The restaurant owner shares the recipes that inspired him to take over San Francisco's Burma Superstar nearly 17 years ago.

By Elyse Inamine
Updated May 24, 2017
© 2017 by John Lee

Desmond Tan was a regular. He stopped into Burma Superstar, a slip of a restaurant in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood, at least twice a week. It was the only place, besides his mom’s, that he could get the salty, sweet, sour Burmese food he grew up with as a mischievous kid back in Yangon, stealing mangos and smelling garlic and shrimp paste cooking in the home kitchen along Tharaphi Street.

Here at Burma Superstar, he knew there would always be mohinga, a classic catfish noodle soup, and, oddly enough, egg foo young to satisfy locals. So he noticed when the original owner put up a for-sale sign back in 2000.

And just like that, a former tech and real estate guy became a restaurateur (as well as a busser and dishwasher) and the beloved restaurant started developing hour-long waits in the sleepy neighborhood of Inner Richmond.

Tan is about to release his first cookbook, Burma Superstar: Addictive Recipes from the Crossroads of Southeast Asia, written with Kate Leahy and photographed by John Lee.

Courtesy of Tenspeed

“Despite my love for the restaurant, I never would never have anticipated that I would end up owning it—and expanding it,” writes Tan in the book. “I wanted to preserve our favorite restaurant, and I have never taken its success for granted.”

That sentiment runs through the lush, beautifully photographed cookbook. And it’s a clearly a team effort involving Tan, his restaurant partner Joycelyn and the staff he’s retained and grown since taking over. He suggests mapping out a meal from these recipes like a longtime server with a curry, stir-fry and vegetables for the best balance of textures and flavors. You constantly hear about Jacky, the original chef at Burma Superstar, and his skill in steaming eggs.

The book is part history lesson, part cookbook and part scrapbook, but altogether a clear testament to the beauty of Burmese food seen through a San Francisco lens.