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Regional Interests

KQED’s Ultimate Guide to Taiwanese Restaurants in the Bay

(Illustration by Felicia Liang; design by Rebecca Kao)

KQED’s Eating Taiwanese in the Bay is a series of stories exploring Taiwanese food culture in all of its glorious, delicious complexity. New installments to the series will run daily from May 19–28.

If you ask a Taiwanese American about the Bay Area’s Taiwanese food scene, chances are they’ll complain about how hard it is to find stinky tofu or savory soy milk or a decent bowl of beef noodle soup. And it’s true: This isn’t exactly the San Gabriel Valley. But it’s also true that anyone who knocks the Bay Area’s Taiwanese food community probably hasn’t spent a lot of time in suburban enclaves like Fremont and Cupertino, where there’s big enough of a Taiwanese market that even niche restaurants—specializing in sweet potato congee or Taiwanese breakfast sandwiches—can survive and thrive. They also probably haven’t paid attention to the new wave of pop-ups that are bringing Taiwanese food into the mainstream in Oakland and San Francisco.

Here, then, are 26 of the Bay Area’s most delicious Taiwanese dining destinations, from the UC Berkeley campus down to the strip malls of Cupertino. Eating your way through the list will help cure any expat’s culinary homesickness. For newcomers to the cuisine, it serves as an excellent introduction.

Note: These entries aren’t ranked; instead, they’re listed in rough geographical order from north to south.

1. Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks

2431 Durant Ave. Suite B, BerkeleyThis local chain specializes in the kinds of quick bites you’d find at Taiwan’s night markets and street stalls, including a surprisingly homey version of orh ah mee sua, aka oyster vermicelli. But the headliner is the “XXL” crispy chicken, a solid rendition of the oversized fried cutlets that are one of the signatures of the actual Shilin night market in Taipei. In addition to this Cal campus-adjacent storefront, which has been a hit with students from day one, and its original Milpitas shop, Shihlin has also expanded to Pleasanton, San Mateo and the Stonestown Galleria mall. —L.T.

2. Yilan Foods

Previously at 4066 Piedmont Ave. in OaklandThis popular pop-up restaurant that started during the pandemic has been a welcome addition to the local Taiwanese food scene. Offering Sunday-only pickup for preorder customers in San Francisco and Oakland, the pop-up quickly amassed a following through social media and word-of-mouth. Yilan’s collagen-rich niu rou mian is truly a standout among the Bay Area’s beef noodle soup options, and its chunky, fatty pork over rice (lu rou fan) is hearty and satisfying. Yilan Foods is on temporary hiatus while its owners search for a permanent brick-and-mortar location; in the meantime, they’re also seeking a new home for the pop-up incarnation. Follow their Instagram page for the latest updates. —M.C.

Taiwan Bento is now hosting occasional Taiwanese breakfast pop-ups. (Beth LaBerge)

3. Taiwan Bento

412 22nd St., Oakland Open since 2014, Taiwan Bento is one of the mainstays of Oakland’s Taiwanese restaurant community. As its name suggests, the restaurant is best known for its biandang, or Taiwanese lunch boxes—set meals that might come with a fried pork chop or braised minced pork, some pickled vegetables, a half a tea egg and a scoop of rice.The beef noodle soup is a hearty, belly-warming option; the basil-topped popcorn chicken is impeccably fried. Recently, the restaurant has also been dabbling in Taiwanese breakfast—fan tuan (rice rolls) and dan bing (scallion egg pancakes)—during occasional weekend pop-ups. —L.T.

4. HoDaLa

5801 Geary Blvd., San Francisco The most prominent new Taiwanese restaurant to open in S.F. proper in many years, this Outer Richmond restaurant rocks a vintage aesthetic, with a display of old Taiwanese post office memorabilia and toys front and center. The menu leans toward Taiwan Beer–friendly bar snacks, with plenty of fried foods in the mix. The gua bao (or steamed bun “sandwich”) section alone runs five options deep and includes  fusion-y versions stuffed with fried fish or barbecue pulled pork. HoDaLa is also one of the few spots in the city that serves tsua bing, or Taiwanese-style shaved ice, available with a host of different QQ toppings. —L.T.

5. Dragon Gate Bar and Grille

300 Broadway, Oakland This moody, neon-backlit cocktail bar has private karaoke rooms and one of the most extensive Taiwanese food menus in the entire East Bay—a win-win for devotees of these two cornerstones of Taiwanese culture. Dragon Gate has long been one of the only restaurants in Oakland where you can get stinky tofu, but the highlights of the menu are actually the more rustic, homestyle dishes: dried radish omelet, a variety of three-cup dishes (traditionally made with an entire cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine) and one of the East Bay’s better bowls of beef noodle soup. After staying closed for the bulk of the pandemic, the karaoke rooms are now back open for small gatherings as well. —L.T.

