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May 13, 2007 10:27 AM

Richmond – Pacific East Mall - 168 Restaurant, stinky tofu & Taiwanese buns

Part 2 of my little trip to Pacific East Mall … getting tips for the restaurants I plan to visit.

So how’s the stinky tofu?” What about the xlb?

This restaurant specializes in Taiwanese snacks and main dishes.

Lots of good discussion about the food in previous threads though they are from a few years ago and there was mention that they've had 2 owners in 5 years. How’s the food currently?

Here’s a 2002 review from the Chronicle which writes of this supposedly SOCAL chain with a restaurant in Las Vegas and Seattle … tho I’m not finding much mention of that on the web …

“Although the menu is a mishmash of cooking styles, a section is devoted to Taiwanese-style dishes … Many have a long-simmered, stewlike feel, including sesame oil chicken … The dishes come to the table in a Sterno- fired pedestal, which keeps golf-ball-size chunks of chicken simmering in a subtle, golden sauce of wine, broth and sesame oil that is nice soaked up with green onion pancakes … or a thick radish rice cake.”

Some of the menu items that I’m considering …

Taiwanese pork buns which are made from noodles, not bread
On choi with fermented bean curd ... are we talking stinky tofu?
Chicken with three special spices in an iron pot. Nice Chron description
Pork, squid or shrimp potage … what’s potage?
Din Ben Tsouh ???
Goose meat noodles soup
Don que duck
Oyster soup
Four Treasures soup in Taiwan Style ... tripe is involved
Preserved Chinese cabbage with lamb casserole
Wine chicken soup … $22 … why so much?
Stewed pork with dried pickled cabbage
Orange red beef … what would this be?
Smoked chicken or smoked fish
Savory seaweed or savory jelly fish
Three flavor chao mo mien with soup … what is this?
Sweet logan soup

Here’s an old Chowhound report that has good detail on a lot of menu items …. spicy tripe, tea smoked duck, jelly fish and radish and tofu thread noodles, xlb, pan fried pork buns, house special leek cake, sesame chicken, sacha beef noodles, oyster omelette, shrimp roll and chicken roll, sticky rice pot, taiwan meat ball, fish ball, pork gua bao, sesame ginger kidneys.

Not everything in that list was a success (skip the kidneys) but the poster liked most of the items especially the Taiwan meatball …

“Taiwan meat ball. this is probably the best version the bay area … steamed thick rice skin with bamboo, sliced pork and mushroom fillings. the skin was very light and chewy and the filling very flavorfull. and they dress it with both a soy and sweet garlic sauce.”

Again this is an old report, so any current opions would be welcome.

They have an interesting list of juices and drinks like banana juice, peanut juice, green been juice, passion fruit jelly with red tea and lemon jelly with sweet plum green tea to name a few. Lunch specials come with iced jasmine green tea. The above poster wrote ..

“started with some fresh juice. the ones with milk are highly recommended, especially the papaya and milk which is a classic. mango juice was excellent cause they used real mangos and nothing else”

This Chowhound report says …

“the food was amazing. The chicken reminded me of popcorn chicken. Little bite-sized pieces that you can just pop in your mouth. Salty with a nice peppery kick, and extremely addictive”

There are some other comments and a few posters liked the salt and pepper scallops a lot.

The next thread has a good description of the zhajiang noodles, shengjian bao (pan fried buns) and scallion pancakes … “Here it is done medium thin and crispy, but could use a little more green onion flavor. It was better than the one I got recently at Lily's House in Lafayette”

Someone said the shaved ice was also quite good (finely shaved snowy texture), Suggestions? With or without condensed milk? I’m thinking peanut shaved ice with condensed milk.

I’m definitely getting the Taiwanese buns but undecided about what else to order so suggestions would be very much appreciated. I’m kind of considering the stinky tofu because I’ve never tried that. I’ve read it is a mild version, so it might be a good first try.

168 Restaurant

3288 Pierce St., Ste A109
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 558-9168


Daily 11 am – 11:30 pm

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  1. I just went there over the weekend. I had the pork hock over rice, the fish ball soup, and the oyster pancake. I like both the pork hock over rice and the oyster pancake (not THE best version ever but decent/gooey enough). I recommend skipping the fishball soup. Was very generic. It would be better if I had opened up a frozen package myself and dumped in in some hot water.

