Food Passport: Yamo serves up Burmese classics
Stir fried egg noodles mixed with fried garlic, green onions, cilantro and beef from Yamo. The Mission restaurant serves meals with flavors influenced by Burmese cuisine. All photos by Catherine Uy
At the corner of 18th and Mission, lies a tiny restaurant, tucked between a beauty salon and smoke shop. Red paint peels and cracks off the surface of its tiled walls, some of which appear to be missing or broken. Below the window is a faded image of cats eating noodles with chopsticks from bright orange bowls.
Yamo is the kind of place you could easily miss if you walked by because of its run-down appearance, but its pungent aroma of garlic and spices are enough to lure you in. The hole-in-the wall Burmese restaurant serves a variety of dishes for takeout or dine-in. There’s sautéed tofu with black beans and mixed vegetables, samusas and chicken noodle soup cooked with a coconut milk base.
On weekdays, long lines of customers wait for their takeout or a chance to dine inside the tiny joint that serves hearty meals for under $10.
Expect to wait at least fifteen minutes for a seat, and a few more minutes for a chance to order. Don’t even think about going inside to check for empty seats. An elderly woman at the counter will squint her eyes, give you a mean glare and shoo you away.
The wait can be annoying, especially since the restaurant only seats about ten people. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat, you’ll find rows of Viet Huong fish sauce bottles set against the window and a sign that reads: “Cash Only.”
You’ll be welcomed by a gray-haired woman, who won’t say anything at all. She’ll throw a paper placemat and menu on the counter where you sit and leave to tend to other diners. After a few minutes, she’ll visit you again, with an intense gaze, yelling to ask what you want. It’s like eating with your least favorite aunt.
A rich aroma of smoke, spices and meat fills the small rectangular space. There are no tables, just a long counter offering an up-close view of the women prepping and cooking thanks to its open kitchen. The bar stools are arranged so close together that you’re basically bumping elbows with the person next to you. Behind the counter are two women, one taking orders and prepping meals, and another in a maroon apron cooking.
The women behind Yamo don’t seem to care about the dining experience, it’s all about the food.
The vegetable egg rolls while crisp and flakey, needs more seasoning. Portion wise, their popular tea-leaf salad is not enough, but it still packs a burst of flavors and textures. It’s sweet and sour, and tastes as if it were doused in a citrus dressing. The sesame seeds and fried beans give it a nice crunch, while the onions create this bitter bite. The only issue was that there were more cabbage than tea leaves.
But when your beef house noodles finally come, you’ll realize that the attitude and wait are worth it. The noodles are soft and warm, and garnished with crunchy bits of fried garlic. It’s mixed with green onions and minced cilantro served with thin slices of soft, tender beef. It’s incredibly greasy, but delicious, nonetheless.
The verdict: If you don’t mind smelling like smoke afterwards, dine in at Yamo. Otherwise order takeout.
★★★ out of 5
Yamo, 3406 18th St, San Francisco