Taipei Help! Recommendations?
I'll be in Taipei for work for about a week starting the coming weekend. I'll be mostly on my own, and I don't speak Mandarin (English only). I'll be staying near Roosevelt Rd., Sec.2. This is a last-minute trip and I haven't had much time to prepare; I'd greatly appreciate any pointers I can get -- particularly: what are some chowhoundy highlights that will be accessible to an English-only speaker? What dishes or specialities should I seek out? What should I watch out for?
If you are close to a MRT underground subway station, take it and get off Zhongxiao Dunhua or Fuxing. That's a major shopping area with a lot of shoppers/tourists as well as restaurants of all sorts. Food variety is plentiful and probably more English friendly than at a night market. Back in January I had a very nice bowl of beef noodle soup at this sit down chain, although it was a whooping US$9. Nice way to explore the trendy part of town, eat at random, without worrying too much.
But I do recommend going to Shihlin Night Market. Get off Jien Tan station (not Shih lin) off the MRT and you will find it. Bring lots of spare change. If you don't speak the language you can always point :-) But must try's there include Shanghai style shenjian bao, the black pepper pork roasted bun (hujiao bing).
Taipei is very well known for their night markets - both for shopping and for eating. If you are dining alone, this is probably an ideal way to eat (for some nights... you probably don't want to eat it every night). In any given night market, there are a ton of little food stands, either in stalls or in push-carts. It's a great way to sample a lot of different things, and all the food is very fresh and very inexpensive.
I particularly liked the "donner kabbobs" (taiwanese interpretation of the turkish kabobs), the fryer stands (esp sweet potato fries and calamari and chicken - everything fried is tossed with seasoning and fried basil), the fresh cut fruit with suanmei seasonings, the taiwanese sausages (with raw garlic!), takoyaki, and for some reason, the hand-dipped corn dogs just taste better there.
I wrote this and the other one a couple years back, so my memory of the Chinese language abilities of the various places is not clear.
A neat place: An He Lu, Section 2, #191, Basement. Behind the Far Eastern Hotel. It's Like a super trendy restaurant/bar and just kind of neat. There's no doorknob. You stick your hand in a hole in a pile of rocks, which trips a sensor & opens the door. The hong shao tofu is neat and the lime fish is limey [I like sour stuff], but the DIY spring rolls are more of a concept than a food. The bar serves these crazy drinks that are like big bowls of fluorescent blue or purple [haven't drunk them; they just look cool]. You should check it out.
The card lists the following additional locations, which I have not visited:
An He Lu, Section 2, #68
Dun Hua Nan Lu Section 1, #21-1 [#21, 1st floor? #211? dunno]
Jian Guo Bei Lu, Section 1, #80, basement.
Peking Duck. We've been to a place called Tien Chu [Heaven's Kitchen] on Zhongshan N Road or thereabout. It was good. It's in Japanese tourist guidebooks, so its very popular. My teacher [and us] prefer Beijing Lou [Beijing Floor / Beijing Restaurant] on Roosevelt Road, right by the Taipower Building stop because it's just as good [or better] and cheaper. It's on the northeast side of the road. When you leave the subway stop, walk northwest, toward heping road and you'll find it. My teacher claims the service at Beijing Lou is better, but I'm not so sure. Northern restaurants seem chronically hostile to me. Beijing Lou doesn't speak much if any English. Not sure if they have an English menu either. [actually, I think they do]. you can also check the Beijing Restaurant on Dun Hua Road, about 2 blocks north of the corner of Keelung Road & on the left side if you go north. Like the other Beijing restaurants, the service is somewhat hostile. But the food - duck & potstickers are good.
Sichuan Food. There's a chain called Kiki's [people know it by that name] that's good but always very crowded. One's on Xin Yi, toward the 101 Building, the other's on Fuxing across from the Breeze center. We've also been to a place called Lao Gao that was good, near Yongkang Jie [below]. They have this white, crunchy, garlicky vegetable they call "garlic flower" [don't know chinese name] that's pretty cool. Deep fried tofu is really soft inside if you're into that [I am], and iron bowl beef will numb your mouth.
