Ay-Chung Noodle at Ranch 99 Mall in Richmond
This is some sort of chain; there's another local shop in Milpitas, which is where the take-out menus come from. I've never been to the Milpitas one, so I can't say how they compare. It's in the old Goldilocks space; decorated in bright sienna and yellow with modernish chairs and tables and loud Mandarin pop music playing, not so much in the background as in the foreground. You order at a counter in the front and pay (CASH ONLY), and they give you a number which you place on a stand at the table you select. You go to a counter station to get plastic tableware and chopsticks, napkins and water. Condiments include black vinegar and a fearsome looking chili sauce that is indeed pretty hot. Presently your order is brought to you by one of the Mandarin-speaking teenagers that run the front of the house.
Great deals here are the rice plates, which come with meat (e.g. pork chop, pork belly, or special Taiwanese sausage), an egg, some leafy vegetable like baby bok choy, two scoops of rice with a little mild soy-based sauce, and some minced pickled mustard green and some seasoned preserved radish on the side. Price for these range from 4.25-5.95 depending on the meat. The plate is ample for most appetites, including my own (190-lb frequent exerciser).
#1. Oyster Pancake $4.50. Popular Taiwanese dish. I must say I've never "gotten" it. Tasted fine to me.
#3. Fried crispy chicken. Seems like chunks of boneless thigh dusted with a starch (tapioca or corn) and lightly seasoned, fried quite crispy. I thought it could have used some more salt, but it went nicely dipped into a sauce of soy, vinegar and chili.
#6. Duck Meat. Boiled duck seemed awfully bland to me. Wouldn't order again. Came with some kind of sweet bean sauce.
#13. Pork chop rice. One of the aforementioned rice plates. Good. Again, I thought the chop itself could have been saltier, but then again, I prefer saltier than most.
#15. Stewed pork rice. Good. This is pork belly stewed in chunks 1-1.5 in. on a side. The stewing broth is soy, sugar, maybe some ginger and garlic. Again served with all the items described above.
#17. Minced pork rice. Good. Alone of the rice section, this at 2.95 only includes minced pork belly stewed as above but chopped to smaller pieces, on a large scoop of rice with some of the minced pickled mustard greens.
#53. Beef stew noodle. Beef stewed in a medium soy broth that does not taste strongly of other components; if I had to guess I'd say it had some bean paste and star anise, but compared to the stuff I make myself it was quite mild. Not spicy. Served with linguine-shaped wheat noodles (may have egg in the noodles, but not like Cantonese egg noodles). Includes some spinach and minced pickled mustard greens. Good but I prefer my own.
#63. Hot pot noodle. Spaghetti noodle on a sizzling platter with an egg and onion and topped with black pepper sauce. Actually rather tasty; despite being in the "steak" section seemed to have no apparent meat. Came with salad and soup. Reminded me of HK "Western" food. At $4.95 would order again if in the mood.
Despite being of Taiwanese extraction, I have little insight into the cuisine as a whole. The sort of food served here I would describe as "rustic," compared to say Cantonese restaurant cuisine. It's also not as rich as Cantonese homestyle cuisine (even the pork belly dishes seem comparatively spare, if that's possible). It's much blander than other regional cuisines such as Sichuan, Hunan and Shandong.
I like it overall and see it becoming part of my regular rotation. Actually, 168 Restaurant in the same mall has many of the same dishes and table service to boot. A stylistic difference, perhaps.
Thanks for the recommendation. We went there last night and had the #1, 13, 15, & 63. The Stewed Pork is my favorite; pork belly is god's (and a pig's) gift to human. I can't say I like or "get" the oyster pancake but it seems to be a popular dish: the pancake had no real texture, the sauce was a bit too gelatinous for me. The hot pot noddle has a distinctive and memorable (good) flavor. ...and at the inexpensive prices, I would go back until I am tired of the menu.
Has anyone tried their signature noodle dish? Looks like vermecelli noodles in a brown (oyster?) sauce.
they're also in southern california. i've never been particularly impressed by the quality. like you, i've found most of the dishes passable but wouldn't consider it a destination spot. in northern california, where taiwanese food is rare and generally not very good, i'm glad that it provides an option but a little concerned that it's giving taiwanese food a mediocre rep.
Uhhh Taiwanese food already has a mediocre rep in the Bay Area :-) with the slim pickins we have. Search chowhound for Taiwanese food in SF and all you'll find are mentions of Spices I and II, that Garden something eatery at downtown that nooodles outted last year (good Taiwanese beef noodle soup in the city), Joy in Foster City (technically they offer Taiwanese, Beijing, Sichuanese, Su/Hong zhou style) and maybe a few other places in the South Bay for various things.
Taiwan Point on Irving never came close, and in fact had more of a Cantonese feel than Taiwanese, but that's now gone. (Guess what took its place, that's right a Cantonese restaurant called Jook N Fun!) I have no clue what comes close in the East Bay but certainly the other restaurants in the Pacific East Plaza wouldn't. Taiwan restaurant in SF (Clement) and Berkeley (University Ave) would do more harm to the rep than Ay Chung.
I'm sure there's sooooooo much Taiwanese food variety in Southern California that the locals there don't need to go to Ay Chung to get a better taste of Taiwanese food. Most expats will agree that when they took their first bite in a US Ay Chung, that their faces were laden with disappointment that it was not anywhere close to the one in Taipei. Not a fair comparison, but of course after having food in Taipei myself I know the feeling! (Gee doesn't that ring a bell with Hui Lau Shan Hong Kong vs Hui Lau San in the US....similar offerings at double the cost here!)
I still think Ay Chung is the closest to what I've had in Taiwan. At least the dishes offered are very similar enough to what one would eat at night markets and stalls. Tainan Delight (Cupertino, Milpitas Square) and other derivatives nearby are not really worth the trouble.
On a good day the Milpitas Ay Chung can't be beat, but lately they seem to have been slipping a bit. Not everything there is good, but they do some items better than others. I would recommend the rou gen (I think this is labeled as meat stew), squid gen, or fish gen with noodle or dong fun. The signature Ay Chung noodle (ah chung mien sien) is basically the oyster oh-a-mee-sua w/o oyster, with a little pig intestines. It is bland, but if you sprinkle pepper and their black vinegar in it, it tastes a whole lot better. I just wish they put oysters in that thing to make it more authentic.
For those who miss the good stuff in Taiwan, tune in to comcast cable Ch 243 (if you subscribe to CCTV) watch "Delicious" at 10 pm tonight (also airs Sundays at 11 am). You wonder how the host got such a killer job of going all over Taiwan to sample regional specialities that you'll never see in the States :-/
Ay Chung in San Gabriel is below mediocre. But enough about LA.
The place on 2nd and Mission is Tea Garden. Beef noodle soup and gua bao (steamed bun with braised pork inside) are the best things I've had there, although pork chop over rice gets good reviews too.
There's Taste of Formosa in SF now, but it's no better than Taiwan Point used to be.