The potstickers are Good-to-Eat Dumplings’ signature dish. (Good-to-Eat Dumplings)

6. Good-to-Eat Dumplings

292 4th St., Oakland Run by founders Tony Tung and Angie Lin, this casual restaurant specializes in Taiwan-style potstickers—elongated pan-fried dumplings with a thin wrapper and crunchy bottom. These are notable for their fillings, which include a popular version that’s filled with chicken and basil. While dumplings are the focus, the flavorful gua baos and wontons are also just like what you’d find in Taiwan. And during the pandemic, the pop-up has expanded its repertoire of locally-sourced Taiwanese dishes even further outside the realm of dumplings, serving things like noodles with minced pork sauce and Taiwanese “Caprese.” Good-to-Eat is located at Original Pattern Brewing in Oakland’s Jack London neighborhood, and has plenty of outdoor seating. —M.C.

7. Bentolicious

4833 Hopyard Rd. E3, Pleasanton Marvel at the efficiency of this strip mall bento shop’s assembly line setup, as bandanna-clad workers load up your lunchbox, scooping home-style dishes from a steam table that gets replenished so frequently, the food never has a chance to lose its freshness. Main course options run the gamut from railroad (i.e., fried pork chop) bentos to lion’s head meatballs and saucy Chiayi chicken rice, and the rotating selection of sides, like fried pumpkin and Taiwanese-style mapo tofu, is just as compelling. Come on the early side, as the most popular dishes tend to sell out well before the end of the lunch rush. —L.T.

El Chino Grande’s “Taiwan Taco.” (El Chino Grande)

8. El Chino Grande / Hén-zhi

1195 Evans Ave., San Francisco; various other locations Before he started these pop-ups with his partner Marcelle Gonzales Yang, Christopher Yang made a name for himself cooking at celebrated Bay Area restaurants like the now-shuttered ’Aina in S.F. El Chino Grande and Hén-zhí are the chef’s tribute to his Taiwanese heritage—and to Taiwanese night markets, specifically. At El Chino Grande, for instance, he mixes Taiwanese flavors with California ingredients to create dishes like his “Taiwan Taco,” a take on a scallion pancake roll, or dan bing, that incorporates kabayaki tare, mayo, crispy nori furikake, cabbage slaw and pickled daikon. Hén-zhí, which takes more of a fine dining approach, has been doing mostly private events during the pandemic, but El Chino Grande makes regular appearances at Hunters Point Brewery on Sundays and at a Lafayette commissary kitchen every other Saturday. —L.T.

9. China Bee

31 S. B St., San Mateo

Mixed in among Chinese American standards like chow mein and General’s chicken, Taiwanese dishes are the real star and focal point at China Bee—even more so during the pandemic, when the downtown San Mateo restaurant has served an abbreviated (and almost entirely Taiwanese) takeout menu. It’s one of a handful of spots on the Peninsula that serves Taiwanese breakfast on the weekend, and the impeccably fried stinky tofu is one of the best versions around. —L.T.

10. Joy Restaurant

1489 Beach Park Blvd., Foster City Located near the Foster City waterfront, Joy Restaurant spans a wide range of regional Chinese cuisines, from Sichuan to Shanghainese, in addition to its explicitly Taiwanese dishes. At its core, however, the kitchen is cooking to suit Taiwanese tastes. The oversized Chunghua Road potstickers have a fantastically lacy, crunchy crust; the stinky tofu is genuinely pungent and delicious; and the claypot lion’s head meatball is just spectacular. —L.T.

11. Mary’s Bakery

34370 Fremont Blvd., FremontMary’s Bakery is the kind of small bakery you would wander into while walking around a local neighborhood in Taipei. It specializes in Taiwanese-style cakes such as fresh mango cake, covered in thinly sliced mangoes shaped like flowers, as well as Taiwanese-style baked goods, and it’s a little bit more homey and idiosyncratic than what you’d find at big bakery chains. The concise menu includes popular staples such as green onion buns and several different varieties of pineapple bun (buo luo bao). Call ahead if you’ve got your heart set on a particular cake. —M.C.

