Showing posts with label gongguan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gongguan. Show all posts

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Most Atmospheric Coffeeshops in Taipei

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Ya Zhi Lin Coffee on Guiyang Street

A long while back I posted my rundown of the best coffee in Taipei. While it's not a comprehensive list, it's one borne of personal experiences. Those places are still all among my favorites, and I update it regularly.

That said, there are so many other great coffee drinking choices in Taipei that may not warrant making it onto the "best" list on the merits of their coffee, but still deserve a mention for their friendliness, atmosphere or both. From posh to studenty, from knickknacky and warm to cool and minimalist, from fashionable to so uncool it's cool, here's my list of the most atmospheric coffeeshops in Taipei. There is some overlap between these two lists - I think it's justified!

Caffe Libero (or failing that - it can be hard to get seats - any number of coffeeshops in that immediate area).
Jinhua Street Lane #243 #1 (金華街243巷1號), near Yongkang Street's Shi-da end

This one near Yongkang Street also makes my list of "great coffee" and "great desserts", so you know it's a winner. The atmosphere here includes a long porch with outdoor seating, eclectic vintage chairs (think Grandma's Victorian Good Red Velvet vintage, not meet-cute '50s vintage) and old milk glass lights.

Formosa Vintage Museum Cafe
Xinyi Rd. Sec 2 #178 3rd Floor (totally innocuous building)
信義路2段178號3樓

Really just a few tables in a small space crammed with one guy's personal collection of fascinating Taiwanese antiques and vintage items - free tour with an order of tea or coffee. The only food is basic cookies, but it's worth it to just hang out here among all the old stuff with a cup of something. Great selection of vintage-style postcards for sale.

8mm
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 Lane 60 #1
新生南路3段60巷1號

A newer, artier place in Gongguan with odd fashion items hung below faux goat heads, low tables and an achingly hip staff. The food and coffee are good but not excellent, but it's a good place to meet someone for a non-alcoholic drink (although they can and do spike coffee and hot chocolate).

Booday Cafe
Nanjing W. Road Lane 25 #18-1 (along the park between Zhongshan and Shuanglian MRTstations)
南京西路25巷18-1號

Hipster-friendly cafe with warm, welcoming natural light above a boutique selling handmade-in-Taiwan items. Their best coffee is the India Mysore or the Taiwan coffee and the desserts are pretty good, too.

Old Tree Cafe
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 1 #60
新生南路1段60號

Very old Taipei "institution" full of cranky old people - many of them Mainlanders - old wood furniture from the '60s and '70s, jet fuel coffee, right smack on an unappealing section of Xinsheng S. Road (somewhere in that stretch between Xinyi and Zhongxiao, I think past Ren'ai), but worth going to for the atmosphere once inside. This one's in the "vintage before it was cool" stage of hipster evolution.

Futai Street Mansion (actually tea more than coffee)
Yanping S. Road #26 near North Gate
延平南路26號, 北門附近

A very small cafe serving basic drinks and light snacks (think cookies) in, you guessed it, the Futai Street Mansion (Yanping S. Road, just southwest of North Gate, or Beimen - one old-style manse in an area that used to be entirely made up of such architecture. It's been renovated by the government and open as a public space. The wood inside is all Taiwanese cypress, so it smells divine. You can wander the house and have tea, and I think coffee, in the gift shop.

Whose Books
Roosevelt Rd. Sec 3 #308-1 2nd Floor (entrance at the back, in the lanes)
羅斯福路3段301-1號2樓

A used bookshop in Gongguan, smack at the end of Xinsheng S. Road where it hits Roosevelt (entrance from the back, in the lanes on the other side of Roosevelt). Small coffeeshop among a sea of used books (English books upstairs). Yes, you can grab books to peruse and order a coffee or tea in the cafe as you decide what, if anything, to buy. Discounted or free drink if you donate books. The coffee isn't great, but it'll do, and I like the verbena herbal tea. I like the old square Chinese-style table.

Cat's Got Nothing To Do Cafe
Maokong - turn left after exiting the Gondola and walk past the first bit of development, until you reach the place with the white umbrellas and great view.

A small outdoor setup on Maokong with a fantastic view of the Taipei Basin towards Guanyin Mountain and Danshui. Look for the white umbrellas (from Maokong Gondola station, the best view is at the tables on the right side of the road).

It's easy enough to find. Exit gondola station, turn left, keep going past the first clutch of stalls until you get to a coffeeshop, not teahouse, like setup of white umbrella-topped tables.

Shake House
Wenzhou Street Lane 86 intersection behind the Lutheran Church and across from Bastille, near Xinsheng S. Road, Gongguan

I mentioned this before under "best coffee", and am mentioning it again for its atmosphere! With decrepit mismatched chairs, upside-down flower pot pendant lamps, a floor that feels like it'll give out at any moment, a somewhat treacherous bathroom and an impressive collection of LPs (although they often just play music off of an iPod), the studenty vibe of this friendly place can't be beat.

Nancy Coffee
Near the Chongqing/Huating/Tianshui intersections south of Nanjing W. Road

I love this 1970s throwback so much that I wrote an entirely separate blog post on it, even though they have no wifi, terrible jet fuel coffee and very mediocre snack sandwiches. It's in one of my favorite neighborhoods - southeast of Dihua Street, not far from the Chongqing-Tianshui intersection, and shows its age, and the age of the historic neighborhood around it. Really just a retro place, cool "before it was cool", in that it's totally not cool but I think it's cool, which makes me maybe a proto-hipster?

