Sunday, May 3, 2009

Two Great, No, Amazing Restaurants

1.) Hui Guan
#15 Lane 265, Xinyi Road (just north of Tonghua Road)

You know when you read a restaurant review in the paper, how you normally think "Oh that sounds nice" and file it away in your mind to try it later, or at best tear it out of the paper and set it aside to check out at some unspecified future date? That's how we usually are, too.

But then the Taipei Times recently reviewed this place (by recently, I mean "yesterday") and instead of our usual "let's keep that in mind" interest, something about it made us sit up and say "We're going to go here. Tomorrow." And boy are we glad we did!

The food is, simply put, amazing. It's "Chinese Muslim" food from Ningxia, and while some dishes are obviously Chinese (the fiery hot sesame chicken), others taste as though they came straight out of Xinjiang or even further west, from the 'stans (the diced mutton with peppers, onions, celery, cumin and salted bread, or the mini-kebabs). While not exactly the same as Uighur food, each bite did bring back some sweet memories of my trip to Xinjiang in 2003, specifically reminiscences of all the wonderful food I horfed down (yes, "horf" is the correct verb here. When food is that good, you don't eat, you horf.)

And horf is what we did at Hui Guan. From the time that the friendly waiter came up to us and made sure we were happy with our order to the time all the food was done and we were picking at the delicious dregs of it over a final bottle of Taiwan Beer, we shoveled all that tastiness into our gaping maws like crazed competitive eaters. Between the four of us, we horfed down three fen (servings) of mini lamb kebabs, the diced cumin-flavored mutton with vegetables and bread, sesame chicken, glutinous bean paste noodles in chili oil and vinegar, a huge cold salad with a vinegary dressing and rice vermicelli, two sour xiao chi and several bottles of Taiwan beer.

Be prepared for a wait - other customers told me that even before they were reviewed in the Taipei Times, the place was quite popular with a loyal following and tables could rarely be gotten immediately. There's nowhere to wait inside, but outside there's a pet grooming store with a few cute dogs in the window to distract you while you loiter outside.

Taipei has some seriously good food, but I have to say that this ranks as one of the best meals I've ever had in this city. That's saying a lot.

2.) Some Korean restaurant in Shida that's really good
Some lane off Shida Road - on the righthand side as you enter from Roosevelt, down a few lanes, before the 7-11 and right around where that guy sells socks on a blanket in the poorly-lit section of sidewalk.

It's authentic Korean food. 'Nuff said. It's not cheap - it'll set you back at least a few hundred NT per person, but the barbecue is the real thing, as is the dolsot bibimbap (which comes in a real dolsot, or hot stone bowl) and the toepboki (glutinous tasty things in sweet spicy red sauce) and all the soju on offer, as well as the bowls and bowls of free kimchi snacks you get with each meal.

There are plenty of not-so-authentic Korean restaurants in Taipei, and some of them are pretty good. I rather like the one in the 101 food court, which is nothing like actual Korean food but hey, it's not bad. The other place - the famous one next to Out of India in Shida, which always has a line, is also perfectly good, but it's not real Korean food - it's tailored to Taiwanese tastes. You'd think with so many Koreans in Taipei and Korea being so close that they'd have more options for 'the real deal' (I mean there aren't many Ningxia Muslims in Taipei, but they managed a really good restaurant serving their food!)...but I guess not.

So, I highly recommend this place, as does Brendan, who lived in Korea for a few years before coming to Taipei. If anyone in my social circle knows his Korean food, it's him, and he gave it a thumbs-up for taste and authenticity.

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