Saturday, April 25, 2009

Small Eats

This post has been updated!

A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei regularly holds (or maybe it was only once) votes on the best eats in Taipei.

I always enjoy reading these, and keep abreast of that blog as I search for more delicious food in this city, which isn't hard to do anyway as it's a mecca of delicious food.

The thing is, I've always felt that the voting sections and reviews in general focus too much on foreign/Western food and not enough on Taiwanese food, which is far more delicious because the people making it really know what they're doing. I realize that posting on where to find great Taiwanese food in Taipei is like a fish telling some other fish where to find water, but there are times when a glowing recommendation is in order.

Therefore, instead of doing a vote, here's my little run-down of the best food in Taipei as chosen by me, myself, I, moi, mi, yo, je, ziji and wo.

Most of it is Taiwanese food, but some of the below is foreign and I just like it enough to recommend it.

Many of these will seem like rehashes of previous posts, but then if I liked it enough to run home and write about it once, obviously it's good.

The best...

...goose noodles

A-Li Gang Goosemeat

Gongguan, on the same road as Sai Baba but closer to Roosevelt Road, almost at the intersection of Roosevelt and the first road north of the Gongguan Starbucks on the right.

Delicious. Savory broth that requires no added sauces and tender, oily goosemeat in generous portions, as well as lots of other things on the menu.

...
lumpia (lun bing)


Shinkong Mitsukoshi B-1 food court

Shinkong Life Tower, Taipei Main Station

I bet you weren't expecting that. But it's true. The lovely laobanniang who makes this lumpia does a fine job of it.

...shrimp pancake

Yangon

Gongguan, near the northern end of Gongguan Night Market by that creepy kids' park

Wonderful chunks of whole shrimp in a lightly fried, not too oily Thai-style shrimp pancake. This place will be mentioned later, for Yunnan/Burmese food...

...beef noodles

That beef noodle joint in Jingmei just up from MRT Exit 2, with the fat chihuahua named "Meimei"

Dark, savory broth packed with flavor, generous cuts of tender meat and homemade chunky noodles make this my favorite among the many beef noodle options in Taipei (though Zhang Mama on Heping E. Road is also good).

...teppanyaki

The teppanyaki joint in Tonghua Night Market with the red decor (near the Keelung Road entrance, on the right)

I was struggling with whether to name this place or the one in Jingmei Night Market where the chefs where spiffy blue uniforms, but the Jingmei one took kimchi pork teppanyaki off the menu so they lose. This place gives free vegetables as they all do, but they include qingcai (the dark green celery-like vegetable so popular here) which is cooked beautifully, rather than the usual cabbages and bean sprouts.

...oyster omelets

Ningxia Night Market

No question. Next!

...onion pancake

Ruiguang Road, near the Barista Coffee, Neihu

I know it seems odd to recommend something so literally pedestrian as onion pancakes, but these are really good. Extra garlicky. Right next to the giant bus stop on Ruiguang Road.

...cup of coffee

Black Bean Coffee

Zhongshan North Road just south of the Zhongshan-Zhongzheng intersection in Shilin (MRT Shilin)


Try their Monsoon Malabar, ignore the odd music ("The Entertainer" on a harp, "I Am The Walrus" nonvocal piano cover).

or...

The coffeeshop in Naruwan Indigenous People's Market, Huanhe/Guangzhou Road intersection, Longshan Temple area. Delicious coffee, all grown in aboriginal areas in Taiwan. Who knew that Taiwanese coffee could be pretty good?

Update! Roger Cafe - Keelung Road just north of Liuzhangli, east side of the street next to George Vocational Technical High School bus stop.

Go here for the ginger latte! The coffee is good but not gourmet, though they're better than Dante and the prices are fantastic. Plus, well, they have ginger lattes...

Update! - Guy in a little coffee stall just east of the Shida campus (the one on the north side of Heping E. Road, not the main campus). He makes a lovely cup of coffee and has several different beans available. Not cheap by coffee-stall standards. The Mom's Pie's guy often sets up next to him on Thursdays.


...seafood

Shengmeng Seafood

In the small night market just south(?) of Bao'an temple, MRT Yuanshan

Quite simply the most delicious seafood I've ever had in a seafood-and-beer joint in Taipei (and not, say, next to the ocean). Try their pineapple shrimp.

...expensive food with a view

Hongmu (Redwood) Tea House, also known as "Mountain Tea House"

Maokong, not too far from the currently nonoperational Maokong Gondola Station

The tea is alright, but the real attraction here is a double-whammy of great food and a fantastic view of Taipei, especially by night. Try their cubed lemon chicken (li-mon ji ding or something), their mountain pig (shan zhu) and top it off with some sweet potato leaves (di gua ye).