    BTW, potage soup is a very Taiwanese dish. It's basically noodle soup that is thickened with potato starch. Generally vinegar is added. It comes with either meat covered with this starch or squid covered with the starch. Here's a link describing

    I was going to order this at 168 as I saw another table with it that looked pretty good. I would recommend you to try if you don't have an aversion to texture (it's slightly gummy).

    15 Replies
    1. re: vliang

      CAUTION: If you are not Asian this restaurant will try to dumb down your food.

      Thanks for the potage description. I asked a bit more on the general board.

      I never would have guessed about that potato starch and adding vinegar gave it a little more flavor. I didn't find it gummy, just oddly thick ... looking almost like a fatty ramen ... but no fat ... I expected it to gel in the fridge but it didn't.

      Tried the pork first without noodles and it was just thick porky smelling and tasting soup with pieces of pork covered in potato starch and a few julienned veggies The squid I got with rice noodles which I think is the better way to go with this soup. Decent squid bellies covered in potato starch, same julianed veggies.

      The pork I did take out and the squid I ate at the restaurant to see if they'd serve it with vinegar ... they didn't.

      They really try to steer non-Asians away from the Taiwanese dishes. They 'said' they were out of the Taiwanese pork buns after trying to discourage me by saying it would take 20 minutes.

      Then they tried to steer me to the potstickers ... a number of times.

      So I went with the Taiwanese meat balls which they said I wouldn't like ... it is just ground up pork ... well not really. More about the Taiwanese meat balls which are really dumplings.

      One poster described them pretty well ... "steamed thick rice skin with bamboo, sliced pork and mushroom fillings. the skin was very light and chewy and the filling very flavorfull. and they dress it with both a soy and sweet garlic sauce.”

      EXCEPT .. I got this tomato sauce on top that tasted like Campbell's tomato soup without the salt ... so I wonder if they dumbed down the dish on me.

      That wrapper is really unusual, sort of the texture of the skin on pickled pork feet ... chicharron-like. Except for the tomato sauce I liked it ... but how do you eat these things? Too slippery for chopsticks for me.

      Then there's the tale of the stinky tofu ... NOT

      Either you people are wusses about stinky tofu, this is a REAL mild version, they didn't serve it to me, or I lost my sense of taste & smell.

      I think they just served me plain old fried tofu. I knew it was a mild version, but I was geared up ... I put my gag reflexes on hold ... took deep breaths ... I prepared.

      Out comes a dish of golden fried tofu cubes with a kimchee-like condiment of cabbage & onions. A thin brown sauce topped the tofu.

      Ok ... no one was fainting around me. No maloderous smell was wafting up from the dish. I gingerly picked one up with a chop stick ... I cautiously sniffed ... nada .. I take a deep breath ... nothing. Tasted like a nice fried tofu.

      So which dish is stinky tofu on the menu?

      I originally pointed to H16 ... on choi with fermented bean curd ... and asked if that was the stinky tofu. He said no and pointed me to A38 which just says fried tofu.

      The only other tofu-only dishes I could find on the menu were
      K6 - Savory shredded bean curd
      K14 - Tofu with preserved egg
      K15 - Simmered bean curd
      H8 - Family style tofu ... That wouldn't be my guess unless it was the Adams Family
      H9 - Tofu with brown sauce
      H10 - Tofu with black bean sauce
      H14 - Sizzling bean curd

      That fermented bean curd seemed the most likely suspect.

      I mean, did they dumb down my stinkly tofu? Is it possible to dumb down stinky tofu? If that really is it, it is just so anti-clamatic after all the posts on this board.

      Am I missing a gene that allows one to detect stinky tofu? I mean, I am in the group of people who can't detect a smell from truffles.

      1. re: rworange

        Fermented bean curd is not the same as stinky tofu.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks. Given all the hassle with the other dishes I bet they just fried up regular tofu. Bummer.

          1. re: rworange

            I haven't eaten at 168, but I think the fermented bean curd in their H16 dish might be what people are discussing in the Sufu/Furu thread on the General Board:
            Adding it to ong choy sounds like a great idea.

            1. re: Alice Patis

              Yes, we always called the the ingredient in H16, tofu ru.

              1. re: Alice Patis

                Thanks, you are right. At the end of one of the links in that topic was someone who mentioned it

          2. re: rworange

            Stinky tofu - The one you order is the right dish. However, I do not know if the versio nat 168 is all that stinky. I recall having had it years ago and thinking it was kind of regular fried tofu too. It should be fried, jbut sounds like just the fermentation process of it to make it stinky didn't really go through. However, it's not something that someone can decide on the fly to do lightly or not. so either they gave you plain fired tofu, or their version just isn't that stinky and you can't detect it.

