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Visiting from Austin, Looking for Cheap, Authentic Taiwanese Street Food

Looking for things like oyster pancakes, fish paste noodle soup, (true) stinky tofu (fried or not), pork blood cakes, fried chicken butts, guabao, sticky rice sausages, zongzi (rectangular or triangular)...etc

Recommendations?

Also, best places for buns/breads with fillings?

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  1. Joy Restaurant (in Foster City) serves the best fried stinky tofu I've had in the Bay Area. It's not as stinky as what you can get in Taiwan, but it's quite good. They also do a decent gua bao, but only during weekend brunch, when they also have other Taiwanese breakfast items (which are only OK in my experience). This is in a restaurant setting, though. I'm not aware of any actual street vendors selling these types of foods.

    There are a few other restaurants in the South Bay that I haven't tried yet, but I'm sure others can comment on those.

    Where, specifically, will you be staying, and will you have access to a car?

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    Joy Restaurant
    1489 Beach Park Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404

    1 Reply
    1. re: abstractpoet

      yeah. It's stinky tofu is the best in my experience

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      Joy Restaurant
      1489 Beach Park Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404

    2. Tea Garden on Mission near 1st, downtown SF, has a refrigerated case with many buns/breads. The stuffed bread with pork belly, pickled greens, and cilantro is my favorite.

      8 Replies
      1. re: david kaplan

        I think the soups at Tea Garden are better than what's in the case. But honestly I've had better Taiwanese food in Houston than in the Bay Area.

        1. re: Windy

          I haven't had much Taiwanese food to compare. I'm not fond of Tea Garden's soups, actually, since the noodles lack bite. What about the Taiwanese beef noodle soups in the South Bay, like at A&J?

          1. re: david kaplan

            I thought A&J was from Beijing because friends said they ate there in Beijing. The one in Cupertino has good cheap kao fu.

            Yeah, the problem with the noodle soups at Tea Garden is they're prepared in a converted closet, and probably reheated. Great broths though.

          2. re: Windy

            That's because there are more Taiwanese in Houston than the Bay Area. As noted below, what the Bay Area does have is concentrated south of the City (or if the poster is willing to go way south, tons of places in the Los Angeles area). For bakery stuff, perhaps L'Epi d"or in Cupertino might fill the bill.

            1. re: Chandavkl

              That would explain the US Ay-Chung noodle chain once having a branch in Houston, but that flopped. Any idea if the Southern Cal/SGV location is still around? Someone said there's one in Las Vegas, but the NorCal locations have all shut down.

              1. re: K K

                The San Gabriel branch of Ay Chung is still open, but two or three others also closed. So you're saying that the Milpitas and Richmond branches also closed?

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Richmond has been closed for awhile

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    The one in Richmond did not last very long which is quite a surprise considering the represented Taiwanese at least attending UC Berkeley and for the lack of a decent place that served this kind of fare.

                    The Milpitas location was the first to open in the US (maybe around same time as SGV), and at one point they remodeled to offer the same fare but had to rebrand everything. The staff denied any problems with royalties or disagreement with Ay-Chung Taipei, and said the chefs were the same. They rebranded to "Ocean Harbor Cafe" taking the name of Lu Gang (a seaport in Chiayi county by Central Taiwan), and eventually things went south for them. OCH eventually re-opened in same and perhaps a subsection of the staff as a proper sit down restaurant, but something happened and within 2 to 3 months of opening, they closed. Then whoever took their place opened for maybe a few weeks before flopping. And now it's Grand Harbor (Miao Kao Xiao Chir / Temple Mouth Street Food Small Eats), hopefully here to stay.

                    It's a shame really, the Milpitas Ay Chung during its prime, was the best place for this kind of fare, even though it did not appeal to all the foodies, and of course it is a known fact that their signature noodles were not a replication of the original Taipei location, but still it was the closest they got.
                    I'm sure the Cisco Taiwanese expat employees are lamenting the loss by now and didn't realize what they had :-)

                    The one thing about Ay-Chung US was that they offered the entire span of the menu. In Taipei, Ay-Chung serves one thing only....you just specify the size of the bowl and whether you want ciltanro, black vinegar. In Taiwan, a business like that can make a lot of money with that turnover with maybe upwards of 5 to 10 offerings at most (and do them very well). Unfortunately the same is not true in the US. Add that to the fact that Ay Chung US charges x2 to x3 of what it costs in Taiwan for half to 1/3 of the quality and that fuels a little resentment. Alas it's a business world.