...shrimp roll
on rice


Dihua Street, the little shrimp roll stall near Xiahai Temple

Hands-down.

...dan zai mian (Tainan-style noodles)

"Tainan Noodle Restaurant"

Songde Road north of Xinyi, south of the Prudential building which is at #171

These guys - a family who lives in the same building as the restaurant - are from Tainan and make their local food extremely well.

...American-style trans fats

Tie: The Diner for typical American restaurant fare, Yuma Southwestern Grill for yummy, fattening Tex-Mex

The Diner is near Dunhua South Road, around the corner from Carnegie's (blech). Yuma is off Zhongxiao and it's easy to find - just Google. They advertise a lot.

Most expats will be aware of these two so no need to say much.

...Hakka Food

I'm sorry. Hakka food is always wonderful. There is no best restaurant because they're all fantastic. Here are the four I enjoy the most:

- Hakka Food -
Taipei Main Station, turn towards 2/28 Park at the corner just south of Zhongxiao where there is a restaurant with a 'rainforest' themed-sign, just near Shinkong Life Tower, keep walking, it's on the right - cheap, quick Hakka food with lots of oil

- Hakka Noodles Restaurant -
hidden in a lane just in front of the branch of Shida in Wanlong, south of Keelung Road (bus stop is "Shida Branch"). They don't make much but their dry Hakka noodles are fan-tast-tic and the dumplings are also great. Dou pi ("tofu skin") is vinegary and delicious. Also run by a friendly family who lives just behind the restaurant. They're from Xinzhu.

- That hidden Hakka restaurant behind Taipei Main Station -
except I can't seem to find it again. I'll ask the person who took us there and post an update. Good for sharing dishes with a large party.

-
Hakka Restaurant - in a lane off Yongkang Street, on the righthand side coming from Xinyi Road. Pretty good all-around Hakka food.

...mba wan (rou yuan)

Yuanlin Rou Yuan, Heping E. Road and Fuxing S. Road, next to Shengli Store (the discount 'everything' store on the corner)

Sooooo good. The obasan who work there speak wonderfully expressive Taiwanese and wear hairnets. The mba wan comes in thick brown gravy with bamboo and mushrooms added to the mix.

...tiramisu

Alley Cat.

Branches at Zhishan MRT, Tianmu and on Songren Road far south of Xinyi.

No question. There's a small branch behind Red House Theater in Xinyi but I think they only do pizzas. The pizza is also fantastic, but their tiramisu...wow. It's the real thing, made with real alcohol.

...pizza

Alley Cat - see above

Delicious, thin-crust pizza with high-quality ingredients

...Yilan-style onion pancake with egg

Little stall at MRT Shilin

...in the courtyard in front of Exit 1

They'll make it with a variety of seasonings, including basil. Yumm-o!

...Filipino Food

Zhongshan North Road, eastern side lanes between MRT Minquan W. Road and MRT Yuanshan, go on Sunday

It's all good. A lot of it is made with innards, though. Any restaurant in this area - all are open on Sunday to cater to the crowds returning from church - is wonderful.

...Thai, Yunnan and Myanmar Food

Yangon -
Gongguan Night Market (see above) - good for the Myanmar and Yunnan-style dishes as well as shrimp rolls

Thai, Yunnan and Myanmar Food -
Ruiguang Road, Neihu (ignore their Gongguan branch - it's not as good) - great for the Thai food on the menu, especially coconut red curry chicken and coconut tofu. Their hot coffee with condensed milk is also fantastic.

Nanshijiao (Zhonghe)
- I haven't found it yet, but apparently there is a street in this area with tons of Southeast Asian food stalls that are all fantastic, catering to the local population.

...Vietnamese food

Xindian Night Market stall

the little stall near the chain-link barrier before the suspension bridge


Delicious pho. Absolutely the best I've had outside Southeast Asia.

...Southeast Asian "Small dishes"

The "Thai and Vietnamese" hole-in-the-wall to the west of Keelung Road

In the lanes - just north of Xinyi, enter the lanes across from the World Trade Center/Grand Hyatt.


Run by a friendly Vietnamese guy who speaks English. It's all good - get their cold rice noodles with fried pork roll for NT100. So delicious!

...home-style Taiwanese food

Auntie Xie's

#109 (?) Bo'ai Road, Ximen area - near Hengyang Road intersection, in a tiny walk-down stairwell, across from a giant white horrorshow of a place that I think is intended for tacky weddings.

