KQED’s Ultimate Guide to Taiwanese Restaurants in the Bay
(Illustration by Felicia Liang; design by Rebecca Kao)
KQEDâsÂ Eating Taiwanese in the BayÂ is a series of stories exploring Taiwanese food culture in all of its glorious, delicious complexity.Â New installments to the seriesÂ will run daily from May 19â28.
If you ask a Taiwanese American about the Bay Areaâs Taiwanese food scene, chances are theyâll complain about how hard it is to find stinky tofu or savory soy milk or a decent bowl of beef noodle soup. And itâs true: This isnât exactly the San Gabriel Valley. But it’s also true that anyone who knocks the Bay Area’s Taiwanese food community probably hasnât spent a lot of time in suburban enclaves like Fremont and Cupertino, where thereâs big enough of a Taiwanese market that even niche restaurantsâspecializing in sweet potato congee or Taiwanese breakfast sandwichesâcan survive and thrive. They also probably havenât 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 Areaâs 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 expatâs culinary homesickness. For newcomers to the cuisine, it serves as an excellent introduction.
Note: These entries arenât ranked; instead, theyâre 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 youâd find at Taiwanâs night markets and street stalls, including a surprisingly homey version of orh ah mee sua, aka oyster vermicelli. But the headliner is the âXXLâ 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. âL.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. Yilanâs collagen-rich niu rou mian is truly a standout among the Bay Areaâs 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, theyâre also seeking a new home for the pop-up incarnation. Follow their Instagram page for the latest updates. âM.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 Oaklandâs Taiwanese restaurant community. As its name suggests, the restaurant is best known for its biandang, or Taiwanese lunch boxesâset 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 breakfastâfan tuan (rice rolls) and dan bing (scallion egg pancakes)âduring occasional weekend pop-ups. âL.T.
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 Beerâfriendly bar snacks, with plenty of fried foods in the mix. The gua bao (or steamed bun âsandwichâ) section alone runs five options deep and includesÂ 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. âL.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 Bayâa 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 Bayâs 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. âL.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 potstickersâelongated pan-fried dumplings with a thin wrapper and crunchy bottom. These are notable for their fillings, which include a popular version thatâs filled with chicken and basil. While dumplings are the focus, the flavorful gua baos and wontons are also just like what youâd 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 âCaprese.â Good-to-Eat is located at Original Pattern Brewing in Oaklandâs Jack London neighborhood, and has plenty of outdoor seating. âM.C.
4833 Hopyard Rd. E3, Pleasanton Marvel at the efficiency of this strip mall bento shopâs 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 lionâs 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. âL.T.
El Chino Grande’s “Taiwan Taco.” (El Chino Grande)
8. El Chino Grande / HÃ©n-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 âAina in S.F. El Chino Grande and HÃ©n-zhÃ are the chefâs tribute to his Taiwanese heritageâand to Taiwanese night markets, specifically. At El Chino Grande, for instance, he mixes Taiwanese flavors with California ingredients to create dishes like his âTaiwan Taco,â a take on a scallion pancake roll, or dan bing, that incorporates kabayaki tare, mayo, crispy nori furikake, cabbage slaw and pickled daikon. HÃ©n-zhÃ, 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. âL.T.
9. China Bee
31 S. B St., San Mateo
Mixed in among Chinese American standards like chow mein and Generalâs chicken, Taiwanese dishes are the real star and focal point at China Beeâeven more so during the pandemic, when the downtown San Mateo restaurant has served an abbreviated (and almost entirely Taiwanese) takeout menu. Itâs 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. âL.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 lionâs head meatball is just spectacular. âL.T.
11. Maryâs Bakery
34370 Fremont Blvd., FremontMaryâs 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 itâs a little bit more homey and idiosyncratic than what youâd 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 youâve got your heart set on a particular cake. âM.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 Areaâs only restaurants (perhaps the only restaurant) thatâs primarily known for serving Taiwanese breakfastâthe 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 doesnât relegate those items to weekend service only. The restaurant has been closed for the duration of the pandemic, but itâs planning to reopen in mid-June. âL.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, Taiwanâs 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. âL.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 marketâyour pork blood rice cakes and oyster vermicellis. The restaurantâs lunchtime bento game is especially strong: The slightly tangy, immaculately crispy red yeast pork rice is a thing of beauty. âL.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 restaurantâs main point of attraction is its sevenâcount them!âdifferent varieties of gloriously overstuffed fan tuan, including one version that features sweet Taiwanese sausage and another thatâs spicy and includes an entire braised egg. âL.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 Ã»an (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. âG.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 Areaâs best versions of fried stinky tofuâextra 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. âL.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 milkâall available on weekend mornings only. Outdoor dining, takeout and delivery are available. âG.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 âGPIE.â Thatâs 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. âL.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 Thereâs a stretch of Fuxing S. Road in Taipei thatâs 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: Cupertinoâs Taiwan Porridge Kingdom. The restaurantâs velvety, comfortingly bland sweet potato congee is a soothing blank canvas for a huge array of tasty side dishesâeverything from tangy marinated bamboo shoots to tender slices of spicy pig tongue. For takeout orders, the rice porridge isnât all-you-can-eat, but it does come in big, absurdly inexpensive tubs. âL.T.
21. Liangâs Village
19772 Stevens Creek Blvd., CupertinoThis restaurant in Cupertinoâs 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 pigsâ feet with peanut noodle soup is another classic, made succulent by long braising. Currently offering takeout and Bay Areaâwide delivery (with free pickup available at several designated locations)âbut no in-person diningâLiangâs also gives the option of providing uncooked noodles that can be boiled at home. âG.H.L.
22. LâEpi DâOr
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 jalapeÃ±o buns. Donât 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. Everythingâs baked in small batches, so visit in the morning for best selection. âG.H.L.
23. Tiger Sugar
19620 Stevens Creek Blvd. Ste. 180, Cupertino This Cupertino shop is the Bay Areaâs first location of Tiger Sugar, a wildly popular boba chain from Taiwan thatâs widely credited with kicking off the whole brown sugar boba milk craze on Instagram and TikTok. Itâs one of those rare viral food products that lives up to the hypeânot 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, youâll want to make sure to grab a brown sugar boba ice cream pop out of the freezer while youâre there. âL.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)âa clay pot of aromatic, caramelized goodnessâor the stir-fried clam and basil dish. Donât 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. âM.C.
A traditional pork belly gua bao at Mama Chen’s Kitchen. (Beth LaBerge)
25. Mama Chenâs 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 âMa Ma Chenâs Specialâ categories, including the oyster pancake, bah Ã»an (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. âG.H.L.
26. O2 Valley
19058 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino Next door to Mama Chenâs 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 pigâs blood cake, grilled squid and fried mantou. Itâs all great drinking foodâthough at O2 Valley, what youâll want to wash everything down with is the shopâs wide variety of boba drinks, including many tea-forward options. âG.H.L.
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