Most of us in the East Bay have a Burma Superstar story. Usually: a long wait, followed by a good or even memorable meal in a crowded dining room. A first taste of tea leaf salad. An exploration of flavors and textures surprising to a palate primed for sweet Thai dishes or numbing Sichuan flavor. But Burma Superstar is no longer the only game in town. Back in September, U Win Aye, the former executive chef of Rangoon Ruby and Burma Superstar, opened his first restaurant on a stark block of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Called what seems to be a portmanteau of his previous gigs, Rangoon Super Stars, the friendly restaurant is a fine antidote to all of those lines further down the road.
The dining room is massive, with three separate rooms and seating for just about anyone who wanders in. Despite its wan, grey exterior, the restaurant is warm and welcoming. Servers are ready and willing to accommodate special requests and to answer questions. For anyone new to Burmese food, this openness is surely gratifying.
Start with the palata ($5)—buttery, flaky triangles of pan-fried bread. It comes alongside curry used as a dipping sauce; it comes with tofu or chicken. No matter the protein, though, the best part of the dish is the sweet, coconuty curry sauce. There’s a whisper of heat in each bite, just enough to awaken the palate and ready yourself for the food to come.
Tea leaf salad ($11) is also a delight, as much for its uniquely Burmese amalgamation of flavors as it is for the crisp wholesomeness of the crunchy lettuce. Win Aye keeps the delightfully musty leaves intact so that their flavor is predominant. Variegated crunch from yellow lentils, fried garlic chips, sesame seeds, and peanuts contrast the slippery soft tea leaves. A dusting of shrimp powder adds an undercurrent of briny umami.
Moving past the appetizers, the rest of the menu follows the typical pan-Asian model, divided up into soups, noodles, rice, and stir-fries. Vegetarian entrées are abundant. Like Burma itself, Rangoon’s menu shares flavors and inspiration from many countries—think Indian curries made with Chinese ingredients, permeated with Thai funk and spice. Their offerings a similar to that of Burma Superstar, with a bit more emphasis on classical Burmese cooking. At lunch, Rangoon Super Stars offers a $10.99 special consisting of an entrée with soup, salad, and rice. It’s a good deal, but the entrée choices skew towards the safe side of the menu. Better to mix and match from the dinner menu, and save the leftovers for tomorrow.
Monk hingar ($11) is a popular choice for those who desire an adventurous meal. Its broth thick, made from pureed catfish. Slippery rice noodles swim in the broth while crisp mung bean cakes, slices of hard-boiled egg, and a few sprigs of cilantro bring texture and richness. Each bowl comes paired with a plate of lemon wedges and chile flakes, which shouldn’t be ignored. Without the hit of acid, the muddy broth falls flat. An extra dose of heat likewise enlivens the dish to a far more enjoyable height.
Most of the entrées come straight out of the wok. Some, like the mango chicken or its sesame cousin, are easy to find at any Chinese restaurant. Far more interesting are the dishes, like the basil chili lamb ($14), that seamlessly integrate Thai, Sichuan, and Northern Chinese flavors. The magnificently tender strips of lamb are equally spicy and sweet, imbued with a floral undertone from the scattered basil leaves. The lamb’s heat brings out the best in the coconut rice ($2.50), which would otherwise be too sweet eaten on its own.
The restaurant has a bar, and its drinks menu includes beers and wine, as well as a large menu of tea, sodas, and fresh juices. The house special honey jasmine ice tea is Southern-sweet, but it plays well with the spicier dishes.
Rangoon Super Stars won’t be mind-blowing to anyone familiar with Burma Superstar, but it is a worthy addition to the Bay’s growing line-up of Southeast Asian restaurants. Even better, it comes with little wait.
Rangoon Super Stars
2826 Telegraph Avenue. Berkeley, 94705
11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-10pm Monday-Sunday
Recommended Dishes: Palata, Tea Leaf Salad, Chili Basil Lamb
Kate Williams was raised in Atlanta with an eager appetite. She spent two years as a test cook at America’s Test Kitchen before moving out to Berkeley to write, eat, and escape the winter. She currently writes for Serious Eats and The Oxford American, in addition to her work at Berkeleyside NOSH.
Read more of Kate William’s restaurant reviews for Nosh:
Berkeley’s Iyasare: A game-changer for the East Bay
Kingston 11: Come for the chicken, stay for the party
Easy Creole: A fun, über-casual Cajun joint in Berkeley
China Village: Albany Szechuan restaurant is still firing on all cylinders
Homestead: Seasonal DIY cooking done right
Hutch: A hit and miss attempt at refined southern cooking
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