This is the stuff that the taitai'll cook if you are ever invited to a Taiwanese family's home for dinner. Wonderful. Not to be missed. If you haven't tried this, you haven't tried Taiwanese food.

...hand-roasted tea

Mingcha Yuan

Maokong, Wenshan District, Zhinan Road Section 3 Lane 40 #32-1
A very hard-to-find little spot in Maokong far from the gondola with a nice view (but not as good as the places near the gondola station).


The guy who works there roasts all his own tea and it's all fragrant and delicious. Unlike many places, they don't provide meals but they do have snacks. It's mostly a place for locals to meet and play cards or mahjong.

Wang's Tea,
the famous tea store near Dihua Street (Chongqing N. Road Section 2, Lane 64, # 26) is also good.

...chocolate dessert

My kitchen

I make better truffles - which are surprisingly easy to make in Taiwan - than anyone else seems to offer in this city. I can also make a truffle cake (if you ask nicely I'll even e-mail you the recipe) that makes gods cry, but I don't have an oven so I can't make it in Taiwan.

But if you can't come to my kitchen, well, I don't know what to tell you.

Chocoholic
(Yongkang Street, first lane on the left) makes a nice dark Venezuelan spice hot cocoa, but it's not as cocoa-y as it could be.

Chocozing
(near Zhongshan Sports Center) makes a good dark chocolate cocoa and pretty good truffles but their regular cocoa is too light.

Cafe 85
makes one good chocolate dessert - the Italian chocolate mousse cake. It's actually quite good. But nothing else is spectacular so I dunno.

Starbucks makes one good dessert - the chocolate cake with the goo inside. It is very chocolatey and worth the NT70. But that means you have to go to a Starbucks!

Update! Dean & Deluca - Breeze Center at Zhongxiao Fuxing - these guys do some damn good chocolate cake and other chocolate delectables. Don't buy their chocolate bars though; most are off-date and are white and crumbly.

Update! Salt&Peanuts Cafe - 2nd or 3rd lane on the right of Shida Rd (before the lane with Grandma Nitti's but not too much before, near the guy who sells socks on a blanket) when coming from Roosevelt, near the Korean restaurant. - Get their "hot brownie" which comes with vanilla ice cream. It's very chocolatey and truly wonderful!

...wine

Maison Alexandre


Zhongshan N. Road north of the park/Japanese school, near Whose Books and Mary's Hamburger

Good duck and smoked salmon baguettes (though they use cheap cheese), decent house wine NT 150/glass. Woo!

Near it is a place called "The Wine Closet" that we haven't tried yet.

Vino Vino

The food here is mediocre-to-bad, but they have a huge wooden balcony overlooking Shida park and house wine for NT800/bottle or 200 a glass. It's a fine place to just enjoy some wine with fantastic outdoor seating. Eat elsewhere first.

...Belgian Beer

For selection - Cafe Odeon, lane 86 (?) off Wenzhou Street, Gongguan (turn into the lane away from Xinsheng at the Bastille)

For outdoor seating and a great atmosphere - Red House (Hong Jia) in Shida, next to the park - it's tiny and can only hold maybe 25 people, but if you can get a table it's brilliant. Music varies, but it's in an old-style house that is very narrow.

...south Indian food

Exotic Masala House

#19 Pucheng Street, Shida

Because it's also the only south Indian food. Their idli and dosa are merely "alright" but their curries - especially the Madras chicken cooked in coconut, are fantastic. Also, I recommend the aloo parothas.

...north Indian food

Ali Baba's Indian Kitchen

Nanjing E. Road, not far from Jianguo Road

Not because the food is amazing, but because if you ask them to make it the way they (the waiters who are from the subcontinent) would want it, they do a pretty good job of preparing a decent curry.

...Pakistani food

Alla-Din Indian and Pakistani Kitchen

Raohe Night Market

Fiery hot spiciness, wrapped in more fire. Vegetables cooked in real ghee.

...Night Market

There are three that I recommend, and one that I haven't tried yet but was recommended to me.

Raohe Night Market -
I don't care what they say about Shilin and Shida, this one is the best for pure choices of food alone.

Jingmei Night Market - great food, local stuff, friendly people, and more great food. Jingmei has been a town for longer than Taipei has been a cohesive city, and so there are many famous stalls here which have been in continuous operation since the time when the area wasn't called "Scenery Beautiful" but rather "End of the River" in Taiwanese.

