Review: Beautiful Burmese fare | News | Palo Alto Online |


Review: Beautiful Burmese fare

Palo Alto's bustling Rangoon Ruby serves up bright flavors amid upscale surroundings

In order for all area residents to have important local information on the coronavirus health emergency, Palo Alto Online has lifted its pay meter and is providing unlimited access to its website. We need your support to continue our important work. Please join your neighbors and become a subscribing member today.

Just about everyone orders the profoundly beautiful tea leaf salad at Rangoon Ruby, downtown Palo Alto's upscale Burmese hot spot. It tastes as good as it looks.

The only issue is to gauge how much salad you or your party can eat, because you'll want to leave room for other dishes and this one is not good as a leftover. Tea leaf salad quickly degrades into a sad, limp memory.

Rangoon Ruby's gleaming beachhead is fortified by the young and well-heeled. It is nothing like Rangoon, the plain Jane Chinese-Burmese restaurant that used to be on Bryant Street. Rangoon Ruby is pretty much the opposite of the other Burmese restaurant in town, Green Elephant Gourmet, which caters to a neighborhood and family clientele. Located in South Palo Alto, Green Elephant is quieter and cheaper, and features many Chinese dishes.

Under high ceilings and swirling Medusa-like light fixtures, Rangoon Ruby bustles with people enjoying the scene, the bright flavors and the extensive cocktail menu. It's a good idea to make a reservation.

In addition to whimsical tiki drinks there are microbrews and imports on draft, changing seasonally. Among them recently was Hanger 24 Orange Wheat ($6), which paired perfectly with the menu's vibrant herbs and spices.

Curiously, the wine list is less fertile. It's overloaded with heavy-duty chardonnays and cabernets.

But back to the signature tea leaf salad ($14), served in pieces and assembled for you at the table. As with many dishes at Rangoon Ruby, tea leaf salad can be made vegetarian. The standard version involves dried shrimp, Burmese tea leaves, fried garlic, yellow beans, chopped lettuce, jalapeno peppers, sesame seeds and peanuts.

"This special salad will awaken your taste buds," the menu promises. Indeed.

Once awakened, your taste buds may also enjoy fiery pork tofu ($17). While our neighbors scarfed up their tofu one recent evening, we were having buyers' remorse about our monk hingar ($13), pureed catfish chowder. It was just dull.

Another Burmese tradition, the noodle dish nan gyi dok ($14), is served in components like the salad and then mixed table-side. Rice noodles are slathered in coconut chicken sauce and amplified by yellow bean powder, cilantro and fried onion. Slices of hard-boiled egg add creaminess, wontons crispiness.

Burma draws culinary influences from its neighbors. Tastes of Thailand, China and India figure prominently, as do seafood, freshwater fish, rice and noodles.

Dishes arrived at a good pace, not all at once. Rangoon Ruby's servers make a strong effort to please — not a given when dining out.

Our server recommended basil chili beef ($18), which I liked but my companion judged not spicy enough.

Rangoon Ruby is loud and sleek. Scenic photo collages climb the walls, white-clothed tables nestle close together, and stylish tableware includes square bowls and food-friendly forks with long tines.

Vegetarian and vegan options abound on the wide-ranging menu.

Rangoon Ruby opened in June 2012 in the former Cafe Baklava. A sister ship opened last May in San Carlos. The chefs are veterans of Burma Superstar, the Bay Area's hot little chain. Owner John Lee, born and raised in Burma, honed his hospitality skills while working at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. He minds the details, right down to the mouthwash dispenser in the restrooms.

Rangoon Ruby

445 Emerson St., Palo Alto.


Hours: Lunch daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Dinner menu weekends and holidays). Dinner, Sun.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri-Sun. 5-10:30 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: street and city lots

Alcohol: full bar

Children: yes

Outdoor dining: no

Party and banquet facilities: no

Noise level: high

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


Like this comment
Posted by real or fake
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2014 at 10:42 am

Do they use authentic recipes or do they dumb down their food for American tastes? Way too many "Asian-American" restaurants pump up the sugar and oil and reduce the fresh herbs to give their foods a more Americanized flavor.

Like this comment
Posted by T B Avoided
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

We tried Rangoon Ruby last weekend after a movie at the Aquarius. We had to wait for nearly an hour to be seated, and another half hour to have someone take our order. Probably just the novelty of it all, and the chefs/servers are overwhelmed, we thought.

Wow, were we disappointed. We ordered one appetizer to split between the two of us, one salad to split between the two of us, two main courses and some rice, as well as one beer. The total: $116.60

We won't be back. Green Elephant on Charleston and Middlefield is better, tastier, and far, far cheaper: we have paid for a party of five for less than what we paid Rangoon Ruby last weekend!

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2014 at 7:54 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2014 at 5:55 pm

My post was deleted, but I was just pointing out the TB Avoided's claim is impossible - go look at the menu. 1 appetizer, 1 salad, 2 entrees, rice, and a beer can't add up to anything close to 116.60, even if they picked the most expensive item in each section.

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm

My Burmese girlfriend and I went to Rangoon Ruby's a bit after they first opened.

She was surprised at how high the prices were, and now I see the menu the prices are noticeably even higher than they were then.

I don't know if this is a question of "dumbing down the recipes" for American tastes ... being American I usually prefer slightly less than authentic food, as I don't like fiery burning food. Also American ingredients are not usually so bad, though they are not going to be as fresh as in Burma where they buy food fresh in the market daily.

I was not so impressed. The Tea Leaf Salad to me was too dry for my American tastes. There are a lot of dry ingredients that make it hard for me to eat. I like greens and tomatoes with my salads, not nuts and seeds and dried tea leaves. But it is the prices that make many Palo Alto places hard to stomach for me.

I think the problem that reduces the quality of a lot of Palo Alto places is just the rent that is charged to the restaurant owners ... the have to find ways to cut costs and increase profits of they cannot do business. This is why so many Palo Alto restaurants are so over-priced and under-deliver.

I agree with TBA above, Green Elephant is a better deal with just as good food if not better. To tell the truth though, we most often go to Jing Jing the Chinese place next door.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay up to date on local coronavirus coverage with our daily news digest email.

'A devastating impact:' The coronavirus claims Clarke's Charcoal Broiler, Mountain View's oldest operating restaurant
By Elena Kadvany | 29 comments | 10,718 views

Coronavirus Food Safety Update + New! Insider Tips
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 3,661 views

Can you stay healthy without making more trash?
By Sherry Listgarten | 7 comments | 3,330 views

Think about helping others in our coronavirus-affected area
By Diana Diamond | 7 comments | 3,024 views

The University of California’s flexible policies during COVID-19
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 6 comments | 1,684 views



The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details