Yongle Market Coffee
Yongle Market, Dihua Street

Head to Yongle Market (that ugly thing that looks like a municipal monstrosity attached to the lovely old brick and wood-screen market on Dihua Street), where the ugly building hits the lovely building there's an outdoor coffeeshop with plastic seats, umbrella-topped tables, terribly saccharine 1950s music, mediocre coffee but pretty good choices of fresh fruit smoothies and milk blends. I like this place because it's smack in the middle of the action on Dihua Street and outside, so you can watch the comings and goings of people who spend time or do business there, and it's a good choice for a pleasant day when you don't want to be behind a pane of glass.

Drop Coffee
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 #149-11
新生南路三段149之11號
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I also mentioned this one in my "best coffee" post, because it really does have some of the best coffee in Taipei (also, some of the most caffeinated). Situated in an old Japanese house, across the street from another one that's still a private residence, with an open coffee bar that you can sit at and watch your siphon brew be made, it's also got a lot of atmosphere.

Coffee, Tea or Me
Wenzhou (溫州)Street north of Lane 86 and just south of Xinhai Rd.

This spot, across from La Boheme (which used to be great, but their food went downhill and they no longer have a cat) in an area rife with coffeeshops, has a scruffy, studenty vibe with an open-ish, woody seating area, mismatched lamps, an old-skool espresso machine, good wifi, artsy posters and postcards and a very grumpy cat who likes to sleep on that espresso machine.

Red House (Ximen, not the outdoor balcony bar I like in Shi-da - that's cool too, but they don't really do much in the way of coffee)
MRT Ximen, Chengdu Road #10
捷運西門站成都路10號

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The famous Red House Theater, with great coffeeshop inside

 Everyone knows this historic site near Ximen (MRT Exit 1), but not everyone realizes there's a lovely coffeeshop cafe inside. When I first moved here it was where the gift shop is now, with colorful chairs, the same CD played every day and very good focaccia sandwiches - and the market behind it was unused space. Then it became Cho West, which was classier but less welcoming. Now it's something similar (may still be Cho West actually) but has a more comfortable feel, with vintage tables, crochet throws and knickknacks. When in Ximen and not at Fong-da (which has great coffee, a cheap breakfast and good beans for home brewing) I like to come here to enjoy the atmosphere before shopping in the relatively new market area for entrepreneurial artists and designers.

Fong-Da Coffee
#42 Chengdu Road, Taipei (just up the street from Red House)
成都路49號

It would be blasphemy not to mention this old Taipei institution with its old school formica tables, huge plastic tubs of snacks, sundaes and delicious coffee (including a very good Taiwanese coffee) - it's modern and popular but with a fun retro kick. Also a great place to buy whole bean coffee, and they sell coffee cups and saucers with their name and logo. I have one!

Mono Cafe
Fuxing S. Road Sec 2 #349
復興南路二段349號1F

IMG_2971 This is a more minimal, eggshell-paint-and-blonde wood coffeeshop with a friendly, talkative cat just north of NTU on Fuxing S. Road. The music is usually pretty palatable, they seem to be somewhat into photography, the food is not bad - it won't change your life but it's pretty solid as food goes - and their Bailey's latte (not to mention their Cointreau latte) are both fantastic, as is their matcha milk (think like a milky matcha tea). I like the big blonde wood tables, excellent, if you can grab a whole one, for anything involving a group - and also fine to just grab a corner if you're a pair or on your own. There isn't a lot of seating but the place feels spacious thanks to the light colors and pretty minimal design.


Rufous Coffee
Fuxing S. Road Sec. 2 #333
復興南路二段333號 

Some of the best espresso in Taipei is brewed here - try the Irish coffee, the iced cognac coffee with ice cream, the iced banana mocha espresso, and for something lighter, the honey cinnamon latte. A total contrast to Mono's sense of space and light, this place is tiny, dark, with soft chairs and tons of knickknacks and arty bits&bobs - and they are practically right next door to each other! Good people-watching from the waiting-or-smoking seats outside. Hard to get seats - often crowded. Great place to hole up on a cold, dreary day.

Lin Family Garden Cafe
Ximen Street #9, Banqiao, New Taipei City (MRT Banqiao or Fuzhong)
新北市板橋區西門街9號

IMG_1168 This almost obligatory cafe in the Lin Family Garden in Banqiao feels like it was placed here by government decree, but you really can't beat it for outdoor style. You can dip a coffee or tea and enjoy the very (very) historic Qing-era surroundings in the cobbled courtyard. It was closed the last time we happened by, but had plans to reopen and should be in full swing now.

Little Chiu (Xiaoqiu)Cafe, Zhuzihu, Yangmingshan
陽明山竹子湖小丘咖啡

Sadly, I can't find an address for this place (but I can ask a friend and update later) - it's a lovely, not too twee coffeeshop on a hillside near Yangmingzhan's Bamboo Lake (the one where you can pick calla lilies). It's near, not on, the lake, but the view from the coffeeshop and lawn on a clear day is astounding and lovely. Pretty good sweets, coffee and tea, too.

Yazhilin Coffee (雅之林研磨咖啡)
Guiyang Street Sec 2 #133
貴陽街二段133號

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You want atmosphere? This place in an old wreck of a shophouse, with lots of local color, is the place to go. With local residents stopping by to drink and talk with their tiny dogs, a market-like area and Qingshui Temple nearby, this Wanhua Guiyang Street stop is one of my hidden-gem favorites. Shhh, don't tell anyone. What I love about Wanhua, Dalongdong and Dadaocheng is running into cool places like this...they're everywhere, but you have to walk by them by chance to find them, you can't usually look 'em up.