Chef Wu is one of the only local restaurants that serves Taiwanese breakfast dishes like savory soy milk five days a week. (Chef Wu)

12. Chef Wu

36926 Sycamore St., NewarkThis Newark mainstay is one of the Bay Area’s only restaurants (perhaps the only restaurant) that’s primarily known for serving Taiwanese breakfast—the kind that includes fresh soy milk, shaobing (sesame flatbread), you tiao (fried crullers) and fan tuan (Taiwanese rice rolls). All of the dough-based specialties are made in-house, and, unlike most of the local Taiwanese restaurants dabbling in breakfast, Chef Wu doesn’t relegate those items to weekend service only. The restaurant has been closed for the duration of the pandemic, but it’s planning to reopen in mid-June. —L.T.

13. Cafe Mei

43761 Boscell Rd. #5125, Fremont According to owner Kandy Wang, this new Fremont strip mall spot is the first restaurant to bring the recipes of Mei Er Mei, Taiwan’s most popular Western-style breakfast chain, to the U.S. When Cafe Mei officially opens, probably in mid-June, the restaurant will serve crustless ham-and-egg breakfast sandwiches, dan bing (egg crepe rolls) and Taiwanese-style breakfast burgers featuring a proprietary marinated pork patty, sliced cucumbers, a fried egg and sweet mayonnaise. —L.T.

Du Xiao Yue’s lunchbox game is topnotch: The red yeast pork over rice is a thing of beauty. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

14. Du Xiao Yue

4161 Cushing Pkwy., Fremont Though it has nothing to do with the famous Tainan-style noodle chain in Taiwan that shares its name, the Fremont incarnation of Du Xiao Yue nevertheless serves some of the tastiest Taiwanese food in the area, with a particular emphasis on the kinds of snacky foods you might find at a night market—your pork blood rice cakes and oyster vermicellis. The restaurant’s lunchtime bento game is especially strong: The slightly tangy, immaculately crispy red yeast pork rice is a thing of beauty. —L.T.

15. Old Taro

46825 Warm Springs Blvd., Fremont Newly moved across town to a different Fremont strip mall, Old Taro has a fairly extensive menu of Taiwanese rice plates and noodle soups, but the restaurant’s main point of attraction is its seven—count them!—different varieties of gloriously overstuffed fan tuan, including one version that features sweet Taiwanese sausage and another that’s spicy and includes an entire braised egg. —L.T.

16. Taiwan Cafe

568 N. Abel St., Milpitas During the pandemic, this country-style restaurant has been delivering frozen Taiwanese and Hakka specialities to 24 states. Wan Luan pork hock with bamboo shoots is the speciality here, but the southern-style bah ûan (Taiwanese meatball) and five-spice rolls taste just like they do on the island. Hot bentos, oyster omelets and other ready-to-eat dishes can be ordered through the Taiwan Cafe Facebook group for weekend pickup. The dining room is currently closed. —G.H.L.

Mama Liu’s stinky tofu is one of the Bay Area’s most potent versions. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

17. Mama Liu

550 Barber Ln., Milpitas and other locations During pre-pandemic times, Mama Liu made its money on the lunchtime office park circuit, following a set route that included several Silicon Valley tech campuses. But with in-person working still largely on hold, the food truck, which specializes in Taiwanese street food, has only been selling once a week, at a different location each week (Milpitas, Fremont, Cupertino and so forth), to customers who pre-order via its Chinese-language online form. One the truck’s showstoppers is one of the Bay Area’s best versions of fried stinky tofu—extra juicy and pungent because they fry larger cubes of the tofu first before cutting them into smaller pieces. Another is an incredibly tender, well balanced lu rou fan (braised pork belly rice), made with hand-cut pork belly. —L.T.

18. Queen House

273 Castro Street, Mountain View One of the oldest restaurants on Castro Street in Mountain View, Queen House offers an array of Taiwanese dishes hidden on the back side of its American Chinese menu. The restaurant is best known for its beef noodle soup, which boasts generous cuts of meat. Other items to check out are the squid soup, which will appeal to fans of hot and sour, and the Taiwanese breakfast foods, which include beef rolls and crispy you tiao to dip into fresh soybean milk—all available on weekend mornings only. Outdoor dining, takeout and delivery are available. —G.H.L.

20. Chick & Tea

587 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale Originally located in Oakland, this standout boba drink and bento shop now has storefronts in Sunnyvale and Milpitas. The cafe sells a variety of lunch boxes and five-spice-dusted fried appetizers, but the main reason to visit is the house special “GPIE.” That’s what the shop calls its wonderfully crunchy and well seasoned version of ji pai, the oversized fried chicken cutlets that are a staple of Taiwanese night markets. For the full experience, order your GPIE whole, not sliced, and eat it standing up, straight out of the paper bag. —L.T.