Shilin night market is great. You should go on a weekend evening to get the full insanely-crowded experience. The people standing in a long line at the front of the Night market building are waiting to buy deep fried chicken cutlet, served in a paper bag, red pepper powder optional. It's good, but at the end of the day, it's still a chicken cutlet.
Yongkang Jie [always health street?] is a lot of fun. It's a smaller street running off XinYi Road, near Din Tai Fung, a very famous restaurant. The main drag of Yongkang Jie has Ice Monster and a number of smaller, family-style places that specialize in that shaved ice dessert with condensed milk, tapioca, red bean, and anything else. Right now, mango, strawberry & kiwi combo is very popular. The big dim sum restaurant [Uncle Kee's Snack House?] at the entrance to Yong Kang Jie should be avoided. They forgot some of our food, and then couldn't get it to us when we told them about it. The food that did arrive wasn't good either. Dim sum at Parents or the Nanjing Road place is much better. Infinitely. Din Tai Fung is on Xin Yi Road, a little to the east. It's a Shanghai style dumpling house, or so I've been told. You can recognize it by the immense crowd of people waiting in line at all hours. Never tried to make it through. Some people say it's worth it, others say it isn't. No idea.
If you go down YongKang Jie from Xin Yi, and make a right at the 2nd or 3rd intersection, you'll come to a somewhat famous dumpling house [or so we've been told]. It has a fish pond out front. If it was in Rockville, I'd probably be happy to drive there, but it's in Taiwan. So I'm not sure why it's dumpling are that much better than the other thousands of other dumpling stalls in the city. In its defense it has pretty much every kind of dumpling [steamed, boiled, pan fried, shrimp or pork, not sure if it has soup dumplings or chive dumplings. Maybe only cabbage flavor] all in one place. Many dumpling stalls will only have one type [i.e. cabbage & pork boiled dumplings]. So it's not a bad place to eat. I've seen a lot of people eating hot pots too.
One street to the west of Yong Kang Jie is the Lao Gao Chuan Cai -- a independent Sichuan restaurant. Pretty good. Fried whole fish in red sauce is extremely popular, although we didn't have enough people to eat one. The Lao Gao tofu is just tofu in brown sauce with pork. Good, but I was hoping for something insanely spicy. Their Kong Pao Chicken contains Sezchuan ma la peppers as well as the normal dried red ones. All the stir fries here are hot enough [temp wise] to burn your tongue. Stir fried veggies, everything.
About two doors down from Lao Gao is the Mesa Grill, a California-American style restaurant run by a Taiwanese woman who used to cook at the Ritz Carlton in Costa Mesa, CA. She's now living the Taiwanese dream of being her own boss. The food's good, if you're looking for upscale American restaurant food. The lady & the staff are all very nice and speak excellent English.
There are a number of Vietnamese places on Yong Kong Jie. As before, avoid them. There's also an Indian restaurant, proudly displaying a negative newspaper review, enlarged and hung out front. Never ate there, but have been told that the negative review was correct.
Dim Sum. Go to Parent's Restaurant [Chao Gui -- Gui Dynasty]. It's on Dun Hua South Road, about 5-10 doors north of the ZhongXiao Road intersection, West side of the street. They have a menu posted out front, and the dim sum is downstairs. They often have wedding banquets, but that doesn't seem to affect the quality of their food.
Nanjing E. Road has a Hong Kong Lucky Star 24 Dim Sum Place. It's about a block or two east of the Nanjing/Fuxing North Road intersection [Nanjing Subway stop, Muzha/Brown line], on the second floor. They have a billboard sized menu out front. [The Hong Kong 24 Dim Sum at Zhongxiao & Dun Hua is to be avoided]
The Nanjing E / Fuxing North interesection also has the Brother Hotel [Xiong Di] that has a dim sum place on its second floor. One of the few [only one I've been to here] that has carts. Their dim sum is good, but very different from anything I've had in the US. I don't really know how to describe it. Parent's and the good Hong Kong dim sum place are more like the stuff available in the US, just better quality, more skill and more types. And no carts.
