For most of my time as an expat in Taipei I cooked. It’s cheaper and healthier to cook in Taipei than to eat out — during my first stay in the city, I gained quite a bit of weight because I had no kitchen and ate dumplings, jianbao, and beef noodle soup far too often (fortunately, I lost that weight and then some during my time in Seoul).
But with the unbearable heat and humidity during the summer months (most of the year), and a lack of air conditioning in the kitchen, I had to resort to eating out a bit more; I also wanted to try more restaurants to get a better idea of what the city had to offer.
Here are some of the best and/or interesting meals I’ve had around Taipei. You can find these and others in my Taipei guidebook.
Eating out of a Toilet
Not literally. But I finally brought myself to try the food at Modern Toilet in Ximending, the trendy shopping district that is usually so full of tourists that I want to avoid any contact with the area. I decided to go because I was supposed to show a friend to a nice local coffee shop that has amazing beer, but it was closed. Instead, we settled on trying humorous dining at a restaurant that is only rated as mediocre.
The food wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t worth the price either. I could easily get the same quality chicken curry for half the price almost anywhere else in Taipei.
But hey, how often do you get to eat out of a toilet? Plus, lunch came with chocolate ice cream served in a squat toilet.
I was disappointed that the actual toilet was nothing special, unless you count the fact that the sign says “VIP Room.”
Peruvian Chicken in Asia
I found this hole in the wall restaurant not far from where I lived for several months. It had been on my list of places to try for months, but I never had anyone to join me. I told my friend about it and he was excited to give it a try. I later met a Peruvian living in Taipei, and he said it’s good, but not nearly as good as what you get in Peru.
Polleria has two things on the menu and they’re both rotisserie chicken (pollo a la brasa) with various sides. There are some other items on the menu, but you have to order it at least three days in advance (this includes the pisco sour, which means I’ll probably never have one in Taipei, and ceviche).
Taipei has a surprising number of burger joints. Many of these restaurants are just cafes that serve a variety of burgers, risotto, and usually waffles (how those three go together, I’m still trying to figure out). At No. 77 Cafe near the Botanical Garden I tried a Mexican burger, topped with salsa. The mess of a burger was delicious, particularly as I hadn’t had one in a long time.
I also tried a burger with foie gras in one of the expat neighborhoods. My expectations were too high as the burger was disappointing for the price. I would’ve been better off with any other burger for half the price.
I’m not a vegetarian. I certainly don’t go out of my way to eat at vegetarian restaurants either. But a friend said we should try Mia Cucina. I was skeptical at first, but the food impressed me. The salad was more than enough for two people to share and we also ordered a goat cheese flatbread pizza. To top it off, I couldn’t resist jalapeno rockets — half a stuffed jalapeno topped with a sauce and almond slices. They were an amazing combination of spicy, sweet, salty, and savory on my tongue.
Unfortunately, the jalapeno rockets were not on the menu when I went with another friend to the restaurant’s other location in the city. It did, however, have mashed sweet potatoes with cinnamon and maple syrup — it was delicious, but a little too sweet for me.
There’s also Ooh Cha Cha, which is a small vegan restaurant near my previous apartment in Guting. The burgers made of chickpea and lentils are delicious, and they go great with the fruit smoothies.
Din Tai Fung
You can’t stay in Taipei and not eat at Din Tai Fung — it was even featured on Andrew Zimmern’s show. This place serves the world-famous soup dumplings (xiaolong bao), among other delicacies. It is, however, a pain to get a table — there’s always a line to get in at all of its locations. I chose the smaller location in Dongmen because it was closer to where I was staying. I also went at off-peak times (early lunch during the week is the best time to go).
I tried a variety of soup dumplings, and the crab was the best. I had to order the truffle with pork ones, but I wasn’t impressed.
Service is overly efficient to ensure quick turnover on tables, which kills any ambiance that really doesn’t exist in the sterile environment. The restaurant at Taipei 101 is much nicer, but also much noisier.
While Din Tai Fung is really good, I wouldn’t say that it’s anything I’d ever crave. There’s another soup dumpling restaurant behind the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall that’s almost as good — they have a spicy chicken dish that’s tasty as well. There’s another right around the corner from there, but there was always a line so I never got to try it.
Portuguese and French Cuisine
In the expat-friendly neighborhood near Zhongxiao Duhua Station, I had my going-away dinner with a group of friends at TUGA, a fairly new Portuguese restaurant run by an architect who missed the food from home. The first time I tried this place was with my friends visiting from Hong Kong.
The best part about this place is that there’s no wine menu, but a wine room. My friend ordered a bottle the first time, but the second time my friends sent me with the owner to pick a couple bottles for dinner. The wine makes dinner a little pricey, but it’s worth it for a nice meal. Dinner for three with a bottle of wine came to about $100.
The next restaurant a few alleys away from TUGA is Rue 216, a quaint French bistro that Google tells me is now closed. It’s just far enough from the bar scene that it’s quiet and relaxing. Their charcuterie platter is enough for a meal, but the food is so good that I had to keep eating.
There’s plenty more that I ate around Taipei that was wonderful, but not much else stood out like these meals. Of course, some of these meals stand out because of the friends I was with.