Roast Beef with scallions roll in scallion pancake - $5.95
I'm a sucker for Taiwanese street food. In the end, I think it's what the Taiwanese do best, and I love it. I even tried cooking a whole Taiwanese street food dinner once, complete with Taiwanese meat balls (bawan), tea eggs (ca ye dan), meat sauce over rice (lo bah bng), and pork and bamboo shoot soup (ba genh). Since I'm Taiwanese, these dishes just hit that comfort happy zone that no other food can hit.
It's gotten better in the last few years, but for a long time, Boston had very few Taiwanese restaurants. As a college student, we basically went to Wisteria House (which used to be on Newbury Street), because that was all we had. Thankfully, in the past decade, several new restaurants serving Taiwanese food have opened, including Jo Jo Taipei in Allston, Shangri-La in Belmont, Chung Shin Yuan in Newton, Mulan in Cambridge, and more recently, Formosa Taipei in Lexington and Unique Dumpling in East Cambridge.
Taiwan Cafe was one of the first of these Taiwanese restaurants to open soon after I graduated from college. Now, after all these years, it's still one of my favorites. The food is excellent, the kitchen is insanely fast, (serious, like 3-5 minutes and your food arrives), and it serves all of my favorite Taiwanese dishes.
I'm sure the entire menu is good, but I like to stick to the super traditional Taiwanese brunch / street food type dishes, which are usually listed in the appetizer section. Here's a sampling of what we got on our last trip and also some of my recommended favorite dishes to order.
We saw the Roast Beef with Scallions Roll in Scallion Pancake (picture above) on someone else's table and we told the waiter:
"We want what they're having."
It was fabulous! Imagine a perfectly crispy and flaky scallion pancake rolled around fragrant steak slices decorated with a splash of hoisin sauce and cilantro. I loved loved loved this. It was probably my favorite dish of this meal.
Oyster pancakes are a classic Taiwanese street dish and you should definitely get this if you've never had it. Eggs are mixed with potato starch to create this unique one-of-a-kind-texture pancake filled with oysters and spinach. It's topped with a sweet chili sauce that pairs quite well with the pancake.
This dish can sometimes be very spicy, so consider yourself warned! I love the fragrant hot peppers and how they pair with the thin slices of beef.
This is one of my friend's favorite dishes. Fresh bamboo shoots are stir-fried with thinly sliced pieces of pork. It's a great non-spicy option for the table.
Sauteed Chinese Watercress with Garlic - $9.95
I always like to order some sort of stir-fried greens. I guess secretly it makes me feel healthier. There are many ways to order greens, but I like to get mine simply sauteed in garlic and oil. I like how it's not too oily here. Interestingly, Chinese watercress, literally translated as hollow heart greens, are actually considered a "noxious weed" by the USDA. They are Bryan's favorite Chinese vegetable, so we order it a lot.
Mini Steamed Buns with pork & crabmeat (8) - $6.95
The soup dumplings here are pretty good. Bryan likes them better than the ones at Gourmet Dumpling House, though they are still no comparison to my favorite dumplings in the US and my favorite dumplings in the world.
Steamed Pork & Mushroom Sticky Rice with Gravy - $3.50
Another typical Taiwanese dish, this is sticky rice with that same sweet chili sauce used in the oyster pancake.
A Sampling of Authentic Taiwanese Dishes
The menu here is huge, and I have not come close to trying all the dishes. However, I would recommend trying some of the authentic Taiwanese dishes since you can't get those in as many places. Here are some classics.
House Special Pork Chop over Rice Platter ($5.20)
This is a simple, classic Taiwanese dish that consists of a fried pork chop, rice, and other typical Taiwanese sides such as meat sauce over rice, a soy sauce egg, and some pickled vegetables. This is a very common lunch in Taiwan.
Beef Noodle Soup with Spinach ($5.20)
Beef noodle soup is huge in Taiwan, some calling it the national dish of Taiwan. It's been a few years since I've had this dish here, but I'm guessing it's still good. Has anyone had it recently?
Hearty Noodle Soup with Pork-Fish Drop and Mushrooms ($5.20)
This is Bryan's favorite noodle soup. It's hard to find in Boston, so we often order it here. It's thick, has tons of umami, and is a great hearty soup to enjoy in the wintertime. I often make it at home too.
Braised Pork with Peanuts & Sour Mustard Green in Steamed Bun ($3.75)
David Chang's famous Momofuku pork belly buns are based off of this traditional Taiwanese version of the dish. The Taiwanese version uses peanuts and sour mustard greens instead of hoisin sauce and pickled cucumbers. It's a fantastic appetizer. I actually recently tried making it at home for the first time. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about it!
And if you are an adventurous eater . . .
Chilled Spicy Pork Ears ($4.75) - Crunchy and chewy at the same time, I've always loved this authentic Taiwanese appetizer.
Stinky Tofu ($5.95) - If you are really really adventurous, you can try their stinky tofu. Taiwan Cafe is one of the few places in Boston that carries this very authentic Taiwanese street food. This is not for the faint of heart. You are essentially eating tofu that's fermented and basically gone bad. For a more detailed scientific explanation of what stinky tofu, click here.
Even if you are not adventurous, you can still enjoy a great meal here.
Taiwan Cafe has something for everyone. Definitely try to come on a weekend when they have the expanded brunch menu. Then you can try other favorites, such as sweet soy milk with deep fried crullers, salty soy milk, scallion pancakes, and chive pies, just to name a few. The best way to enjoy this restaurant is to go with a group of people (at least four but preferably more) so that you can order a bunch of stuff family-style and share!
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