The East Bay is home to Burmese restaurants that are more popular, more upscale, and better appointed. But if your interest is in the food, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than this humble hole-in-the-wall, where the prices are jaw-droppingly low and the cooks don’t shy away from the bold, funky flavors of a cuisine that American diners often experience in a watered-down, sanitized form. Grocery Cafe’s tea leaf salad, for instance, is as potent a rendition as you’ll find in the Bay Area — loaded with the dark green fermented leaves, along with tiny dried shrimp that add an extra layer of umami. And if you have a craving for spicy curries or chowder-y noodle soups, the restaurant’s down-home versions are sure to please.
Meanwhile, the place has an appealing, off-the-cuff vibe, with its mismatched tables, walls lined with album covers from the Seventies, and, especially, the eclectic deli display case in front, which offers other unexpected sensory pleasures: tubs of balachaung (a spicy, and delicious, dried-shrimp condiment) and, for those who indulge, the chewable narcotic known as the betel nut.