Sometime in late 2005, Yamo changed hands to Burmese siblings who have since consistently run what could be the smallest full service restaurant in San Francisco, with just 9 stools. Many mistakingly still refer to it as Yamo Thai; the confusion likely comes from the fact that the original incarnation was a Thai restaurant. However, it could also be the fact that Burmese cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighboring countries of China, India and Thailand. There is almost always a line waiting for one of the coveted stools, most likely because of the great bargain they offer. Every dish on the menu costs no more than $6.00, and today’s prices are just a modest increase from the $5.25 per plate from over eight years ago! The lines are shorter during lunch time, and Yamo probably offers less of a wait than the popular Mission Chinese Food around the corner.
It is truly a hole-in-the wall, located half a block up from Mission on 18th Street:
A peek into the tiny restaurant shows its cramped quarters with tight spacing of the stools:
Yamo is staffed and operated by three women through lunch and dinner service, so don’t expect stellar service with conversation or a change of silverware between courses. Once a stool opens up they quickly turn over the place setting, and eventually the “boss” woman in the middle will take your order and then “bark” it out loudly to the others. Prep work and cold items are served from the right side of the kitchen:
Menu items usually offer a choice of protein (chicken, prawns, fish, tofu, beef, pork) or vegetables (broccoli, carrots, onions, peppers, mushrooms), cooked in a certain style (curry, Mango chicken, fried with black beans, etc.) and served over rice or egg noodles. The middle chef assembles all of the ingredients and lines them up for cooking on the hot stove. The left side of the kitchen is expertly manned by this efficient cook who puts on a great show with quick stir frying and the occasional fire in the wok:
One item that we always get is the Tea Leaf salad made with cabbage, onions, tomatoes, fried legumes, dried shrimp, nuts, sesame seeds and fermented tea leaves. Mixed with a slightly sweet fish sauce dressing, the salad is pungent, bitter, and tangy:
The first entrée we ordered was the curry fish, which featured a generous amount of lightly battered fried tilapia, mushrooms, onions and peppers in a curry sauce served over rice:
We would usually order their Chicken noodle soup which comes with a coconut curry broth (tip: add vegetables); but since it was hot, we went with our other favorite, the Yamo House Noodles with pork mixed with fried garlic:
They don’t serve any alcohol and have a sign thanking patrons not to BYOB. Get takeout if you insist on having a beer with your Burmese chow.
Usually overshadowed by Richmond’s Burma Superstar, Yamo is the a great alternative for authentic Myanmar food. With Rangoon Superstar set to open in Berkeley from a former chef of Burma Superstar, could Burmese food be the next Asian food rage as Korean food is now?
Often times, a second line for placing or picking up takeout orders forms, so make sure to ask which line you are in if you plan to dine there. With so few seats, it’s not a good idea to come with a big group, but it is perfect for one or two people. The three hard working ladies are excellent at keeping up with the demanding pace of constant turnover of diners and handling all of the takeout orders. Their system seems to work, and it’s really amazing how two people can easily dine there for just about $20 for a satisfying meal, making it one of San Francisco’s best bargain eats.