The SF Tea Leaf Salad Power RankingsNot all tea leaf salads are created equal—but we still love them all.
Eating tea leaf salad is as much a part of SF life as overnighters in Tahoe, and owning a 35-pound dog and treating it like it’s a firstborn child. We have the city’s high concentration of fantastic Burmese restaurants to thank for that. The funky fermented salad is a staple on every menu. But they’re not all created equal. We took seven of our favorite Burmese spots in town and ranked their versions using a very official formula involving texture, freshness, and crunch. And a salad always gets bonus points when it's mixed tableside with near-robotic precision.
photo credit: Sarah Felker
The tea leaf salad from Mandalay is the blueprint. The queen bee. The Zendaya. It’s crunch extravaganza on a plate—and you need it. What makes this one the one? For starters, the Richmond spot doesn’t use cabbage or romaine lettuce, which allows the salad's intense nuttiness to stand out: there are peanuts, toasted lentils, a truckload of sesame seeds, and fragrant fried garlic chips. The salad is also mixed at the table by staff who’ll squeeze out lemon juice and fold in jalapeños like they’re performing a sleight of hand trick.
The Richmond restaurant that launched in 1992 and popularized Burmese food in the Bay Area needs no introduction. Their tea leaf salad doesn’t either. This version is stellar, and every bite is a banger full of funk, salt, spice, and sweet. Staff will toss the lettuce-heavy dish at the table while explaining the rainbow of ingredients and mixing at 5x speed. Yes, you’ll find Burma Superstar’s salads prepackaged in most grocery stores around town. But for the real deal, walk up to the cozy spot, grab a table, and watch salad wizardry unfold.
photo credit: Carly Hackbarth
This part-Burmese, part-Thai spot on the corner of Lincoln Park is a beacon of fantastic and consistently made comfort dishes, from pad thai and hearty curries to, of course, tea leaf salad. The lettuce is never wilted, the peanuts are toasted perfectly, and there’s the right amount of jalapeño that gives a pleasant kick. It’s the ideal appetizer to power you up (thank you, caffeinated tea leaves) if you’re going to wander around the Presidio or Land’s End. And while we have you, we’d be remiss to not shout out their ginger salad—the zingy little number is just as inhalable.
Burma Love’s two locations in the Mission and SoMa are part of the Burma Superstar mega-family, and they’re actually our favorite restaurants of the bunch. Their take on tea leaf salad is earthy and funky, and includes halved cherry tomatoes, strips of cabbage, and romaine. And, because this is a relative of Burma Superstar, it’s prepared right at the table. Burma Love is one of the swankier Burmese restaurants in the city, so prepare to sip on cocktails or whiskey flights, while digging into the salad, and stir-fries and curries.
photo credit: Melissa Zink
The tea leaf salad at this Sunset spot is the only one on this guide that's garnished with a big fuschia-colored flower—it wins on style points by a landslide. The lettuce and red cabbage are also bigger chunks that get thoroughly coated in tea leaf dressing to maximize umami flavor. Order the salad to kick off a meal of excellent and comforting Burmese dishes, like garlic noodles, mohinga, chicken curry, and more.
photo credit: Julia Chen
You can walk right up to this cheery orange-walled spot in the Richmond any night of the week and have tea leaf salad in front of you within minutes. Theirs is a solid rendition made with whole (instead of the usual crushed) tea leaves. And while it lacks a bit of the citrus zing that higher-ranked salads on this guide possess, it’s still a nice start to the hearty meal ahead. More hits that should accompany your salad: garlic noodles that are absolutely showered in fried garlic, and the onion-heavy chicken curry.
photo credit: Haley Heramb
The tea leaf salad at this tiny, counter-service Mission restaurant is the cheapest on the list (it clocks in at only $8, and heads up, cash only), and for the price, it gets the job done. Tea leaves, onions, fried beans, nuts, and sesame seeds are plentiful, but, overall, it’s missing the special wow factor that other tea leaf salads have. This salad isn’t huge, like the one at Mandalay, nor is there an elaborate mixing show like at Burma Superstar. But it'll fulfill your tea leaf needs in a pinch. And that’s something.