            Taiwnaese Meat Ball - many TW dishes come with a tomato sauce on top. it's not because you're non-Asian. They do this at times with the meat ball and ALL the time for the oyster pankcake.

            Pork Potage Noodle Soup - Noodle soups in general are not dishes I would take home for later. This kinda especially as the soup gets even more thicker and the noodles absorb the liquid and gets weird and fat.

            1. re: vliang

              Thanks once again for some great info and relieving my gringo-paranoia. Woo-hoo ... I survived stinky tofu ... ok, really, really mild stinky tofu ... but still.

              1. re: rworange

                If you're really keen to try stinky tofu, the version at Spices!3 in Oakland has gotten quite a bit stinkier lately. Maybe not the stinkiest I've ever had, and I'm not a connoisseur of stink, but definitely stinkier in the last month or so. Also, the sauce has gotten better, less salty, more tangy.

                I like J2 on the 168 menu, it's "red cooked" pork shanks over rice with various accompaniments: sauteed cabbage, pickled mustard green, seasoned ground pork, soy sauce egg.

                This place never blows my mind, but it's usually decent.

                1. re: rworange

                  Every batch of stinky tofu is probably different. And truth be told, none of the stinky tofu that I've had in recent times have been that good or stinky. My Mom's theory is that with modern cleaniness standards, stinky tofu will never taste like the way it's suppose to be :)

                  I think Joy in Foster has stinkier version, if you want to explore that further.

                  But the point of stinky tofu isn't about how much stink you can stand. Really good fried stinky tofu is crunchy and perfectly fried on the outside, then the inside is soft and creamy, almost melt in your mouth. It should be slighly tart also, due to the fermentation, and of couse it'll smell. But as you eat it, you no longer find it smelly.

              2. re: rworange

                Just a tip for eating the Taiwanese Meat Balls...we typically "tear" it into 4 pieces (they are usually cut open four ways, but not all the way through), which allows for easier pick-up with chopsticks. Also in regards to the tomato sauce...every place you go does it differently. I've had the meat ball there before and the sauce is just so so, but definitely was not dumbed down for you. Everywhere I've had this pink/orange sauce in California (whether over a Taiwanese Meat Ball, oyster or shrimp pancake, or with fried glutinous intestines), it has always been different each time, and still a little off from what the real stuff tastes like...either too sweet or not sweet enough, no garlic or too much. I applaud you for being so adventurous!

                1. re: lj2899

                  Thanks for the info and tip about how to eat the meatballs. Are there any dishes you recommend at 168?

                  1. re: rworange

                    Well, just went again last Friday. The "XLB" were not very good in my opinion. The oyster pancake there is pretty spot on (gooey, chewy, and crispy on the edges), but did not have very many oysters (though for the price, it was still a super steal). We also had the glutinous rice-filled intestines, which were probably the best I've had in years. Think of a rice sausage from the south, but with peanuts and soy-sauce flavored rice instide. It comes with a very strong garlic dipping sauce, that I would warn to use sparingly (even though it is so great!). We also had the beef noodles soup, which was blah and I would not order again there. Let me know if you need any more insight into any specific dishes there!

                      1. re: rworange

                        BTW, if you are still looking for a mild version of stinky tofu, Spices II sells a pretty genteel version of the conventional deep-fried preparation. I'm still lookng for a version that's about halfway between Spices II's and the late Star Lunch's nose-holder.

            2. I was just there past Saturday, and we did order the xiao long bau. XLB isn't a Taiwanse dish, and 168's version is acceptable but no where near as good as other places touted by this board here. The tops of teach dumpling is dry and hard, while the rest is okay. The amount of soup and dough ratio is also good.

              I go 168 quite often, almost always if I visit Pacific East. Dishes that I find to be realiable is their Taiwanses dishes.

              salt crispy chicken (or Chinese popcorn chicken) with basil, turnip cake, potstickers, smoked chicken, 3 cup chicken, dan dan noodles, seaweed salad, stinky tofu are all fairly good. Also, their single serving 'healthy' soups are also quite good.

              1 Reply
              1. re: OnceUponABite

                I don't think they have it. Try Clay Pot on San Pablo in Albany. Their Chinese brunch is decent and cheap. 99 ranch has good fan tuan.