***

I wanted to add Zabu on Pucheng Street to the list, but sadly, they are closed. I blame the reactionary assholes in the Shi-da community (and who must have a lot of guanxi in the government) who got all the best places (except Red House) shut down. Fuck those guys, and fuck Hau Lung-bin, their idiot playtoy who went along with it.

Update: Zabu is back! You can find them at the tippy-top of Tianmu. Go all the way to the end of Zhongshan Road where it terminates in a traffic circle (somewhere above that, past very expensive luxury apartments, is the down-mountain entrance to Tianmu Old Trail) - heading uphill towards the circle, Zabu is on the left just as the road terminates and the circle begins.

#175, Zhongshan N. Road Section 7, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan
台北市士林區中山北路七段175號1樓

More Updates:

I also recommend:
Cafe Classic/Flying Cafe/品客經典咖啡
台北市大安區雲和街48之1 - Da'an District, Yunhe St. #48-1 (off Shi-da Road)

This place is not actually all that atmospheric, and they have neither good wifi nor good 3G service, but there are three adorable cats and all of them are basically friendly (one doesn't like to be picked up though). There's a fat grayish-white longhair, a puffy black longhair and a shorthaired folded-ear cat. The coffee's not bad either. But really I'm just a sucker for cats. A great place to study because you won't be distracted by anything on wifi or 3G!

Anhe 65 - a big comfortable space at Anhe Road Sec. 1 #65 (安和路1段65號) in the basement - great for days with bad weather - with two cats - one friendlier than the other, good coffee, excellent sandwiches and a little shop. Sometimes booked for events.

Cafe Prague
Da'an District, Wenzhou St. #50 (closer to Shi-da and Heping Road than Gongguan)
台北市溫州街50號

I can't find a website for this place, but the atmosphere - very European (or at least trying to be, and succeeding more than most places) with polished wood floors and furniture (including tables with delicate chairs that might make you feel like a bit of a hulking mass), a grand piano, one well-placed statement vase full of cut flowers, a long, shining wooden coffee bar and friendly, uniformed staff will make you feel more comfortable than you might at first think when you walk in.

Yaboo Cafe
台北市大安區永康街41巷26號
Yongkang Street Lane 41 #26

Comfy, hipsterish place with pretty good sandwiches and coffee. They have lots of big tables and some cushioned seating, 
too. Although there is lots of space, you may have to wait at busy times (on weekends, mostly) because its proximity to 
the main drag of Yongkang Street make it very popular. There are 2 cats - a big yellow one who hides a lot and a little gray 
one who likes to sleep in a specific chair and doesn't mind being petted. Good wifi, good service,
 good atmosphere.


Fleisch
Dihua Street #76 (迪化街76號)

Fleisch has food too, but you can definitely go there and just enjoy a cup of coffee. In a converted shophouse (which doesn't have that much of a historic feel from the inside, although interesting Taiwanese souvenirs - the handmade artsy kind, not the fake Chinese kind - are on sale on the lower level, with more seating upstairs), they're right on Dihua Street near the Xiahai temple, and serve good lattes in large bowls rather than mugs.

Film Studio Cafe
Xinsheng S. Road Section 3 Lane 70 #6
新生南路三段70巷6號

A good option in Gongguan - where all the best cafes have gone ever since those crusty old reactionary jerks ruined Shi-da, with big wooden tables that can seat a group. Bring your Macbook to look like one of the in-crowd, and if you're a large group I believe you can make a reservation.

A8 Coffee
Heping E. Road Sec. 3 Lane 67 #8 / 和平東路三段67巷8號 between MRT Liuzhangli and Technology Building


A8 Cafe's dark, chic space

This large, brick-walled, wooden-tabled coffeeshop with square windowpanes is run by Bunun aborigines and has basic coffee, alcoholic drinks, juices, meals (which smell pretty good), desserts (not bad) and large tables as well as sofas and cushioned chairs for groups. It's rarely totally full and has a cool aborigine/art/industrial/retro chic vibe that I like. A latte and a dessert (all desserts come with a free little pannacotta with fruit topping along with whatever you ordered) will run about NT300.

Cafe Mussion
Heping E. Road Section 2 #134 on the edge of the National Taipei University of Education campus, MRT Technology Building
(和平東路二段134號,國立台北教育大學裡面)

This place has floor-to-ceiling windows with a modern-shabby-chic look to it - a small dessert selection and weathered-wood tables of various sizes (some low with soft chairs, some regular cafe tables, some large tables and bartops for groups). I love the thick tables and kind of want one for my house. The "academic coffee" (no idea why it's called that) comes in the coolest two-layered clear glass cup ever.

Covent Garden Coffee
#8 Lane 18 Nanjing West Road - 南京西路18巷8號 - along the lanes bordering the old railroad park that runs along the red line MRT from Chang'an Road up to Minquan W. Road, south of Zhongshan Station (between Nanjing and Chang'an Roads)

This place looks like it was featured in a "Country Decorating - Back In Style!" photo spread in Better Homes & Gardens in 1976 or so. It's '70s retro meets "country" - think lots of dark wood, pumpkins and needlepoint and dried herbs and handmade wooden clothespin dolls and your mom's kitchen chairs.

And I love it for that! It's nothing like you'd imagine Covent Garden to be, but it hits that '70s vibe so well.

Coffee is pretty good, the desserts are "eh".