Ningxia Night Market - for down-to-earth Taiwanese snacks, it can't be beat.

...and recommended to me was:

Nanjichang Market - it means "South of the Terminal" and I have no idea why (though apparently it's because many of those who settled here worked for the railroad company, and Wanhua Station is not far away, to the north. It's just south of Xizang (Tibet) Street in Wanhua, in the lanes along Zhonghua Road.

...deals on drinks with outdoor seating

The open-air bars behind Red House Theater, Ximen

Ximen MRT Exit 1

A very alternative-lifestyle friendly area. Don't expect to meet and flirt with a member of the opposite sex here, because he/she likely plays for the other team. Not that it matters, but worth mentioning if anyone reading this is looking for gay/lesbian friendly nightspots. Very lively area with scads of outdoor seating - everyone manages to get a seat even on balmy weekend evenings. Being in back of Red House means that the scenery isn't typical Taipei scooters-and-cement, but a lovely old-style courtyard. Plus good food is on offer; there's a branch of Alley Cat here!

...Thai desserts

Raohe Night Market

Most Thai restaurants in Taipei make decent food, but they all fall flat on desserts, which are some variation on tasteless-pink-goo-in-ice. This little stall near the end of Raohe Night Market (the end where you can pick up buses along Nanjing E. Road, not the end near Songshan Station) makes great banana crepes, with your choice of honey, chocolate, condensed milk or a combination.

...Korean

That joint whose business card I lost

In a lane near the Shida Road-Roosevelt Intersection.

Seriously, the only good and basically authentic Korean restaurant in Taipei. The other famous place on Pucheng Street is good (really, it is) but it's not authentic. This place does it fo' reals. Lots of small dishes including kimchi (duh), a real barbecue, not a barbecue-style stir-fry, dolsot bibimbap in a real hot stone bowl, and great gooey rice-gluten thingos in tasty sauce - teokboki.

...shameless plug for my neighborhood 'standard fare' restaurant

Lao Ma (Old Mother)

#230 Jingfu Street, Wenshan District, Jingmei MRT Exit 3 (across from the Hi Life)

I love this place, but not because it's special - seeing as spots like it are open all over the city, in every neighborhood. They make the standard noodles, dumplings, beef rolls, Chengdu dishes, copper hotpot, onion pancakes etc. with a fridge full of small dishes and beer. It's no different than any other spot like it, but it's in my neighborhood so it's my basic spot. If you're in this area and looking for food, and the night market hasn't opened yet and you don't want beef noodles, come here.

...Buns full of curried or spiced meat

nice lady with barrel full of buns

Roosevelt Road Lane 333, Gongguan

Their spicy lamb buns are to die for.

...sweet potatoes

nice Zhanghua Lady

by Jingmei MRT Exit 2

Another barrel of delicious food, this woman's family owns a farm in Zhanghua and once a week they truck their potatoes up to Taipei where she cooks and sells them. Wonderful. In the mornings, next to her you will find a friendly older gentleman or his wife selling a wooden rice bucket full of vegetarian sticky rice (su you fan) with tangy pink sauce. Also delicious.

...stinky tofu

Another plug for my neighborhood, but the lady near the 7-11 on Jingfu Street by MRT Exit 3 who sets up every evening at about 5pm makes a fine fried stinky tofu in a tangy, spicy sauce with pickled cabbage. Her laogong sits with his friends and drinks Gaoliang out of teacups with his buddies while she mans the tofu stand. If he likes you, he'll give you some to warm you up (and burn your intestines) while you wait.

...dumplings

Shanghai Dumplings
Minsheng E. Road, east of Dunhua but not very far, near the Dunkin' Donuts

I like this place more than Dingtaifung, because while Dingtaifung is delicious, it's simply way overpriced. This place has comparable dumplings but, not being famous, they're expensive but not quite so much as Dingtaifung. About NT100 for a steamer.

...shaved ice

Sugar House

Nanshijiao Night Market, in the road that branches to the left after entering the market from Nanshijiao MRT

This place does shaved ice the way foreigners usually like it - with lots of fresh fruit and condensed milk. The ice is available in water and milk snowflake, with a variety of seasonal fruits. You can also get sundaes and old-style sua bing with the toppings that most Taiwanese seem to like (gooey things, goo balls, bright pink goo, peanuts, red bean, corn, tomatoes, taro goo and salty candied goo).

...hot pot / buffet

A specific all-you-can-eat hotpot, seafood and buffet restaurant on Fuxing S. Road between Da'an and Technology Building MRT - but I can't remember the name, on the western side.