          3. I really enjoy Five Happiness, which I know does Taiwanese food, but I can't speak to its authenticity

            1. OK here's the rundown. Taiwanese street food doesn't seem to fare well in SF Bay Area as a collective. It doesn't attract massive crowds on its own, and the better places that do or did them are so scattered.

              It's slim pickins in SF city proper. There's Taiwan restaurant on Clement Street but I do not vouch for its authenticity, even though you might find Taiwanese style ba wan (meat rice ball) there or beef noodle soup. But their fried cruller dough sticks are decent.

              Taste of Formosa seems to be ok from what I hear of friends, though everyone raves about their tsong dzua bing (green onion shredded pancake). It's also on Clement street. They have oyster pancakes too.

              Spices I and II (also on Clement) do Taiwanese style Sichuan, only if you are into numbing spicy and stinky tofu spicy hotpots. Also very greasy.

              There's also Tea Garden (never been) and it is supposedly run by a Taiwanese couple, but whatever street food fare you get is varied. Authentic? Probably not close. It's a quick bite for most in that part of town, maybe not a destination spot.

              Peninsula:

              5 Joy in Foster City is a Taiwanese run restaurant that serves mostly mixed Northern style fare that comprise mostly of some Sichuan, ZiJiang/Shanghainese, and perhaps two other regions I can't remember. They do serve a little bit of street food fare, but it's part of the larger main menu. While the place is 20+ years old, it attracts a very steady and loyal clientele, as the restaurant does Chinese food that caters to Taiwanese tastebuds (and does it very well). They have oyster noodles on the weekend, though I have not had it. The gua bao is OK, but thin on the contents, definitely unlike a typical place in Taipei that specializes it that make it as big as a double cheeseburger for US$1.50. No oyster pancake. Minced pork rice? Yes...quite good. Stinky tofu is not bad and they have the steamed version too. It's Taiwanese....but at the same time the food isn't entirely.

              East Bay (Fremont)

              Grand Harbor
              46577 Mission Blvd #415
              Fremont, CA 94539
              (510) 656-9688

              Never been, but if you look at Yelp pictures, it's basically what you want more or less all under one roof. This location used to be owned by the US branches of Ay Chung noodle (franchised from Ay Chung Flour Rice Noodle Taipei / Ay Chung Mien Sien or http://www.ay-chung.com/ ) then something caused the franchise to go south, and then there were two ownership changes. Something tells me this place is likely the most authentic out of everything listed here. From the pix alone I see oyster pancake, stinky tofu, beef noodle soup, fried chicken roll (ji juern), ba wan/rou wan, oyster noodle, sausage rice, pork chop rice.

              South Bay (San Jose, Cupertino and environs

              )

              Southland Flavor Cafe
              10825 N. Wolfe Rd. #220
              Cupertino, CA 95014
              (408) 446-9488

              This place offers a huge menu, almost everything you've mentioned, and more, including Tainan style food. Cash only.

              Taiwan Bistro
              1310 Saratoga Ave
              San Jose, CA 95130
              (408) 984-3440
              www.taiwanbistro.com

              TB is another choice to hit and probably better than Southland for the street food fare.

              This is another place that would have it. Not too far down from there is Tai Kee Won Ton, supposedly a "branch" of the one out of Hualien Eastern Taiwan, but includes a huge assortment of typical Taiwanese rice plate, marinated snack eats and misc dishes.

              Bottom line, the better stuff requires driving out of SF to get to.

              With regards your question of breads/buns? Are you looking for a Taiwanese bakery?

              19 Replies
                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Never heard of nor been to this place. Google maps street view shows a place that while has 4 Chinese characters, doesn't look like a restaurant (and I'm not sure how old that google photo for the street view maps was taken)

                  Also, Won Stew House (various locations in San Jose, Cupertino, Fremont) while specializing in Taiwanese style to-go bento combinations (e.g. fried pork chop, chicken leg, grilled fish, soy sauce marainted egg), sometimes has these wall specials of various street food dishes you can order. The quality can seemingly vary, and variety is not a lot. Their specialty is the combo bento, which is arguably a lot better selling than their street food fare (especially to those who don't care for pork intestine noodles for example).

                  1. re: K K

                    There was just the one short thread about it back in July -- it was new then, so might not be in Google street view.