The Grand Hotel is fun. It's old school Taiwan -- everything's red and covered with dragons, ceilings are kind of low, and bathrooms are kind of dank. I'm told there's gardens you can walk around, but the hotel's pretty damn big on it's own. I wouldn't eat dim sum there, though. It sucked.
Generally, don't eat Thai food in Taipei. It's not that good. One exception is Home's Restaurant, on FuXing North Road, across from the Breeze Center [a giant, and pretty cool shopping mall]. Home's Chinese name is Taishi Liaoli, which translates to "Thai-Style Restaurant." The seafood salad and lemongrass prawns were both good. If you go to Taizhong, the Thai Grandmother's Restaurant was good. I heard that the Thai food in Taizhong is better because of a larger local population. Maybe we just got lucky the one time we tried. Dunno.
Don't eat Vietnamese food in Taipei. It sucks. There are no exceptions.
In Taipei, Kunming Restaurant is awesome. FuXing N. Road, Lane 81, #26, tel02 2773 2540. 11:30-14:00, 17:30-21:30. Also near the Breeze Center. They have Burmese/Yunnan and Indian/Pakistani food. The menu is in Chinese, English & [Arabic? Maybe Sanskrit. I think Arabic]. The cold tea salad is really spicy and really good. The samosas and curries also tasted better than the samosas or curries at the Indian restaurants we've been to in Taipei. Maybe because they added cilantro. One caution: the short guy who works there is a little high strung. An Indian dude asked him some question about what was in the samosas -- in a friendly sort of way -- and the little guy looked like he wanted to fight before a Chinese speaker explained that the Indian dude was just curious, not complaining. Not learning from this, I tried to tell him [in Chinese] that his food was really tasty. Again, he looked like he wanted to punch me before I got the tones sort of right on my third try. The Chinese folks at a nearby table laughed uproariously. The tall guy who works here is much friendlier and will actually bring you the things you order. If it seems like the little guy forgot your food, he probably did. [we just ate here tonight]. Also, I only ate at the Burmese place in Chinatown, which sucks by comparison. Maybe the Burmese places in VA & MD are just as good as Kunming -- I heard they're better than the one in Chinatown. But that cold tea salad is truly amazing.
Indonesian food is worthwhile. There's a place called Sate House on LeiLi Road, just off AnHe Road, behind the Far Eastern Hotel, that's good. Particularly the Ikan Goreng [fried fish], Sapi Rendang [spicy beef curry], Resoles [some sort of meat filling wrapped in mashed potatoes & fried], eggplant [eggplant], Tahu Telor, Sate [get the traditional kind with peanut sauce]. They also have this chicken dish that's like deep fried chicken pieces served with a sticky sweet black sauce. I forget what it's called, but it's good. The people who run the place are friendly, but the waiters sometimes forget your food, so if something hasn't shown up after a bit, tell them.
There's another Indonesian place on FuXing North Road, it has a Ming or a Yue in it's name. I think it's sort of well known. It sucks. Don't go there.
Finally, there's a small Indonesian place about 5 doors up from the corner of HePing East Road & XinSheng South Road, across the street from Daan Forest Park. You can tell because it has a red & white sign. They have maybe 3-4 tables & half the space sells Indonesian beauty products & kareoke CDs. They sell rice & noodle plates, so if you order Sapi Rendang, you get a plate of rice with some Rendang & some hot sauce & some vegetable. Next to the cash register they stack up carry out boxes of small snacks. There's also a table next to the cash register that has a big plate where they put all sorts of deep fried things [i.e. tofu stuffed with beansprouts & deep fried]. You just take what you want and pay at the end. It's a good place to eat.
Parents Restaurant [Chao Gui] at Dun Hua & ZhongXiao Road intersection is good for Dim Sum. The Lucky Star Hong Kong 24 Hour dim sum place at the same intersection is not good. The Lucky Hong Kong 24 Dim Sum Place on NanJing East Road, is, however, good. The cool thing is that Parents' restaurant is still good for dim sum at strange times like 8p.m. on a wednesday [it's also still crowded then]. They also have main dishes that are good.