Confucius Coffee
The Confucius Temple, Hami Street

It's really just a coffeeshop in a temple, and not particularly special on the inside, but it's in the Confucius temple! And the last time I was there (a long time ago; they've since renovated), they had cute napkins with a cartoon Confucius on them that said "Confucius Coffee".

Temple Court Coffee (廟口咖啡)

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Yongji Street Lane 517 Alley 8 #12-3 (or, from Houshanpi MRT walking along Zhongpo Rd. to Wufenpu, walk past most of Wufenpu to Zhongpo North Road #50 or so...it's basically right at that temple).
永吉路517巷8弄12之3(種破北路50號箱子裡的寺廟左右)

South of Songshan Station you'll run into Wufenpu Fashion Market, bordered on one side by Zhongpo Road, which runs into MRT Houshanpi station, Along that road near Wufenpu is a small temple. In that temple, facing the road, is a small coffeeshop right between carved stone columns. LOVE IT.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mexican Food in Taipei: it's getting better!

"Oh, I don't know Mexican food. I only know American food, like tacos."
- my (Taiwanese) friend Michael

I love you, Hungry Girl, and Imma let you finish, but I decided to post this because, as much as I love your blog and what it does for the food scene in Taipei, I just can't abide a page on Mexican food including Chili's and Friday's. I'm sorry, I just can't. Many chain restaurants have things to recommend them, for example, the TGI Friday's in Reagan National Airport will serve you from the bar, anything you want, at 7am on a Sunday, and I love - sincerely, not ironically - the Happy China Buffet in Bangor, ME, but despite that, I am sorry, TGI Friday's does not offer "Mexican food" or even Tex Mex. Chili's has a stronger claim, but still, no. That's not guacamole, that's prepackaged crap from a plastic bag. At its heart it's an American chain restaurant, not "Mexican food". Even Jake's Country Kitchen, which claims to offer Mexican food, doesn't make the cut in my book because they're more famous these days for their fried chicken and their desserts than any cuisine that may have originated south of any given border.

Also, an update is in order as Eddy's has moved, Macho Tacos has expanded and Yuma is closed. It's worth it to check out the link above, though, because there are a few places on it I haven't tried. I haven't even seen them, so they're not listed here because I'm not sure they're still open.

So, not-so-humbly, I offer up my own suggestions for where to get OK, pretty OK, even good Mexican food in Taipei.

Eddy's Cantina

No.1, Alley 3, Lane 450, Zhongshan North Rd. Sec 6 (Tianmu)


Very well-known - what's less well-known is that their Danshui location is now permanently closed. Fortunately, the new main location is easier to get to, or as easy as anything in Tianmu is to get to (I don't go up there often due to insufficient MRT coverage) - I recommend eschewing the MRT and grabbing the 285 0r 685 bus to International Square and walking south, or grabbing the 902. You have a few other choices, as well.

I have to say that Eddy's is my favorite of the bunch, by the way. That's why it's first. Although Mayan Grill's drinks have a special place in my heart.

This place makes its own guacamole. It's not always available but when it is, it's fantastic. It's real, it's chunky, it's made fresh and tastes of its own fresh ingredients. A lot of other Mexican places squeeze a smoother, less real-tasting guac out of squeezey-tubes and that's just not OK with me.

The yellow cheese is clearly processed in some way, but the good white cheese and other flavors make up for it (although given a choice I'd take a more obviously real sharp cheddar, even though I realize that this is very Tex-Mex and real Mexican food isn't exactly heavy on the cheese).

Also, good margaritas and a strong beer selection. It's a good, casual place to go with friends.


Mayan Grill 
#6, Ln 65, Zhongshan N. Rd. Section 2 (near MRT Shuanglian/Zhongshan, behind Ambassador Hotel)

We have only been here once, and it was for a group event and came with a set meal, so I feel I can't rate this place fairly just yet. What we had was good, but it was at its core a set meal and I do believe that if we went on our own and ordered off the full menu we'd get something really memorable. They clearly put a lot of effort into good drinks: they top off the sangria with soda just before it's served so it won't be flat, and they use good tequila in their Mayan Margaritas, so I have high hopes for the food. The atmosphere is more high-end - this is where you might go for a small group dinner or a fancier date.


Macho Tacos
#3 Lane 126 Yanji Street / #15 Pucheng Street (Shi-da)

I've eaten at both the Yanji Street location and the Shi-da location. I was happy with the food at Yanji street: the salsa was good and fiery, the nachos were generous, the burrito filling. I got the soft tacos at Shi-da and found them dry, and the sour cream and guacamole had a too-smooth, liquid consistency when they should have been chunky and thick (the guac) or just thick and creamy (the sour cream). I intend to go back, though, to see if they've stepped up their game on the toppings. On the upside, they are generous with the jalapenos and as I said, the original location impressed me quite a bit. I hope to go back and have my mind changed about the Shi-da restaurant. Very informal setting. Good place to grab some spicy food and knock back a few Coronas, especially if you don't feel like going all the way up to Tianmu.


Jake's Country Kitchen
#705 Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 6 (Tianmu)

This place bills itself as "Mexican" but...no. Go here for fried chicken or their luscious-looking desserts, but don't come here for Mexican. It's very close to Eddy's (at least the location I know of), go there instead.


Tequila Sunrise
#42 Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 (Xinsheng and Xinhai Intersection)

I went here years ago and was sorely disappointed. I got a sizzling fajita platter, and it arrived not sizzling at all, in fact the meat and vegetables were a bit sad and limp. It wasn't spicy - it was barely even spiced. Pretty storefront and nice atmosphere but don't bother; the food isn't nearly as good as it needs to be.


