If you've read about our street food lunch in Jiufen or saw my post about one of our favorite breakfasts, you might've gathered that our eating in Taiwan was mostly pretty casual. I did originally have one fine dining reservation but I had to cancel when we experienced some delays getting our new, giant passports back and shifted the days of our trip. I was a little disappointed initially, but we ate so well that I quickly forgot about it all together (plus, it gave us more money for checking out some of Taipei's cocktail bars and craft beers). Here's what we had.
For our first meal we decided to just commit and really tourist it up by going to Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese chain that brought Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) to the world. The original location in Taipei holds a Michelin Star but we decided to combine our mountain of soup dumplings with our trip to Taipei 101 and went to the location in the basement food court. The counters above the check in desk were showing a wait time of 45 minutes for two people when we arrived (leading me to go grab a bubble tea for a quick blood sugar boost) but we really only waited thirty minutes and it was totally worth it. We started with dry sauteed string beans (my favorite always), followed by the regular pork XLB, the crab roe and pork XLB, the shrimp and pork shao mai, pork bao and veggie dumplings. Unless you're a vegetarian, I recommend skipping the veggie dumplings. Dan was also not that impressed with his shrimp shao mai. The XLB lived up to the hype and if we were to go again we'd probably just double down on the regular pork. We finished our meal with two mini black sesame buns which I absolutely loved. This was probably our second most expensive meal in Taipei and it still only set us back around $30 (US) for the two of us. If you didn't skip lunch because you were on the plane, and ordered a reasonable amount of food, it would probably be a bit cheaper.
There are locations all over Taipei but this Din Tai Fung is located at 110, Taiwan, Taipei City, Xinyi District, City Hall Rd, 45號台北101購物中心 (basement foodcourt of Taipei 101)
This is the kind of place where you might have that momentary traveler's panic of "ooops, what did I get myself into". This Sichuan restaurant may not look like much and if you've never had the Chinatown experience of eating in a giant room where the mode of conversation between the servers sounds like angry shouting (over the tables of happy Chinese families and friend groups also shouting), than it might be a bit overwhelming. I don't think any of the staff speaks English, so you'll need to be prepared to bring your miming A game for getting seated BUT there is a version of the menu with both English and Chinese so ordering isn't too stressful. Since it was just the two of us, we whittled it down to three of our all time faves, dry sauteed string beans (yes, again, always), twice cooked pork and mapo tofu. The green beans here were outstanding, a lot of crispy ginger, spring onion and maybe pork grumbles all throughout and when we had eaten all the beans we were both scooping whatever seasoning was left onto our rice bowls. Our twice cooked pork was good but a little light on spice and Sichuan peppercorns, we're not sure if that's just how they do it or if we got white peopled* because the mapo tofu had quite a bit of heat (and was perfectly silky). If you are looking for Sichuan food OR are just the type of traveler that likes going where you're not going to see any other tourists, this is definitely the place for you.
*A common problem that happens outside of the US where you order spicy dishes and they automatically get toned down, even when you insist you really want the heat.
Xiao Wei Sichuan is located at 100, Taiwan, Taipei City, Zhongzheng District, Gongyuan Rd, 13號3樓, there's no English signage so be prepared to put your character matching skills for the test. It's located on the third floor.
You can't go to Taiwan and not eat beef noodles, it's an absolute must. I've read reviews mentioning long lines at Yongkang but there weren't any when we went on a drizzly week night. Even if there had been, a bit of a wait would still have been worth it. Like the Sichuan restaurant, this place is pretty bare bones in service and decor but I'm not really one to be picky as long as the food is good. The menu here has pictures and some English and I went with the spicy soy beef noodles while Dan went for the regular beef noodles. Both had tender, fall apart braised beef and rich flavorful broths. We each preferred the soup we had ordered so you can't really go wrong, it's just a matter of what you're in the mood for. After a day spent exploring in chilly weather, it was just the thing to hit the spot.
Yongkang Beef Noodles is located at No. 17, Lane 31, Section 2, Jinshan S Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106. The also have a website but it doesn't have any English.
