We found it only a couple blocks away from the Daly City BART stop on the corner of John Daly Blvd and Mission St: Little Yangon. The Burmese restaurant was almost completely empty when we came in even though it was almost 9 p.m. on a Tuesday. A restaurant with one waitress, my plus one, and I. Here there was no next-door table conversation about non-profits, no street artist bros before me on the waiting list, no hipster babies crying, and no scary lesbians except for me and my dining companion — just deeply satisfying, affordable food.
The life of a Mission kid: it might start as something to brag home about, but living the dream isn’t always as all-fun-all-the-time as it sounds. When I first moved to the neighborhood, I delighted in the variety of cheap, amazing food. Cancun was what brought me here and Sunflower was why I stayed. But two years down the road, the places that once made me joyous have become sources of anxiety and malaise. I find myself making desperate choices, like going to We Be Sushi three nights in a row. And anywhere I go I fear that I will see my ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, a previous employer, someone I spilled beer on the night before, or some combination of the three.
Time for a vacation. And just as the bridge-and-tunnelers feel that they must migrate to my neighborhood on the weekends, making it louder, dumber, and harder to live in, so too must I migrate to new restaurant territory. I ventured south and only a few BART stops away I found unexplored territory in Daly City.
Little Yangon’s dining room was lined with Southeast Asian tapestries, an electronic Buddha shrine with flashing neon lights rotating around its head, the soothing sound of Thai pop music swelling around us as we sipped Coronas and leisurely flipped through the menu. I already felt about a million times better.
We ordered a feast: fried shrimp salad, prawn curry, biriyani, and the rainbow salad – noodles in a tamarind and yellow pea dressing. Most of the items on the menu are between $6.50 and $11. The rainbow salad arrived first and when I tasted it I knew I’d have to come back. The flavors in Burmese food are totally unique: a combination of citrus meets peanut meets warm spices – a variety that’s indicative of the fact that Burmese cuisine has roots in three different cultures.
Burma is bordered by Tibet, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India – anyone familiar with eating these countries’ different cuisines will be able to note the way that they all come together in Burmese dishes. Our curry and biryani were infused with traditional Indian spices like garam masala, along with a hint of tangy sweetness.
My fellow gourmand and I agreed that the fried shrimp salad was by far the winning plate. It was the kind of thing you would never be able to replicate, or figure out how to make at home – a magical assortment of fried and whole shrimp, crispy noodles, onions, herbs, and a sweet-spicy dressing drawn from the kitchens of Vietnam, Thailand, and India in one fell swoop.
A rainbow salad, a waitress, and thee: recipe for a mellow evening at Little Yangon. Photo by Alex Fine
Our waitress and a few quiet cooks started closing up shop as my friend and I finished our meal. Does this sound snobby? I care about service. Not in a demanding way, I’m just saying that bad vibes can ruin a meal. But in this arena too, Little Yangon was perfect. The service was mellow, respectful, but attentive nonetheless. For someone used to being either totally ignored by restaurant waitstaff or obliged to engage in way too much overly-friendly chit-chat (and eye contact, shudder), Little Yangon was once again a welcome break.
As we left we thanked one of the cooks, who also turned out to be a sweet Burmese guy named Soe Naing, the owner of Little Yangon who does all the cooking and menu-planning with his wife and sister. Naing started out in the restaurant business immediately after moving to the States, washing dishes in a sushi restaurant. Soon enough, he was learning the art of sushi-making from his boss and moved on to start his own Daly City sushi business called Sunrise Sushi. Little Yangon is Naing’s newest restaurant, and he opened it to cook the food that he grew up eating in Burma. His spontaneous friendliness, kindness, and generosity shined through as he shared his hopes for the future of the business. “We’re getting busier!” he informed us excitedly, before walking us out and thanking us for coming in to eat. Try getting that kind of experience at Sunflower.
Walking back home from 16th and Mission, weaving between people with no pants on and pigeons covered in sludge, I was protected by my full-bellied shield, knowing that I had finally escaped the Mission, even just for one good meal.
Mon 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.; Tues-Sun10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
6318 Mission, Daly City
Beer and Wine