Tea leaf salad is a pungent, crunchy bite of Burma, where some consider it the national dish. Order a tea leaf salad and you get a platter of fermented tea leaves (they look like dark, oily pesto) and an array of accompaniments that can include garlic, dried shrimp, peanuts, seeds, sliced jalapeños, cherry tomatoes, and split peas, spritzed with lemon and tossed at the table. Sometimes the leaves are cut with cabbage or lettuce—Chowhounds disagree about whether this is heresy, but they do reach a consensus on the best places in the SF Bay Area to score tea leaf salad. Here, in alphabetical order, are the tea leaf salads Chowhounds are buzzing over.
2. BURMA SUPERSTAR
309 Clement Street, San Francisco
4721 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
1345 Park Street, Alameda
This tourist-guide favorite has three locations: the original in SF’s Inner Richmond district, a branch in Alameda, and an Oakland spin-off. All three get seriously crowded, so plan accordingly.
3. BURMESE KITCHEN
452 Larkin Street, San Francisco
What started as a sandwich shop with steam-table options changed into a full-fledged Burmese restaurant after lunch-goers got a taste of Chef Dennis Lin’s regional cooking. Lin uses lime juice to marinate whole tea leaves he buys directly from a farm in Burma and personally lugs back to San Francisco.
4348 California Street, San Francisco
The prized salad (pictured) at this Inner Richmond restaurant contains no filler: no lettuce, no cabbage, just a hefty portion of funky, fermented leaves with crunchy pulses and other accompaniments.
8. SAPPHIRE TASTE OF BURMA
475 Sacramento Street, San Francisco
Since this is mostly a lunch place for workers in San Francisco’s Financial District, maybe it’s no surprise that the tea leaf salad is less pungent than some. [Note: According to its website, Sapphire is currently closed but says it plans to reopen soon.]