SFReview

photo credit: Sarah Felker

Mandalay review image
8.3

Mandalay

$$$$

4348 California St, San Francisco
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

Mandalay was the first Burmese restaurant to land in SF when it opened back in 1984. Decades later, the Richmond spot is still drawing in crowds willing to wait hours for a table. That’s not surprising. The sunshine yellow space runs over with charm. The homestyle dishes consistently hit. And we always leave in a better mood than when we came in. Here’s what else rings true after all these years—Mandalay is still a destination.

The special energy in this bright spot is palpable. Cut-out paper hearts are tacked onto the walls, leafy garlands are woven around the wooden beam ceiling, and ornaments and upside-down umbrellas dangle from the ceiling. The entire dining room looks like someone went all out for Christmas and Valentine’s Day and never bothered to take the decorations down. At some point, the entire staff (and diners) might stop what they’re doing to sing happy birthday to someone, then do the whole thing over again for another person five minutes later. The lightheartedness is infectious. Which is why you should blow up your weekend schedule to get here—even if you’re on the opposite side of town—to celebrate anniversaries, work promotions, 25th or 65th birthdays, or yourself on the day you finally pay off your debts to the SFMTA.

Mandalay review image

photo credit: Sarah Felker

When it comes to the food itself, the soups, noodles, curries, and meat and seafood entrées are mostly on par with what you’ll find at other Burmese spots across town. Some dishes, like the slightly bland house special noodles and one-note pumpkin stew, lack punch, but so many others sing that you won't mind. Two standouts are the mango chicken with onions and chilis—the saucy explosion of spicy, sweet, and savory flavors will make you fall into an awed silence. And the balada, a crispy, flaky flatbread with a side of fragrant curry for dunking, looks like tissue paper when you pull apart the layers. 

Some dishes are explained and mixed tableside by the efficient but never rushed staff, adding an almost theatrical element to an already exciting night. The intensely funky tea leaf salad, unlike at most other places, is prepared without cabbage or any greens—and instead gets its complex crunch from mix-ins like fried garlic, toasted lentil seeds, and peanuts. And servers dole out coconutty ong no kaw soi into perfectly equal portions with a level of precision usually reserved for things like evening skincare routines and neurosurgery. 

Forty years since opening, Mandalay is far from the only Burmese restaurant in the city. But we don’t see this place becoming less packed any time soon. Whether you’ve got a standing family tradition of weekly dinners or you’re using a meal here to convince a friend to move to the city, you’ll never run out of excuses to come to this cheery spot.

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Food Rundown

Mandalay review image

photo credit: Sarah Felker

Ong No Kaw Soi

Coconutty. Creamy. Day-making. These words come to mind when we think about this noodle soup loaded with bouncy noodles, a hard-boiled egg, tender chicken, and an AeroGarden’s worth of cilantro. Here are two more: order this.

Mandalay review image

photo credit: Sarah Felker

Mango Chicken

The chunks of sautéed chicken are so juicy you’ll feel jealous on behalf of all other chicken dishes. Throw in some sweet mango, plus chilis and onions for added crunch, and you have our favorite thing on the menu.

Mandalay review image

photo credit: Sarah Felker

Tea Leaf Salad

Waiting for the server to finish mixing the tea leaf salad tableside is an exercise in self-restraint—but the delayed gratification is worth it. Fermented tea leaves, crunchy peanuts, and what seems like a truckload of sesame seeds make this salad an intensely nutty, funky dream. Start with this.

Mandalay Special Noodle

These flat noodles with coconut chicken, onion, and lime were missing the flavor we were hoping for. Feel free to skip.

Balada

Ordering the balada is like heart-reacting to the Instagram story of your long-game crush—always a great idea. The flaky appetizer is lightly crispy, crunching like bedtime ASMR with each bite. And the super flavorful house curry that comes on the side for dipping never disappoints.

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