                2. re: K K

                  Also Formosa Bento House in Redwood City, although my brother has mentioned that it's been closed the last couple times he's driven by there.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Same thing happened to me--and that was a few months ago.

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      The one and only time I'd eaten there was the beginning of November.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5658...

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                      Formosa Bento House
                      2660 Broadway St, Redwood City, CA 94063

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I didn't mention Formosa Bento House because technically the food they offer is bento / bien dang, miso ramen, beef noodle soup, and their take on Hakka noodle which can be perceived as bland to many, and generally isn't true night market street food fare per se (specifically what the OP is looking for). The only night market type street food thing on the menu is lou rou fan or minced pork rice. It's not bad, but not a destination stop for it. No stinky tofu, no oyster pancake.

                        Best thing to do is call before going. We made a stop in January, but for once experienced a dip in quality...they switched the vendor for noodles, preserved sour veg was overly salty, beef in the noodles was tough. Hopefully it was an off day.

                        I just remembered that the Porridge restaurant in Cupertino Village (Wang Wang Tsing Dzo) has oyster pancake as a wall special, but I'm not expecting it to be good. The side dishes you order to go with the congee (non Canto style) are very good though.

                        The "best" Taiwanese sausage specialist is Shinbala Cafe in Cupertino, but they are half the quality (or more) than the original branch in Southern California (Arcadia). The safe bet is to go there and order the sausage combo rice platter. There's stinky tofu and hotpot, plus a myriad of other things, but again it's not the same as the SoCal locations. :-/

                        In case someone mentions it....Windsor Fish and Chips (Taiwan Xiao Tiao) in Sunnyvale a few doors down from Shanghai Flavor Shop offers Taiwanese bento but they may do a select few street food items if you ask. They say the owner was ex-Taiwanese military from the South and is quite the chef. I loved their green bean and barley cold soup, very refreshing.

                        1. re: K K

                          Oh yeah, I'd long forgotten about Windsor F&C. Whenever it comes up, the opinions almost always positive. I'll try it some day.

                          -----
                          Windsor Fish & Chips
                          876 Old San Francisco Rd, Sunnyvale, CA 94086

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Winsor Fish and Chips is a great place for Taiwanese bento, but do not go there for their beef noodle soup. Straight soy sauce with star anise soup. This place is a very much cafeteria style steam table service.They do three or four things really well. Lu ro fan (five spice minced pork over rice), fermented bamboo shoots, which I believe they actually sell to other restaurants, lastly are their lu cai (five spiced soy meats and organs). The street foods that they offer are limited and usually fridged or frozen. Wa gay is probably the best in the bay area, and ba wan is just okay.

                  2. re: K K

                    But if you want a simple plate of stinky deep fried tofu, Spices I is still a great place to stop for a snack! It's one of the few places that make their own, and on good days it holds up the the better stinky tofu shops in LA. I haven't seen another in SF. That said, consistency is not their forte.

                    1. re: K K

                      Thanks! Yes, I'm looking for a good Taiwanese bakery (with lots of variety)...

                      1. re: conquer

                        I don't want to get your hopes up, but I haven't found a top notch Taiwanese bakery yet, and definitely not in SF city.

                        Before someone mentions the obvious Sheng Kee, while a famous chain that started off in Taipei and eventually settled in the US, has become rather watered down. Some of the offerings borderline on Hong Kong Cantonese style, so I couldn't figure where they ended and Canto style began. If there's nothing else in the area, Sheng Kee is actually not bad, but if you're really picky this is definitely not the best.

                        The next best thing is Sogo Bakery, another chain with most of their locations in the South Bay. The closest one is in Burlingame, bordering Millbrae, within easy walking distance to the BART station. Not all Sogo's are good, but the Burlingame one happens to be better and at least has offerings that are close enough to a neighborhood one in Taipei, and definitely more refined in general than Sheng Kee.

                        CHer tanspace's latest entry (eat.tanspace.com) mentions Golden Bakery in Milpitas, but he only reviewed cakes. But based on those photos, it looks authentic and close enough.

                        If you're looking for something that's close enough to Taiwanese, but more western and Japanese than the Chinese aspects, then perhaps Grain D'or and Andersen Bakery (one inside San Francisco Japantown) may provide a quick fix. For something more fusion French/Euro/Japanese, Satura Cakes in Palo Alto or Los Altos.