              2. Does anyone know if they have you tiao (fried Chinese crullers) and salty soy milk? And fan tuan (rolls of sticky rice stuffed with you tiao, pork sung, pickled vegetables, etc)?

                1 Reply
                1. re: daveena

                  Not according to the take out menu ... however it is mainly brief English descriptions, but nothing like the first two at all and don't see anything that would match the descriptio of the last.

                2. Thanks to rworange for putting this restaurant on my radar - went for dinner tonight with friends, was able to try a bunch of dishes.

                  Couple of notes - a number of dishes take half an hour to prepare, including the pork gua bao, the leek pan cake, and the taro rice cake.

                  One thing that makes it hard for me to give a reliable assessment of the food here is that I really dislike the gooey texture that seems to be valued in Taiwanese cooking... there were a couple of times when I couldn't figure out if I was chewing fat, or skin/cartilage, or rice cake, or what. So there were a couple of dishes where I enjoyed the flavor, but not the texture.

                  A16 - on choy - on the menu, it's with fermented tofu, but I forgot to specify with tofu, so we had with just garlic. It was really good - tender-crisp, a little silky, good wok hay.

                  A17 - sesame oil chicken - probably the least successful of the dishes. Chicken tasted like it had been boiled rapidly in the wine/broth/oil mixture - it was tough, and the flavor didn't permeate the meat.

                  A21 - taro rice cake - I really liked this one. Was expecting square slabs, like the turnip cake - this was a round cake, with chunks of taro inside, topped with a seasoned meat sauce, plus some very sweet, very red, mild chili sauce. Well seasoned all the way through the cake.

                  A22 - turnip cake - this was ok - it was a plain cake, not studded with ham or dried shrimp. Underseasoned, but maybe it was supposed to be? It came with a dipping sauce.

                  A23 - pork gua bao - not the best I've ever had. In my favorite versions, there's some crisp skin with the pork, and they're topped with cilantro and peanuts. This one was a) much larger than I expected b) filled with a mostly fatty piece of belly and c) flavored with sweet pickle relish. Not bad, but not what I was looking for.

                  A27 - Taiwan meat ball - as described above, a thick sheet of rice flour cake wrapped around seasoned chopped pork, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. Sauce was the same chili sauce that came with the taro cake. I had a little trouble with the super-chewy texture of the rice flour skin, but enjoyed the filling.

                  A41- Din Ben Tsuoh - I had never heard of this before - it was really good! It's a soup with shrimp, rice cake (texture was different from anything I'd had before - kind of like if you soaked a thick rice cracker in broth, rather than the chewy noodle-like ones I've had before) and poached chunks of fish paste (some of them wrapped around squid), plus cabbage. I had some issues with the mouthfeel of the fish paste and the rice cakes, but flavors were really good.

                  B5 - fried Taiwanese bun (aka fried silver thread bread) - pretty good - bread was a tiny bit dry inside, but the sweet caramelized crust made up for it.

                  B6 - leek pan cake - impressively thin pastry - filling was a little underseasoned, but otherwise pretty good.

                  J19 - Seafood Pan Fried Noodle - I was expecting soft chow fun-type noodles - this was one of those fried noodle nests, with seafood in a cornstarch-based sauce on top. It was fine. Ordered mostly to help fill in gaps in the menu for my pesco-vegetarian friends... this dinner was not so friendly to them...

                  K1 - tea smoked duck - closest thing I've had to a good pastrami in a long time - not overly salty, as these things often are - just pink, rosy, smoky. Really good.

                  Also ordered the salt and pepper pork chops - deep fried, well seasoned - forgot to write down the number.

                  Dinner came out to about $14/pp.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: daveena

                    Hey, thanks for the great write up. I made notes on what to order and what to avoid on my next visit ... the taro rice cake sounds especially appealing to me.

                    "tea smoked duck - closest thing I've had to a good pastrami"

                    Love it. Very funny. Will have to give the duck a try.

                    168 Restaurant
                    3288 Pierce St Ste A109, Richmond, CA 94804

                  2. Hmm, I just don't see this place as destination dining for Taiwanese food. However, this place is my favorite in this mall for your basic lunch special. Thus far my favorite dishes are the eggplant with basil, the pork with bean curd and leeks and if I"m in the mood for something greasy, the salt and pepper pork chop. Your lunch comes with iced green tea or coffee, watery soup and rice. The service has been pretty good too (so far).