ave & 6th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94118 (415) 386-3896
I dined at the Golden Mandalay Restaurant (sometimes just called “Mandalay”) the other day to see how it compared to its more popular neighbor, Burma SuperStar.
I could only find two Burmese restaurants listed in SF…anyone know why?
Editor’s Update: Thankfully there are now more Burmese food options in San Francisco, due in large part to the success of Burma Superstar. If you prefer a more quiet and faster option, read on…
And the buzz is correct — how come more people don’t go to the GM? It is roomier than BSS, and the prices are more reasonable (~$6.50 – 10.00 for main dishes).
Here’s some quick background on Burma….which is now actually called Myanmar. (“Burmese” really applies to one of three ethnic groups that have populated the geography of what we now call Myanmar). The country is bordered by India, China, Laos, and Thailand, and you’ll notice those influences in the Burmese dishes. Let’s just say for now, things are a bit rough there, and you shouldn’t plan any luxury trips anytime soon. But what do I know, I’m just here to write about the food.
From what I’ve noticed at Burmese cuisines (all two that I’ve frequented), the following are common: special salads, and…dishes that have equivalents at other ethnic restaurants. I note the latter point because I wonder why someone would order Pad Thai or potstickers at a Burmese restaurant — sure you’re free to do so, but…why not try to experience stuff you can only order at a Burmese restaurant?
My friend and I were here on a purely scientific mission – taste the salads. Note to readers – don’t copy our method. Go with the flow.
Burmese salads are made of several ingredients that your host/ess mixes up for you at your table. There are many similar ingredients that overlap amongst the salads, all of which have very strong, unique tastes, so…on our third of three salads, let’s just say we became overwhelmed by the taste overlaps. However, our sacrifice is hopefully going to help you readers.
We ate three salads and one “main” dish (though since my friend is vegetarian, I allowed myself to suffer meatless, again).
* Tea Leaf Salad (GM’s most popular) – 6.25
* Ginger Salad – 6.25
* Rainbow Salad – 7.00
* Nan Gyi Dok – 5.75
The Tea Leaf Salad consists of: lentils, ground shrimp, fried garlic “chips”, sesame seeds, green pepper, fish sauce, chopped peanuts, and a mound of wet Burmese tea leaves in the middle. These were all mixed together and was an interesting blend of flavors that captured our attention, as a first dish. The tea leaves were not bitter at all, as has been my experience whenever I mistakenly ate some tea leaves in a cup of tea at a Chinese restaurant…not exactly the same, but the only equivalent experience I can think of. The garlic chips were not overpowering – again, all added subtly to the overall flavor.
The Ginger Salad was…EXACTLY the same as the Tea Leaf Salad except instead of the tea leaves, substitute a pile of shredded ginger. It was our mistake to order the exact same dish — so we had more of the similar flavors of the fish sauce and peanuts… but the ginger really gave us a wallop. I don’t usually eat ginger when I eat sushi – and I never see it otherwise. This ginger didn’t look like it was shredded from fresh root – though it didn’t taste like the pickled pink ginger of sushi side-dish fame. Instead, imagine how hash browns are shredded — thin, mandolin-like rectangles…that is what the ginger was like…though floppier.
I did find the salad had pleasant bites, where I didn’t taste the ginger at its full strength, but there were other times I was almost knocked out of my seat – and I tried my best to really mix everything up! If you are a fan of ginger (ie you eat it all up from your sushi plate), go ahead and try this out.
The Rainbow Salad had more veggies but also had similar ingredients: lentils, ground shrimp, fried garlic chips, sesame seeds, red lettuce, fish sauce, cilantro, clear rice noodles, peanuts….oh, those peanuts were appearing EVERYWHERE. We made an assumption that a salad was going to be filled with just vegetables and carbohydrates. Little did we know that the peanuts and whatever oil was drizzled on top of these dishes would quickly add up to a sense of becoming real full, real fast. This salad tasted the most fresh — but only because of the presence of fresh (not dried or soaked) vegetable.s Good good good, as well, but..again, word to the wise: pick ONE salad.
The Nan Gyi Dok is a warm dish made of Burmese coconut rice noodles with tofu, split yellow peas, fried onion, and cilantro. OH, and peanuts. Ok, so by this time, we were impressed with all the dishes, but a little burnt out on the peanuts — but this dish was tasty, too! The fresh onon and cilantro gave our palates a flavor change.
We also finished with a dessert that was some sort of tapioca pudding drizzled over ice cream and sprinkled with raisins, strawberry sauce, and, you guessed it…chopped peanuts.
I’m getting full just thinking about the peanuts again…I was definitely satiated here and ended up rolling out the door. I would definitely recommend this place over Burma Super Star if you want a less crowded experience into unique cuisine that I’m sure you won’t find out in the Midwest. The 0nly menu offering that I noticed that was missing was Ginger Beer, which Burma Super Star offers (along with some other drink concoctions). At Golden Mandalay, drinks were more straightforward — some Asian beers, and some standard imports.
Our bill, which included the 3 salads, 1 noodle dish, 1 dessert, and 1 beer + 15% tip came out to: $41 for two people. A bit high for the standard grub budget, but…I think you could order 1 salad, 1 appetizer, and 1 main dish and be just right. And relatively, this was cheaper than similar fare at BSS. Enjoy!
Golden Mandalay Restaurant
4348 California Street (@ 6th Ave.)
SF, CA 94118
Sun – Thu: 11:30am – 9:30pm
Fri – Sat: 11:30am – 10:00pm