That taco stand in Gongguan that I haven't been to yet
10-2 Lane 75, Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3, next to Dako which used to be good (and sadly, isn't anymore)


...but I intend to try. It's there, it seems popular, it's tiny, it's clearly aimed at fast-food style eating, and I figured I should mention it. I'll come back and update here once I try it for myself.


Bongo's
#3 Alley 5 Lane 74, Wenzhou Street (Gongguan)

I don't know why I'm bothering - Bongo's has its strong points - wrap sandwiches, the sticky toffee pudding dessert, used books, cats. A lot to recommend it if you want a casual place to go and eat Western food with friends. Mexican food, however, is not one of them. I was really disappointed with their fare in this area: stick with some of their other menu items, instead. It wasn't spicy, it wasn't Tex-Mex cheesy, it wasn't sizzling, it was just meh.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Three Good Restaurants in Southern Taipei


Dako


台北市大安區新生南路三段76巷10-1豪
#10-1 Lane 75, Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3, Da'an Dist. Taipei
(02)2369-3017


Brendan with me at Dako - we ate the delicious food too quickly for it to make it into the photograph!



Right in Gongguan near some of the coolest cafes you'll find this super cool Japanese bar and grill - but don't get any ideas from the term "bar and grill" - this is not a spacious restaurant with bustling waitstaff and endless customers. It's a tiny Japanese izakaya style place with a few tiny tables, a small grill, an impressive sake collection and some of the best Japanese snacks you'll find in Taipei, all housed in a small, low-roofed wooden house.

We had two different kinds of sake (the two cheapest options in the "cup" section) - they were served at what was deemed the appropriate temperature, meaning one came slightly warm in a small glass carafe, and the other came ice cold in a clear glass placed inside a square wooden cup, which was also filled partway with sake and from which you can drink. Both were fantastic.

We arrived late - 9:30 or so - so they were all out of many dishes, but what we did have was superlative. We ordered spicy chicken yakitori (meat on a stick), beef yakitori, shrimp "grass" yakitori, butter mushrooms and white bamboo. The chicken was truly spicy but not overpowering, the beef was juicy and rare/medium rare with a pink center as it should be, the mushrooms chock full of buttery umami (deep, good taste), bamboo cooked and seasoned to perfection and the shrimp were meaty and wonderful, and they'd cut the heads so as to be easily detached.

Besides sake, umeshu (plum wine) seems to be available (I didn't check closely), and Taiwan beer on tap comes in huge, frothy glasses. It's a tiny place so go with a small group, but definitely go. We'll be back.



Little Thailand Restaurant - 泰國小館
台北市汀州路糝段號
#219 Dingzhou Street Sec 3, Taipei
(02)2367-0739

This has to be the best Thai restaurant in Gongguan, right up there with Yangon Burmese restaurant (which is basically Thai, but "technically" Burmese). It looks like a small Southeast Asian supermarket on the outside, chock full of snacks for sale, but once you go in it's clearly a restaurant that happens to also sell packaged snacks and other items from SE Asia.

The food is really quite good - very much the same in flavor as I enjoyed during my brief excursion to Thailand years ago (I keep telling myself I'll go back, but there are so many other places to see, too!) - and they don't pull punches on the spice! The pork with green beans and papaya salad were fiery, and the other dishes were at a respectable spice level. They have the usual selection of beer, are always bustling, the walls are covered with pictures and textiles from Thailand, and I love the cheap day-market plastic clock with the picture of the King of Thailand and his many dogs ("he loves dogs and raises rescued strays," the owner told us. "Our King is so good") on the clock face.

We didn't get dessert, but they seemed to have a wider selection than is usually available.

Oh, and do get the shrimp pancake (月亮蝦餅) - it's the best I've had outside of SE Asia.


Weitzuman
台北市文山區景興路118號
#118 Jingxing Road, Wenshan, Taipei City (MRT Jingmei)

Taipei Times reviewed it before I had a chance to - although I may have mentioned it before - but we live very close to this place - maybe a ten minute walk, if that - and I have long been a devotee. It's a dirty-walled, Taiwanese-talkin', good-sake-servin' izakaya in a decidedly unpretentious neighborhood (ie, our neighborhood) with some really spectacular Japanese food and Japanese-style sunken tables.  I still have dreams about the yakitori (although the ones from Dako, above, provide good competition) and I love that this place just plain does good food, it doesn't try to be all hip, and for Japanese food it's quite affordable.

The Taipei Times said it better than I could, so I'll leave it there, but this place gets my stamp of approval!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Best Coffee in Taipei


Everyone who reads this blog even remotely regularly knows about my semi-fanatical obsession with two foodstuffs: 1.) sea urchins and 2.) coffee. With coffee, I'm sort of like this.

I've written extensively about coffee before, but haven't really come out with a post that clarifies where good coffee - the best coffee - can be found in Taipei. This is that post.

You can get coffee anywhere in Taipei, from 7-11 to one of the myriad Starbucks, Dante Coffees or Ikari chains, as well as in department stores and other smaller chains (such as Artco and Is) and independent operators. It can be as cheap as a 40NT 7-11 latte (which is not your worst choice, I have to say) or as expensive as a 500NT cup of Kopi Luwak or overpriced but still substandard coffee at a lot of chi-chi cafes (Bastille, I'm looking at you).


Unfortunately, most options, as in the USA, are mediocre at best, and Charbucks is Charbucks everywhere, with their over-roasted jet fuel.

