I lived in San Francisco for three years before moving to New York. I am back in the Bay Area this summer interning for a legal non-profit in Oakland. Being back, I have been reminded of how great the Asian food is here. Don’t get me wrong. New York has some great food, but there are things that San Francisco does better.
One of those things is Burmese food. My introduction with Burmese food was at a restaurant called Burma Superstar on Clement St. in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco. Burma Superstar is a reason for downtown dwellers to venture out “to the Avenues” for an evening meal. As a result, you may have to wait over an hour to be seated. I don’t know about you, but if I can get something just as good (maybe even better in some ways), I’ll go for the place without a wait.
Enter Pagan. Pagan opened a few years ago on the corner of 33rd Avenue and Clement Street in the Outer Richmond. It’s the last in a short series of restaurants and boutiques near the entrance to the Legion of Honor before Clement becomes entirely residential. They have both a Burmese menu and a Thai menu. Story has it that the owners, Burmese, stopped off in Thailand before making their way to the United States. I’ve gone only for the Burmese. When they first opened, the restaurant struggled with service, which prompted me to stay away for a while after a handful of visits. I recently went back because my sister insisted on having Burmese while visiting, and neither of us wanted to wait at Burma Superstar.
I was completely blown away. They’ve obviously worked out the kinks because the service was excellent. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had Burmese in a few months (Pagan in a couple of years), but the food was way better than I remember! We ordered the appetizer combination (samusas with fried onions, fried eggplant, and squash sticks), tea leaf salad (lap pat thut), the pumpkin pork stew, the fish cake curry, and the coconut chicken curry in noodles (shwe taung kauswer).
The appetizer plate was a bunch of delicious fried things. I think the pictures speak for themselves.
The tea leaf salad is made with Burmese tea leaves that seemingly have been boiled, mixed nuts, fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, grounded shrimp and a light dressing.
The salad usually comes out unmixed and the servers at Pagan politely ask if they may mix it for you. The flavors are mostly familiar to those who have eaten Thai or Indian food but are mixed in novel and exciting ways.
The coconut chicken curry in noodles is flour noodles with spiced coconut chicken curry, split yellow pea powder, fried onion, cilantro, and onion.
Much like the tea leaf salad, it is brought out unmixed and the server again politely asks to mix it for you. The chicken isn’t wasn’t spicy, but had a nice spiced flavor. It went well with the freshly chopped cilantro, onion, and coconut milk.
My boyfriend’s favorite was the pumpkin stew. The pumpkin soaked up the juices, was starchy like a potato but more gooey with just a tad of sweetness. The pumpkin, I think, was actually kabocha, an Asian variety of winter squash. I’m no expert on what falls into the pumpkin category. Needless to say, it was delicious. They didn’t peel the green skin off the mystery pumpkin/squash, and it did not take away from the texture or flavor at all (note to self before I almost cut off one of my fingers again while peeling a kabocha).
I’m a sucker for fish cakes. My biggest complaint was that there wasn’t enough of them!
I would also suggest trying the Rainbow Salad if you are hungry enough.
Pagan would make an excellent lunch or dinner after a few holes of golf at Lincoln Park, a visit to the Legion of Honor, a hike through Lands End/Sutro Baths Ruins, a stroll through the park or a day in the sun at Ocean or Baker Beach. Parking is not terrible as far as San Francisco goes. It’s also close to the 1/18/38/38L Muni lines.
Pagan Restaurant is located at 3199 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121. Phone: (415) 751-2598. They are open Tuesday through Friday from 5:30pm to 10:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am to 3:30pm for lunch then 5:00pm to 10:00pm for dinner. They are closed on Mondays.