San Diego - 168 Taiwanese Restaurant in Ranch 99 (near Convoy)
I've been going to this place in Ranch 99 since I first came to San Diego almost 7 years ago. They have a big menu ranging from cheap+mediocre to cheap+fantastic. Did I mention they were cheap and sometimes really good? And if you're like me, you enter and leave in 30-40 minutes full and satisfied. It's also usually open until midnight last I checked.
They have some dishes that me and my wife would otherwise have to get in LA - the main two being Shao Long Bao and Taiwanese Beef Stew Noodles. I like Japanese ramen, but I love Taiwanese Beef Noodles more. My wife is Japanese and agrees since I've introduced her to this. The menu has English and pictures of some dishes.
Their Shao Long Bao (juicy pork dumpling "bag") is a step below Din Tai Fun of course, but in my opinion is consistently above average and delicious. It's also a great value at $6.50. I didn't have my camera, so I included a photo of Shao Long Bao from Food GPS's review of Din Tai Fun for people who don't know the name. One difference with their SLB is they use a kind of green cabbage as a bed to give flavor, and catch the juice if you want to eat it afterwards (I usually don't). And again, it's not Din Tai Fun but it's also not a 2 hour drive and 1 hour wait. Plus they serve great Beef Stew Noodles which in my opinion goes great together for 2 people.
Their Beef Stew Noodles could be better but is solidly above average in my opinion. It's a great value at $5.75 and I have no complaints - it's cheaper and better than good ramen. The best I've ever had is now out of business and was in LA anyways. The noodle is what my wife calls Okinawa style (flat and wavy with good texture), which is my favorite. You can get this type fresh (i.e. not dry) in Mitsuwa next to the natto, but make sure to use it while its fresh. The beef and broth are the key to this dish. This is stewed for hours and the longer its cooked the better it gets - hence this dish tends to make "good fast food". I think "good fast food" summarizes typical Taiwanese restaurants like this - we entered and left in 30 minutes around 8pm! It's busier at 7pm but this place is open until about midnight and I take advantage of it. Lastly, there is also some garnishing of a leafy vegetable - my favorite is when they add bok choy but here they used another vegetable.
They also have cold seasoned seaweed and cold cooked tofu, which if you like Taiwanese food you'll like and if you don't then who knows. =) One dish that's real hard to find that they have 50% of the time is cold sliced goose meat. All three dishes you can see in the refridgerator next to the main counter - I always walk over and check out what's in stock. This is Taiwanese style where cold dishes are pre-made and displayed for you to pick. All the dishes I mentioned are fairly ethnic - for example the seaweed would be my recommendation but it's marinated in raw garlic and gets its subtle sweetness from it. That's awesome to me but bound to be unbearable to someone else. One thing about Taiwanese food is the most awesome dishes can sound awful to anyone else - for example stinky tofu. It's literally called stinky tofu because it literally stinks but is fit for an Emperor.
My first photo is of my receipt I took when I got home - $16.97 for 2 entrees and an appetizer that fed two fairly hungry people good food. Inflation has increased the cost of almost all California restaurants but I still consider this place a bargain if you know what to order and like Taiwanese food.
This place is usually open until midnight, cheap, and Taiwanese food which is a big plus in my book. It's family run and super casual - Chinese TV is always on, and it's suitable both for eating with friends or by yourself. They owners are an elderly couple who speak Chinese and Taiwanese, but they normally have someone who can speak English taking most of the orders.
I made this place sound good but that's because I mentioned the 5 things I really love here, out of a menu of about 100 things. I bet you can find a dozen or two mediocre dishes in that list. Some unhealthy pleasures I sometimes get are the pork chops which are good enough and last time I ordered pork chop soup it came on the side (so you can put it in while keeping it crisp). The sliced goose I mentioned is also unhealthy, bony, and only available 1/2 the time. But if you love it you'll really love it - I don't know any other place in SD that serves it this (best) way, and it's the sauce they use that really makes this dish.