The key to a good coffee is a light hand with the roaster (even medium dark roast is fine, but many dark roasts - not all mind you - are just bitter and charred), even grinding and scrupulous preparation, although I'm the first to admit that I use a regular old coffee machine at home. The best coffee comes from a siphon brew, but it is possible to get good espresso and non-siphon coffee.

I'm not interested in listing out the millions of places in Taipei where you can get a brain-smack of caffeine - I'm talking about genuinely good coffee that one can savor, that wafts down the street with its strong scent and turns heads when you carry it away in a to-go cup. Yes, you can find it in Taipei.

Get your cup of awesome beans (the kind that hipsters and yuppies would say have a "great flavor profile") at:

Xinsheng S. Road Section 3 Lane 76 #1 (the entrance is on Xinsheng Road, not the lane)
I've praised this place to the moon and back, as you can read in the link above.

2.) The Best Roasted Coffee (TBRC)
Taipei, Shilin District - Jingshan Road #18: near the Wenhua University bus stop heading up Yangmingshan, and not far from the top of Tianmu Old Trail
This place is fantastic - you can buy a pound of coffee for NT500, and their home blend (a medium-to-dark roast) is only NT100 per cup, which is a steal. It's really tasty and goes down smoothly, so you don't need to drink it with milk (which is good, because the owner really will lecture you if you ask for milk or sugar). You can also buy cheesecake, cookies and other light fare here - the cheesecake is tangy and homemade without being too sweet.

Jinhua Street #247 - closest bus stop on a major route is Xinsheng/Jinhua along Da'an Park, also walkable from Yongkang Street

This place offers coffee that packs a flavorful punch - they take it very seriously, allowing you to smell the grounds several times to highlight different smells and potential flavors, and then serve it to you both in a standard coffee cup, which brings out darker, earthier flavors as well as in a small stemmed cordial glass, which brings out more syrupy, flowery liqueur-like flavors in the coffee. Not cheap, but totally worth it.

They also have branches in Taizhong and Tainan.

Guangzhou and Huanhe Rd. intersection near Longshan Temple
Try the "Ma Gao" coffee (馬告) at the booth selling Taiwanese local coffee here for NT90: the cup is small but it packs a strong punch of flavor, and best of all it's grown in Taiwan an (according to the vendor) is grown on aborigine-run farms, so you're doing good for the local economy and you get to try a Taiwanese local product not often found in stores.


#405 Sec. 1 Neihu Road Taipei (02)2799-4966
#123 Songde Road Taipei (02)2726-6085
#336 Jinhu Road Taipei (02) 2634-8803
#7 Lane 243 Jinhua Street Taipei (02) 2322-3830
B1 #14 Nanjing West Road Taipei (02) 2522-1681
This place is my new favorite find that you absolutely have to try. They're your best source of Kopi Luwak, if you've ever wanted to try it, and they'll brew it to perfection for you (I haven't tried it yet, but I will). I had a cup of coffee from Nicaraguan beans (can't remember which type) at their Songde Road location and I was blown away by the depth and spirit of the earthy, slightly smoky, addictive flavor. They siphon brew their good beans (lattes and other coffee types are also available) and there's a large choice of global beans, with a lot coming from Central America.

They also keep Jameson on hand, at least at Songde Road, which means they know how to make good coffee with whiskey.

Call ahead if you want a cup of Kopi Luwak - they'll make sure they have the most, ahem, fragrant beans for you to try.

Seriously - I love my Drop Coffee but this place is really just amazing, too. It's probably going to tie for 1st place in my list of favorite coffee shops, along with Drop.

6.) Black Bean Coffee
Zhongshan Road in Shilin, just south of the Zhongzheng Road intersection past Skylark and some other businesses
This place makes a good brew, if a little on the dark roasted side for my taste. A cup costs an average of NT150 - I strongly recommend the earthy but soft Monsoon Malabar coffee from India. They also sell handmade cookies.

I'm not sure if this place still exists - I haven't been there in years - but will check back soon to see if they're still around.

7.) Shake House (listed second in the post, after Red House)
Wenzhou Street / Lane 86 corner, across from Bastille, Gongguan
I usually praise this place for its homey, studenty feel and good selection of Belgian beers, but haven't mentioned how good their coffee is. They do not-too-bitter lattes, Americano and espresso, they make ice coffee in batches in a giant machine similar to a siphon, and their specialized beans are packed with flavor (try the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe or the Guatemala Huehuetenango). They can alcohol-ify any coffee order (just ask for it on request - I usually get a latte with a shot of alcohol added - I am fine with alcohol added to espresso drinks but would never add it to a good brew of quality medium-roast beans.

You can also buy the amazing Monsoon Malabar coffee here to brew at home.

#3 Lane 93 Shi-da Road, Taipei
I normally don't go for espresso, opting instead for larger servings of more expensive siphon coffee, but My Sweetie Pie makes a not-too-bitter espresso that I can really get behind. It's still darker and more bitter than I normally prefer, but it cuts through the sweetness of their delicious cakes so well that I can forgive the extra roasting time!

9.) Fong Da
#42 Chengdu Road (near Ximending)
This place is wildly popular with both coffee enthusiasts and people who love old Taipei institutions. They still use vintage equipment and have a 1950s vibe going, and lots of different beans to choose from. I have to say that I find their brews a bit overpowering (not like the deeply but not jarringly flavored siphon brews I normally go for), but hey, that doesn't mean it's not good stuff! The brew at Fong Da acts like jet fuel to the brain and still gets my vote!

