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Larkin Express Deli

May 31, 2007

Short Exact has been terribly busy lately (which explains the lack of posts recently), but Larkin Express Deli — a restaurant located (funnily enough) on Larkin Street, in the shadow of the old Federal Building on the Tenderloin/Civic Center border — is a restaurant we’ve been meaning to write about for several weeks now, and we didn’t want to wait on this any longer, since it’s a special sort of spot. On the surface, it looks unremarkable, like any standard deli,

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and the generic name “Larkin Express Deli” does nothing to discourage that notion. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Larkin Express Deli has a bit of a split personality. If you click on the above image and enlarge it in Flickr, the menu written on the chalkboard looks like a fairly standard American deli menu, including a variety of burgers, meat plates, and sandwiches (such as turkey, chicken, meatball, roast beef, pastrami, reuben, and others). However, lurking beneath the surface of this seemingly commonplace deli is a second menu, consisting of several authentic Burmese specialties — including such favorite, classic dishes as the catfish chowder moh hinga, the tea leaf and ginger salads, and the chicken coconut soup ong noh kau swer. Note: we have not ordered any of the American deli fare, only the Burmese dishes, so this review is based exclusively on the Burmese food, and this post has only been filed away in the Burmese cuisine category.

On a recent visit, we ordered the chicken coconut soup,

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and it was a delight. The noodles were perhaps a touch softer than we would have liked, but they were still pleasantly chewy (not the least bit mushy), and they thoroughly absorbed the flavors of the soup. The soup base was a deliciously layered and well balanced mix of curry and coconut milk, with a deep underlying chicken flavor from the stock. Chunks of tender, moist, flavorful dark meat chicken were scattered throughout the soup, and the fried peas added crunch and an additional flavor dimension. Considering the very reasonable price ($5.50, at the time of this post) for this generous portion of soup, the garnish of fried peas and fresh cilantro was unexpected, but very much appreciated.

We also ordered one of our favorite Burmese standards, the tea leaf salad (la pat dok), to go. We sort of mumbled in passing that we would probably end up trying a bit of the salad in the restaurant, just as a sample, and we expected to simply take a bite or two out of a to-go container. Imagine our surprise when a small portion was served on a plate,

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a plate that was even green to match the hue of the green tea leaves that are the centerpiece of this dish. This was a simple gesture, but it helps to demonstrate the genuine and thorough service here, which was all the more unexpected because the words “express” and “deli” in the restaurant name do not immediately suggest that there should be good service, or even any service at all.

Of course, the portion of salad in the above picture is just a small fraction of the much larger full portion. This dish was a touch oily, but it contained a delicious mixture of textures and flavors, with numerous ingredients, including garlic, peanuts, split peas, sesame seeds, wedges of tomato, and the namesake tea leaves. The centerpiece of this dish is, of course, the tea leaves, which feature a wonderfully strong, pungent flavor that is complemented well by the other milder ingredients. No corners were cut, as these tea leaves were imported straight from Myanmar. Notably, the la pat dok does not include any Western salad greens (which less traditional versions of this dish will sometimes use, perhaps to make it appear more salad-like to Americans), and the fact that the tea leaves are the only greens present helps to emphasize their role in the salad. When all is said and done, the la pat dok is a lovely, flavorful mixture.

Visiting this restaurant was a great experience. We dropped by later in the afternoon, when we were one of few customers, and this gave us the chance to chat with Dennis, the owner, for quite awhile. (Dennis also runs the Tennessee Grill restaurant, out on Taraval, which we have not visited. Unfortunately, there is no Burmese food to be found there!) Our chat not only revealed what a genuinely friendly person Dennis is, but also the care and effort which has gone into crafting the Burmese side of the menu. While the American half of the menu is a legacy of the previous owners (and, we imagine, the sandwiches and burgers are probably popular at lunchtime for office workers in the area), the Burmese half of the menu is a labor of love, in which Dennis showcases the cuisine of his native country, and the time and care that is put into these authentic home-cooked Burmese dishes shine through clearly. Combined with the kind and caring service, this restaurant has all the homey comfort that one might experience eating in a friend’s kitchen.

For Burmese east of Divisadero Street, look no further than Larkin Express Deli.

RATING:

COST:

452 Larkin Street (between Golden Gate Ave. and Turk St.)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: 415.474.5569
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10:00 am – 7:00 pm.

Cuisine: Burmese
Neighborhood: Tenderloin, Hayes Valley/Civic Center

How to get there: Muni lines 5, 19, 21, 31, 38, 47 and 49. The restaurant is 4-5 blocks from lines 6, 7, 9, 71, F, J, K, L, M, N, and T (Civic Center BART/Muni station).

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3 comments

  1. I’ve seen that place when casually driving by, but I never knew that it served Burmese food! I never really bothered to inspect it more closely, but think I will now. Funny enough, I actually go to the Tennessee Grill quite often (for cheap and delicious American breakfast fare). Thanks for posting for us readers, even though you are busy. Also, when you find a lull in your schedule, I tagged you for a post about your top five favorite restaurants in the City (or the Bay Area). If you are interested in participating, I love to read about your choices!


  2. With you on being busy, buddy. Work can really put a crimp on life.


  3. @ Chubbypanda: It’s true, hope you’re not letting it do that too much.

    @ PE: Thanks for the tag! I will give this a good think, although I’m not quite sure when I’ll be able to post on it. I’m never good at this “top x choices” type of thing, since I usually end up agonizing about what “top” means! But I will think on it, thanks for the tag.



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