Words and Images by Ethaney Lee
I've written about Yamo a lot in the past. It's not a secret that it's one of my most favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Not only for sentimental reasons, but because I truly believe the food is just so good. The ambience and how the restaurant is set up is everything I believe in. It's straight to the point, with zero attempt to make you feel comfortable. No frills. You're there to enjoy the food and then get the hell out.
The food is cooked by three or four Burmese ladies with hard expressions and a zero tolerance for bullshit or repeated questions for 'more water, please?'. Don't bother smiling, they don't care about you. The restaurant maybe fits ten at most, on a good day. You're rubbing elbows, touching plates, and hearing everyone's conversation. You take your scarf and jacket off because it gets hot in there, a strange type of humidity. Your dishes are prepared right in front of you, sometimes the strong whiffs of chili and burnt oil tickle your nose. The pans are old and misshapen, caked with old grease and burnt marks. The pots are constantly boiling and steaming. The stove never gets a break, it's go go go. The sizzling of oil or water hitting the vegetables pierce the air. The counters are packed with stacks of take-out containers, blocks of napkins, two or three rice cookers, containers of chili paste, cups of extra chopsticks, colanders filled with fresh produce and noodles. Since it's such a small space, every corner, nook and cranny is filled. Cash only because no one in that joint has time to run a credit card. Cheap because it's honest. There's a constant revolving of people in and out, in and out. A seat available, and a seat taken.
The food. The food tastes like home, even if it's something that wouldn't have been cooked in your home. It tastes comforting and familiar, even if pb+j, spaghetti, mac and cheese are the foods that make you feel safe and ten years old again. Don't you dare ask for a fork. There's no fortune cookie left with your tab. No soy sauce offered as a companion to your white rice. No patience, no tight lipped smiles, no explanation of the menu. And that's what I love most about it. It's unapologetically authentic and true to itself.