Our most expensive meal, this place was both very good and pretty darn weird. Part fish market, part gourmet grocer, part wine bar and part sushi restaurant, this is definitely a unique experience. The first step is definitely to get on the waitlist and get your number for the large standing-only sushi bar. This is accomplished by finding the cordoned off entrance to the sushi bar and being a bit aggressive about getting a server's attention to put you on the list, otherwise somebody will definitely push in front of you to get on the list faster. Once you're on the list, you can explore the gourmet grocer section (and if you don't want to wait, instead grab one of the many many boxes of sushi to go) or grab a drink at the wine bar. The gourmet grocery section was very exciting to us because the selection of things like cured meat and cheeses seemed absolutely insane compared to Seoul (I bought some aged goat cheese to smuggle back into the country and I had zero regrets). Also there were small cups of salmon roe for about a $1.00 (US) and I considered buying one and taking it like a shot while we were waiting.
Once we got our spot at the sushi bar we learned that there is no English language menu despite being heavily frequented by tourists and a very patient server graciously asked us about different types of fish and made some suggestions. It's possible we ended up with more food than we would have had we ordered on our own but we devoured ALL of it without ending up too stuffed. The quality of all the fish was excellent and the caramelization on our BBQ salmon steak was beautiful but still left it medium rare on the inside. This mountain of high quality fishes plus beers, cost around $45 (US) and I'm not sure you can get better price per quality anywhere in the world. (I'm not saying you can't get better sushi in Tokyo, just that it's going to set you back a bit more).
Addiction Aquatic Development is located at No. 18, Alley 2, Lane 410, Minzu E Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 104, the also have a website.
Fuhang Soy Milk is on just about every list of top picks for Taipei and was recommended to us by friends. If you (like us) don't speak Chinese, this is definitely going to be another "what did I just get myself into" situation. A lot of people recommend getting here early to be at the front of the lines but I recommend showing up late after the breakfast rush if you're going on a weekday. We showed up around 11:15 and the line was part of the way down the stairs (not all the way down the block and to the subway station like some places say) and moved very quickly. We were probably only in line for fifteen minutes. Once you get to the front of the line, madness happens. Everyone else around you will be shouting orders rapidly and the older women serving you don't have a lot of patience for your ignorance.
The first question will be salty or sweet which refers to your big bowl of housemade soy milk. We went with two bowls of sweet which are plopped on a tray which you'll slide down to more food choices. Now is your time to just aggressively point at whatever catches your fancy or whatever the next woman holds up. This isn't really a time to say no to anything because you don't want to be that guy holding up the line. Pay. Find a place to sit. We ended up with two salty chinese doughnuts, our soymilk and an egg sandwich with sesame bread fresh out of the kiln. The soymilk here is rich and delicious and very filling, we had some regrets about not ordering one sweet and one savory but we were caught up in the moment. The doughnuts are fresh and crispy on the outside while airy on the inside. The egg sandwich is the star as far as I'm concerned. The bread is both sweet and sesame-y and the scrambled scallion eggs inside are perfectly seasoned. Take a look around you to see all the ways you can eat these things. I saw doughnuts inside egg sandwiches, egg sandwiches being dipped in the soymilk and just people slurping down there big bowls of savory soymilk. It seems pretty much anything goes.
Fuhang Soymilk is located at No. 108, Section 1, Zhongxiao E Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100 on the second floor. If you find the end of a long line, you're probably there.
雪王冰淇淋 (Snow King)
You didn't really expect me to do a review with out at least one ice cream, did you? Snow King has more flavors than you could possibly imagine, from standards like strawberry or chocolate chip to more unusual fruit flavors like litchi or guava to alcoholic flavors like Kao Liang Wine (listed on the menu as 58% alcohol) to a million nut flavors to the crazy savory assortment we got. We started with scoops of basil and sesame oil chicken. We were warned that the sesame oil chicken had quite a strong flavor and pieces of frozen chicken in it, but that didn't deter us. We weren't at a place with 70 ice cream flavors to get vanilla. When our ice cream arrived, the server suggested we eat the basil first because the chicken would over power it but neither of the flavors were delicate. They were both delicious and became even more delicious when mixed together. However, it seemed like something was missing and it WAS my 30th birthday, so I went up and ordered a scoop of the chili. I got another warning, this time that it was very spicy which only increased my resolve. Another customer chimed in that I was making a good choice. The chili was HOT but it mixed perfectly with the other two flavors. It was a little much for Dan on its own but I was all about it. Ice cream lunch FTW. This place is definitely worth a visit, even if you don't want to go as weird as we did. Maybe you just need a happy hour scoop of Kao Liang Wine?
Snow King is located at 100, Taiwan, Taipei City, Zhongzheng District, Section 1, Wuchang St, 65號2樓, it's on the second floor up a narrow flight of stairs, we walked by it the first time so keep an eye out.