Every now and then I experiment and get something average but then again I have no problem experimenting because of their prices. And when in doubt you can always order by looking in their glass fridge for cold dishes.
7330 Clairemont Mesa Blv
San Diego CA 92122
I also recommend the House Special Squid. I have a friend from Taiwan who said that it is the closest to what she had in Taiwan.
Another advantage is that the place is open till midnight which was very helpful during postdoc times.
I agree that some of their cold dishes are pretty good. But I think the Xiao Long Bao there is a real mixed bag, and not in a good way. The first time, they were freezer burnt and most of the dumplings had no soup. The second time was better, this time only half of the XLB had no soup. I'm not a fan of the Niu Rou Mien there...really bad noodles, really weak broth. Shaghai City still does better for me on both counts(especially weekend breakfast). Funny thing, the Cho Dofu at 168 doesn't smell particularly bad. Personally, I like my XLB to have a bit of wrapper,,,so Giang Nan is probably my favorite in LA, followed by Mei Long Village, DTF, J&J.....
Thanks for the tips, I'll check out Shanghai City..where is that? I grew up in LA but most of my favorite places are either out of business or are now 1-2 hour waits. =) Are the last few places you mentioned in LA? I've been in SD so long I don't know any of them anymore, but I visit friends and relatives every month or two and would like to expand my list.
Also have you had either XLB or the Beef noodles recently? I know with other dishes they can be better/worse depending on the day, maybe I was lucky here. I swear there were years I didn't go, but my friend I took brought me back until I found the dishes I liked. I had the same impression of Cho Dofu though I haven't had it at 168 in years..I don't know any good place for it but my current favorite is AU 79 near Temple City in LA.
Shanghai City is on Convoy south of Balboa. In the same strip mall as Nijiya Market and Sunrise Buffet.
A word of warning, Shanghai City's menu is a mine-field, especially their "gringo section" (some of the reviews in yelp must have been from people that ordered gringo). Whenever I go there (at least when I go there without Chinese friends in tow), I try to get the one waitress who speaks English well and just ask her what have they got that's good that night. They typically have many specials that are only listed on the wall in Chinese. Sauteed chinese pea pod leaves and whole roasted fish in garlic sauce are two I particularly remember her recommending.
I believe they are also 1/2 price off after 9PM, so they're surprisingly busy after 9PM.
Great tip, it's been years since I had their potage and I forgot about it - I liked it back then too. I have to admit a lot of what I like is the nostalgia factor of Taiwanese food, not having to drive 2 hours to LA, and being cheap and casual. It can be hit and miss so I take friends I know who don't mind experimenting.
I'll definitely check out Shanghai City, I think I've been there before but I'd love to find more Chinese places. Some of my other favorites either went out of businesses or are niche (once every year or two).
It looks like this is the only place that I can get the Taiwanese pork chop on rice, which is one of my favorite dishes on this planet. There used to be a place in the SGV called Lo Dey Fong ("old place" in Cantonese) and I can't remember the English name. It was something Cafe (Pyramid Cafe?), tucked away in the corner of a strip mall on San Gabriel Blvd. and El Monte St., right across from the nursery. The best Taiwanese food I have ever had... and it's out of business.
How's the pork chop rice at 168?
The pork chop rice is pretty good there although I haven't ordered it in a long time. I know Tea Station serves it as well but I've never had it there and I don't believe it comes with the picked vegetable "relish" which I really like that they serve at 168. I agree the Niu Ro Mein is much better at Shanghai City. I don't care for it that much at 168.
I think the XLB at 168 is actually pretty good, usually the dumplings aren't broken and have plenty of soup. The only other place that I normally get XLB is at Dumpling Inn, which I think is only slightly better. I don't make it up to LA that often but I'll really have to try those places out sometime to see how they compare. Does anyone know of a place that makes fresh XLB in SD? I'm pretty sure the XLB at both Dumpling Inn and 168 are previously frozen.