The congee at Taiwan Porridge Kingdom is meant to be a blank canvas for the restaurant’s many delicious side dishes. (Taiwan Porridge Kingdom)

20. Taiwan Porridge Kingdom

20956 Homestead Rd. Ste. A1, Cupertino There’s a stretch of Fuxing S. Road in Taipei that’s made up almost entirely of 24-hour restaurants that specialize in congee, or rice porridge, served on an all-you-can-eat basis. What you pay for are the dozens of little side dishes that you eat with it, pulling what you like off the cafeteria-style buffet. The South Bay might not have a whole street dedicated to the genre, but it is lucky enough to have at least one truly great restaurant in this style: Cupertino’s Taiwan Porridge Kingdom. The restaurant’s velvety, comfortingly bland sweet potato congee is a soothing blank canvas for a huge array of tasty side dishes—everything from tangy marinated bamboo shoots to tender slices of spicy pig tongue. For takeout orders, the rice porridge isn’t all-you-can-eat, but it does come in big, absurdly inexpensive tubs. —L.T.

21. Liang’s Village

19772 Stevens Creek Blvd., CupertinoThis restaurant in Cupertino’s Merlion Center features Chinese-Taiwanese military village cooking. The beef tendon noodle soup, with its many bite-size chunks of beef and rich but not oily broth, is one of the best versions in the South Bay. The pigs’ feet with peanut noodle soup is another classic, made succulent by long braising. Currently offering takeout and Bay Area–wide delivery (with free pickup available at several designated locations)—but no in-person dining—Liang’s also gives the option of providing uncooked noodles that can be boiled at home. —G.H.L.

22. L’Epi D’Or

19675 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino At this independent bakery, cloud-like milk bread is shaped into buns with traditional fillings (red bean, taro, mustard greens) and unexpected fusion pastries like conchas or jalapeño buns. Don’t pass up on the refrigerated case, which is packed with fried egg or potato salad sandwiches, as well as a rainbow of konjac desserts flavored with osmanthus, lychee or matcha. Or if you want shaved ice or boba, the shop still has you covered. During non-pandemic times, the bakery often turned out fresh waffle-like wheel cakes on the weekend. Everything’s baked in small batches, so visit in the morning for best selection. —G.H.L.

23. Tiger Sugar

19620 Stevens Creek Blvd. Ste. 180, Cupertino This Cupertino shop is the Bay Area’s first location of Tiger Sugar, a wildly popular boba chain from Taiwan that’s widely credited with kicking off the whole brown sugar boba milk craze on Instagram and TikTok. It’s one of those rare viral food products that lives up to the hype—not just aesthetically pleasing, with the tiger stripe-shaped streaks of syrup running down the length of the cup, but also satisfyingly creamy and refreshing. On a hot day, you’ll want to make sure to grab a brown sugar boba ice cream pop out of the freezer while you’re there. —L.T.

24. Red Hot Wok

10074 E. Estates Dr., CupertinoRed Hot Wok is a Taiwanese restaurant-pub that makes for a great hangout spot where friends can share bar bites and popular Taiwanese dishes and enjoy a Taiwan Beer. Standout dishes include the san bei ji (three-cup chicken)—a clay pot of aromatic, caramelized goodness—or the stir-fried clam and basil dish. Don’t miss the shaved ice; their version of the popular Taiwanese summer treat is a fluffy snow ice, which comes in flavors such as green tea or taro, and gets topped with fresh mango. The cozy restaurant has reopened indoor dining; it also offers one table outside for dining al fresco, as well as delivery and takeout. —M.C.

A traditional pork belly gua bao at Mama Chen’s Kitchen. (Beth LaBerge)

25. Mama Chen’s Kitchen

19052 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino The vast menu at this South Bay institution, which is named after a local matriarch, includes nearly 200 items. Many of the best choices are listed under the snacks and “Ma Ma Chen’s Special” categories, including the oyster pancake, bah ûan (a kind of Taiwanese steamed meatball) and gua bao, i.e. braised pork belly folded inside a fluffy steamed bun, all made with family recipes. Order small plates to share, and round out the meal with an order of stir-fried rice noodles. The restaurant currently offers both takeout and dine-in service. —G.H.L.

26. O2 Valley

19058 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino Next door to Mama Chen’s Kitchen, O2 Valley is a small boba and bento shop that offers classic Taiwanese flavors in its excellent, takeout-friendly rice plates, whose main entree options include pork chop (fried, braised, or grilled), fried squid and several vegetarian dishes like three-cup oyster mushrooms or dried tofu. Appetizers include street food favorites such as pig’s blood cake, grilled squid and fried mantou. It’s all great drinking food—though at O2 Valley, what you’ll want to wash everything down with is the shop’s wide variety of boba drinks, including many tea-forward options. —G.H.L.

Copyright 2021 KQED