                        A shame we don't have the kind of Taiwanese bakeries like in Southern California (Arcadia/SGV area), and even Irvine has a chain of Taiwan's 85C www.85cafe.us

                        1. re: K K

                          When Richmond Ranch 99 opened they had a separate Taiwanese deli which is now gone. Was that Ay Chung which morphed into a store then closed.

                          1. re: wolfe

                            You just reminded me of 168 restaurant inside the Pacific East Mall on the opposite end from Ranch 99.

                            Looking at the Yelp listing pictures, the food does not look anything close, but given its longevity as a tenant, I suppose that's the only game in that part of town. I see some oyster pancake rendition, and a menu that lists boiled intestines, chitterlings, stinky tofu, "din bien tsuoh" which is a very very famous Taipei Keelung Night Market bowl of goodness (over 100 years old in history, for more info look at the embedded youtube video at the website http://www.100wu.com.tw as one of the first folks who started selling this dish near the Keelung temple) but I'm not holding my breath on their rendition, gan lien rou (the pork meat near the liver) and sai bang rou (pork meat near the cheeks)....while the pork meats are technically not street vendor food, are typical small dishes you can get all over Taiwan to go with rice or chi faan (Taiwanese style congee).

                            Then there's China Bee in San Mateo....I tried their oyster pancake one time and it was downright horrible. On a weekend they have a huge menu that includes brunch fare like soymilk and crullers, and a few Taiwanese style street food dishes. We tried the oyster pancake one time and it was the worst rendition I've ever had. A strange purple red looking sauce that's supposed to be the oyster pancake sauce (even the color is not authentic). I only mention this place as information only, but not as a destination spot.

                            To address the question, I don't know where in the mall was Ay Chung located specifically, as by the time I had a chance to visit, AC had already closed down.

                            1. re: K K

                              KK - have you ever tried the food at Wuling in El Cerrito? Think I read on Yelp before they're run by a Taiwanese brother/sister combo

                              1. re: kc72

                                Never been but I've heard about them. They were promoted (I'm sure Wuling paid for the advertisement) on one of the Cantonese AM radio food picks of the week segment. Based on the reviews you mentioned plus the radio ad, the food offerings are part Taiwanese and part Cantonese (the lobster lo mein and stuff like beef chow fun) to appeal to wider demographics/target market. I've heard CH mention before that their beef noodle soup is good, but I don't know any more and whether they serve the style of street food the OP is looking for.

                                1. re: kc72

                                  Wuling in EC was a Kareoke bar was then sold to the new owner(s). They were thinking about turning the place into restaurant and they were serving northern Chinese dim sum on weekends with some Taiwanese offerings. However, I don't think it was very successful or it was too much for the new owners so I'm not sure if they ever followed through to turn the place into a real restaurant. I had Chinese new years' eve dinner there last year. There were some highs and lows. As for their BNS, I think A&J in Cupertino still has the best version in the bay. WuLing had all of the fixin' IE pickled mustard, but their soup just doesn't have that depth of flavor that A&J has.

                                2. re: K K

                                  I believe Ay Chung was at the front, on the left, if you went in the entrance away from the market and what now is the Asian Pearl space.

                        2. Wondering if any of our myriad of boba shops that offer a few snacks have anything of note. I'd asked before about Sweet Delite's snacks but got no response.
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/458078

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Good point.

                            Looking at Tapioca Express's menu online and I see

                            sausage
                            crispy squid ball
                            crispy chicken (aka "popcorn chicken" or yen soh ji)
                            crispy tempura
                            fried steam bun
                            fried tofu
                            oolong tea egg
                            fried string bean

                            and here's Quickly's food menu

                            http://www.quicklyusa.com/snackmenu.html

                            Both are fairly common chains.

                            Too long to list but I see mostly deep fried stuff as well as bento meals on Quickly's site.

                            If popcorn chicken is a must for the OP (which was not mentioned), I suppose TapEx's version (depending on the location) or maybe Quickly's, is ok for a quick fix. The popcorn chicken I had one time a year+ back at the Mountain View TapEx store, had good flavor and they deep fried it with basil to give it that additional fragrance, although it was a bit too heavy to have on a frequent basis.

                            Some of the mom and pop tapioca milk tea shops at best just do some western cakes (sourced outside), or their version of Taiwanese brick toast, but bottom line don't really specialize or do their food too well. That's why the deep fried stuff is quick to produce and sell.