East Bay Burma Boom
This happening Asian cuisine has it all.
In an old Monty Python sketch, set in a living room drab save for a penguin on the telly, one of two frumps shrieks—apropos of nothing—“Burma!” This silly scene has haunted me each time I head out to review yet another new Burmese restaurant, of which Contra Costa County and the Tri-Valley have seen a minor explosion (much like the penguin, which blows up at the end).
As I pondered ways to describe Burmese cuisine, a revised version of the skit came to mind in which a handful of Asian food–loving friends and I are jockeying for a dinner destination. “Vietnamese!” cries one. “Thai!” yells another. “Chinese!” argues a third. “Indian!” insists the last. As their gazes land on me, I pause like a gambler who knows he’s won, laying down a royal flush. “Burma!” I say. And we’re off.
Dishes from the country known in recent decades as Myanmar closely reflect those of neighboring nations, making it perhaps the most familiar of unfamiliar cuisines: mellow curries, wok-fried meats, slippery noodles, and assertive salads. Sweet, sour, salty, and fresh, Burmese food is alive with ingredients including dried shrimp, tamarind, hsaba, mint, and basil. The cold dishes, such as Burma’s famous fermented tea-leaf salad, tossed tableside, show off the cuisine’s fresh flavors to full effect, with a wild assortment of textures for maximum intrigue.
Here are five recently opened superstars—ample evidence you needn’t cross the tunnel for a true taste of Burma.
1. Burma Unique By far the most elegant Burmese restaurant the East Bay has to offer, Burma Unique titillates the palate with lime and cilantro–laced shrimp lettuce wraps—filled with radishes, carrots, water chestnuts, snow peas, and mushrooms. Follow the dish up with one of the signature black pepper stir-fries. Walnut Creek, burmaunique.com.
2. Burma 2 In this handsome restaurant, garlic noodles—tossed with fried garlic, scallions, and cucumbers and served with a sweet chili sauce and jalapeños—are a specialty (get them spicy if you can handle it), and a worthy complement to the tasty lemongrass chicken. Walnut Creek, burma2.com.
3. Burma! Burma! Sharp service and an impeccable tea-leaf salad (a mixture of Burmese tea leaves, peanuts, seeds, tomatoes, lemon, and dried shrimp powder) are hallmarks here. Dublin, burmaburma.com.
4. Shwe Myanmar This casual spot has hands down some of the best curries, packed with flavorful (not fiery) ground spices. The silken, sautéed eggplant with garlic, ginger, scallion, and chili bean paste is also a winner. Livermore, shwemyanmarcuisine.com.
5. Aung MayLika Head for the sweet-spicy mango shrimp, garlicky noodles with barbecued pork, and crispy lettuce wraps with a mélange of stir-fried chicken, mushrooms, sliced water chestnut, radishes, green onions, and hoisin sauce. Concord, aungmaylikaconcord.com.