10.) Update: Rufous Coffee
Fuxing S. Road Sec 2 #333 / 復興南路2段333號
02-2736-6880

I was tipped off about this place by another expat, and realized it's basically just down the road from where I work. Fuxing S. Road south of Heping and north of Xinhai boasts three coffeeshops and a tea shop. The first is Tiamore, which has good (but not the best) coffee, is a bit down-at-heel and boasts a bevy of semi-friendly cats - or at least they did, it seems the owners don't keep cats there anymore since my last visit. The final one is called Mono, and I haven't actually gotten coffee there yet, but they serve it in glasses, not cups, and there's a shy but sweet cat there. Their mint and pomelo tea is great and they do a good brownie with ice cream.

Update: read below re: Rufous's siphon brews, but really what you want to be getting at this place is an espresso drink. For a very mildly flavored coffee, try the honey and cinnamon latte. For a luxurious experience, try the Irish coffee (with real sweet foamed milk, not whipped cream, to cut the bitterness of the whiskey-flavored coffee below). For a hot or stressful (or hot and stressful) day, get the iced dark chocolate banana latte. Their cold brewed iced coffee is also fabulous.

Only just today I continued on to Rufous at this person's recommendation, and the coffee was pretty excellent (I had a syphon-brewed coffee from Panama). The atmosphere is completely different from Tiamore, where I go for a friendly, very 台neighborhood feel - Rufous is smaller, more upmarket, more expensive. No cats, but the coffee is better. I did find the Panama to be lacking some of the depth of the coffees I've tried at Shake House (see above) and Drop (also above) - especially both shops' Sumatra coffee, and the Kona at Drop, as well as the Nicaraguan coffee at Coffee Family Roaster. The Panama coffee - ordered because I don't see beans from Panama on menus very often - was roasted a bit darker than I like it, as well.  However, it was quite good, and I intend to go back and try not only the house blend but also ask them to make me a light roast coffee, and see what they can come up with.

11.) Gold Diamond Coffee (金鑽咖啡)
Zhonghe, Xinbei City, Liansheng Road #41
新北市中和區連勝街41號

About a 15 minute walk from MRT Jing'an (walk up Jinping Road and turn at Liansheng) and near the 262, 275 and various other bus routes, this place is a good bet if you're stuck in the wilds of Zhonghe. A good place to rest after a hike to Yuantong Temple or if you are otherwise in the area.

This tiny coffeeshop nestled among a huge slightly higher end apartment complex (but not inside it) on a quiet side street was a surprise find for me: I happen to know a family who lives in the complex - I play with their kids in English once a week (I'd be hard-pressed to call it a class as it's very non-traditional) and have gotten coffee here. The lattes are strong and flavorful, with lots of bold character, but the thing to get here is light roast drip coffee. I was blown away by what the guy made for me, and they have many choices of bean.

12.) Cafe Booday
Nanjing W. Road Lane 25 #18, 2nd floor above the shop (very close to MRT Zhongshan)

While the food at Booday didn't blow me away - the desserts were good, though - the one cup of Monsoon Malabar I had there was pretty delish. They have a selection of high-end coffees including this favorite of mine for approximately NT140 per cup. On the high end but not impossible, and your best choice among all the cafes in this area for a good cup of something comforting, caffeinated and well-made.

13.) Other places I haven't tried yet

There are a ton of places I haven't had the good fortune to drink coffee at, but are probably on par with the places listed above. There's an especially large number of cafes in the lanes around Yongkang Street, and some of my favorite places to drink beer also make pretty good coffee (not included here because I wanted to highlight the best of the best, but that doesn't mean they're not also good).



If you have a favorite stop for high-quality coffee - the kind you savor, not gulp - leave it in the comments!

You can also buy great beans to brew your own coffee at home at most of the places above, as well as at:


- 里仁: organic food store in Gongguan (go to Roosevelt Rd. Sec. 3 Lane 283, and it's just down the lane from So Free pizza) - you can buy organic coffee beans from southern Taiwan here - very flavorful!


If you want to brew South Indian or Thai/Vietnamese-style coffee (that is, coffee with chicory, and add condensed milk for Thai or Vietnamese or just tons of sugar and milk to make it Indian) go to Trinity Superstores and pick up a bag of "Bru". It's not "good" coffee in the yuppie sense but it is the real thing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cafe La Boheme and Coffee, Tea or Me

On Wenzhou Street just south of Xinhai there are two cafes that we've been going to a lot lately, so I thought a review was in order - especially as they both have cats. One has cheap but strong, well-made cocktails and the other has the best hot chocolate in the entire independent country of Taiwan and I am not even joking, so all the better!

If you enter Wenzhou Street from Xinhai (or walk north), just south of a small shop decorated with hanging CDs you'll find Cafe La Boheme on one side, and Coffee, Tea or Me on the other. The placement somewhat mimics the placement of Cafe Bastille and Shake House down the road (running along Lane 86, catty-corner to the Lutheran church where you often see a guy who walks his Persian cat on a leash). Those cafes are both great - Shake House is better - and so are these two.

Shake House is one of my all-time favorites, with friendly staff, an artfully shabby space, usually decent music, great beer and, for a student beer cafe, pretty good coffee and food. Bastille has a snotty staff and horrid food - though the focaccia sandwich is OK - but good beer, plugs and Wifi. You can use Bastille wifi from Shake House, but there are no plugs.

Anyway, back to the two cafes at hand.