It's not cheap - at least $1200/person I think (I was treated so I don't really know) - but it's spectacular. The hotpot is great, as it usually is, with tons of fresh ingredient options to add.

Along with the hotpot, there is a seafood buffet lined with expensive goodies such as octopus sashimi, sea urchins and giant raw oysters with radish, wasabi, ginger and garlic mash to flavor them as you suck 'em down. There's also the usual array of free noodles and other hotpot additions, drinks (including all you can drink beer) and dessert - cake and ice cream (the ice cream is pretty decent).

These restaurants abound in Taipei, but I single this one out for the great selection, especially in the seafood buffet, and the really good hotpot broth.

...update: Sichuanese Food

I bet you all think I'm gonna say "Kiki" across from Zhongxiao Fuxing Breeze Center. But I'm not.

Kiki is good, but it's not the best Sichuanese in town (though they are the only ones who have the pork-stuffed green peppers, which are astounding).

For the real stuff, go to Dingxi MRT in Yonghe. Apparently this area hosts an enclave of Sichuanese waishengren, so the food in the restaurants there is finger-lickin' authentic. And it truly is. Go here:

Tian Fu Jia Chang Cai (Zheng Sichuan Wei)
Yonghe, Renai Road #5, Dingxi MRT

It's a small place near a fruit store with a little wooden screen in front of the door. You would never know it was anything special from the outside; but the inside is packed with people, enough so that this humble establishment has set up benches outside for people to wait.

You'll see young families here, and people with unmistakeable Mainland accents - Sichuan accents, notably - mingling with people speaking Taiwanese. All enjoy the food, which is the real deal. Seriously!

Normally I am not a fan of things imported from China, but there is one major exception - hua jiao (flower pepper). The hua jiao you find in those little containers in other restaurants is nothing. Tasteless. It does. not. compare. This place gets its hua jiao from Sichuan itself, and you can tell by the whole peppercorns and the fact that unlike the junk in containers, it truly numbs your lips and tongue, adding an extra layer of flavor to the scathing red chilis that adorn most dishes.

Get the chili-soaked fish, which is fish more or less boiled in chili oil with water, fish stock, onions, pickled greens, more chopped chilis and handfuls of hua jiao peppercorns. Prepare for initiation by fire.

Also delicious is the Sichuanese restaurant across the street from Emei in Gongguan.

...soy milk and you tiao

No surprises here - Yonghe Soy Milk! They're the best in the city, methinks, and famous for a reason. Get the cold soy milk with "you tiao" (a kind of pastry that my Taiwanese cookbook translates as "deep fried greasy stick") wrapped in a sesame-encrusted pancake. Dip the you tiao in the soy milk as you drink it.

...Taiwanese desserts

Meet Fresh
All over Taipei

Try their Japanese peanut muaji, then you'll see. For a chain establishment, though this chain is really quite new, I have to admit I love their desserts. I'm also a fan of their brown sugar cake ice and several other items on the menu.

Whew. That's all I've got for now. Enjoy!

10 comments:

schmmems said...

OK, you've got me needing to know! Please share the recipe for the truffle cake.

David said...

Wow! It make take me a while to visit all those places. I will print it out for reference.

Jenna said...

I'll put up the truffle cake recipe tomorrow (it may take some time - it's a little involved).

But for David, thanks! There's more coming - I'm working on finding the best recommendations for Middle Eastern, Sichuanese and other cuisines.

Andrew Ryan said...

yeah... what David said. Totally print-worthy. I'm working on a list too!

Jenna said...

Aww, thanks!

I'm not quite done updating, but I get the feeling this post is going to become an ongoing project.

Jean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joanh said...

whew!!! what an awesome list.. i know i'll never have the chance to try everything on it, but it's good to know if i'm looking, i can check here! :)

thanks for linking to my poll..

ps- totally love Little Shanghai dumplings too.. grew up eating them since they were near my grandma's house.

The Ant (nebula) said...

Dear Jenna,
I am looking for a western-restaurant that specializes in home-style cooking. The primary qualification I need is a place that serves MASHED POTATOES and GRAVY!
Where can I find such a place, dear lady?

Unknown said...

Hi, This is great. We're planning a visit to Taipei later this summer and we want to try out the small eats.

Any chance that you have the names and addresses of these places in Chinese so we can easily ask for directions? Thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi, This is great. We're planning a visit to Taipei later this summer and we want to try out the small eats.

Any chance that you have the names and addresses of these places in Chinese so we can easily ask for directions? Thanks!