La Boheme, on the west side, has a velvet-furred declawed tabby named Luna, a selection of books in English and Chinese, generally good but more popular-music oriented music, beer (Belgian) and excellent food. I mean truly good: their burgers are stupendous, generous and well-made. The burger choices are unexpected: I recommend the burger topped with apples and white wine sauce.

Their fries are just as fries should be - not too salty, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I've also had their herbed lemon chicken, which was quite good. Their hot chocolate is absolutely excellent - dark and chocolatey, you can smell it before it reaches your table. It's rich and tasty, nothing like the wimpy brews of the various "chocolate" cafes found in Taipei. If you love a good hot chocolate, go here and nowhere else. It's more like drinking chocolate than "hot chocolate" (which in my mind conjures up Swiss Miss).

It has its own wireless network and plugs, and is very "local" (foreigners do come, but they're not the norm). With green and yellow walls and a wood-floored raised area, this place is more brightly lit and comfortable like an old chair.

With its decidedly less healthy (but no less tasty) fare, it's Gongguan's answer to Zabu, whose tasty Japanese food feels downright good for you, despite the many fried menu items. That's Japanese food for ya.

It's rare to find cafes in Taipei that have a good atmosphere and good food, let alone genuinely good hamburgers, so this is something to take notice of.

Coffee, Tea or Me (also called "Cafe, Tea or Me") has two, possibly three cats. It's hard to say and only the orange cat is friendly. You have to steal La Boheme's wireless, but they have their own plugs and truly excellent coffee. La Boheme's coffee isn't bad either. They have more space, very odd books and other decorative bits and bobs, more chairs but a limited selection. You can get drinks of all sorts, from good coffee to a very limited beer selection - really just Erdinger, a few boring choices like Heineken and a vanilla-y French beer in a blue bottle. They also do cocktails, and have an impressive bar for what is basically a coffeeshop. They made me a drink at their suggestion: Jameson, some sort of bourbon and Grand Marnier with ice and I assume something that was not alcohol (or maybe not - coulda been pure alcohol). The serving was generous and it cost NT$140. WAY TO GO.

Coffee, Tea or Me's space is more artfully distressed, with dingier walls, a menu board that's impossible to read, hodgepodge chairs and tables - including one low set of chairs in blue faux velvet and another pair of antique-looking Chinese style bamboo wicker chairs. It has a great atmosphere but is not the place to go if you think you'll get hungry.

I strongly recommend both, but for entirely different reasons!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Drop Coffee (滴咖啡)

Drop Coffee
Xinsheng S. Road, just north of Wenzhou St. Lane 86, the Family Mart and next to Taiwan First Milk King (台一牛奶大王) and near Cafe Bastille in one of those two old Japanese-era houses across from NTU.

The lowdown:

You guys know I love me some good coffee, and I usually drink lattes because the swill you get at most places isn't worth even trying to drink straight. Not that I don't also love swill on occasion - I always get the horrible, American roadside diner-esque coffee at Grandma Nitti's when we go. It's also true that most places - even coffeeshops - in Taipei only have espresso machines, so they can only make espresso-based drinks.

This place, though, turns coffee-making into an art, without being pretentious. That's really hard to do: just reading this article made me snort.

Drop does in fact have a siphon bar, and coffee is accordingly priced (NT$160 and up per cup).

But, you know, it's good coffee. Really, really good. The grizzled dude behind the bar swings his little bamboo paddle and swirls coffee over the heating element like he's painting the next Picasso, but the fact that he's grizzled, as opposed to metrosexual, makes it OK.

I had - no, I loved - a cup of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, and Brendan had Kenya AA. Both of us raved: I love coffee, but I do not describe coffee the way someone would describe wine. I don't say things like "delicate elderberry flavor with hints of oak, asparagus and lime". Just not going there. I have a very complex rating system that goes something like this:

If I need to add milk *and* sugar, it's not very good (that doesn't mean I won't drink it). = most restaurant and diner coffee

If I only need to add milk, it's good. = most coffeeshop coffee

If I don't need to add anything, it's amazing. = the coffee I've had in Sumatra and India and very rarely elsewhere.

Although I did add milk, I didn't have to. On reflection, I shouldn't have. So this place gets my top rating. It's hard to make coffee that good.

It's also clear that Drop was opened by said dude behind the counter because he wanted to indulge in and share his love of good coffee. This is evidenced by the complete lack of other options: you can have free water, or there's a wide selection of mostly generic teas (Tension Tamer, Lemon Zinger, you know, that stuff) if you bring your friend who does not drink coffee.

The atmosphere is great - in a restored old Japanese house with lots of wood, huge windows looking out over NTU and the sidewalk of Xinsheng S. Road, big, clunky candleholders and a mix of bartops with uncomfortable chairs and low tables with comfier-looking seating. (The bartops are a little wobbly). There's a huge countertop, too, but no laptop plugs near it. I wouldn't say I'm a fan of the music choices - Sarah McLaughlin (ugh) or World Cup Soccer.

There is a wireless network (called People Say), but it's slow as heck. Update: it's improved. I could barely open one page and even that took several minutes. I inquired about the slowness (private network, no other laptop users in the cafe) and Grizzled Dude just shrugged and gave me a face that very clearly implied: "So?"

There's a to-go window, as well, if you want your good coffee as takeaway.

In the end, I love this place for it's Grizzled Dude, restored-house ambiance and amazing coffee, but I'd come here alone to study Chinese or read a book. I would not bring a gaggle of friends if any of them don't drink coffee, but I'd definitely bring a small group who does appreciate a good cup. Or I might bring nothing, sit back, and enjoy the coffee.