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Regional Interests

Taiwanese Breakfast Sandwiches Make Long-Awaited Debut at East Bay Strip Mall

For many Taiwanese Americans in the Bay Area, breakfast isn’t just the proverbial most important meal of the day; it’s also the most elusive. It is, anyway, if you’re craving traditional Taiwanese breakfast foods like dan bing (rolled egg crepes), fan tuan (sticky rice rolls) and both sweet and savory versions of fresh-pressed soy milk. 

Little by little, though, that’s starting to change. A few weeks ago, Newark’s Chef Wu—for many years the Bay Area’s only dedicated Taiwanese breakfast shop—finally reopened after staying closed all through the pandemic. 

And now, more exciting news: A couple of months after KQED first reported its arrival at a Fremont shopping plaza, Cafe Mei officially opens on Thursday, April 12, introducing Bay Area diners to a whole new genre of Taiwanese breakfast foods. It’s the first U.S. spinoff of Mei Er Mei, a wildly popular quick-service chain in Taiwan known for its tidy, quadruple-decker breakfast sandwiches. To start out, the restaurant will be open Wednesday through Sunday, from 8am to 2pm.

A Cafe Mei breakfast sandwich, pre-wrapped for grab-and-go service. (Cafe Mei)

In Taipei, you can find a Mei Er Mei breakfast stall in just about every neighborhood; they’re your classic bare-bones hole-in-the-wall, open to the street and equipped with little more than a flat-top grill. As American fast-food chains such as McDonald’s opened in Taiwan in the ’80s and ’90s, popularizing burgers and other Western-style sandwiches, Mei Er Mei offered a more Taiwanese-style alternative. In addition to standard ingredients like ham and eggs, a typical breakfast sandwich features ingredients that cater to Taiwanese tastes, like slivers of raw cucumber, a heavily seasoned pork patty and a generous swipe of the chain’s proprietary sweet mayonnaise.

At Cafe Mei, those sandwiches will be available hot and freshly griddled as well as in pre-wrapped grab-and-go versions. The restaurant also serves an excellent version of one of the most underrated Taiwanese breakfast foods: the Taiwanese burger. It, too, is distinguished by the seasoned pork patty, the mayonnaise and the sliced cucumber as a garnish. The egg on top marks it as “breakfast,” but it would make a fine meal at any time of day.

Toppings for the Cafe Mei breakfast burger include tomato, fried egg, and thinly sliced cucumber. (Luke Tsai)

Other menu highlights include dan bing, or “Taiwanese pancakes” as they’re listed on the menu—including, eventually, less common varieties filled with tuna or cha shao (roast pork)—and teppan noodles, which get cooked on the big flat-top with mushrooms and ground pork. Owner Kandy Wang says that once the business has settled in, she also wants to extend her hours and add afternoon tea service—the whole nine yards, with a three-tier cake stand, mini sandwiches and macarons. She also hopes to start making chelun bing, or Taiwanese wheel cakes—a kind of pancake filled with red bean paste.

Cafe Mei doesn’t, in fact, have any direct affiliation with Taiwan’s Mei Er Mei, but Wang explains that she secured the chain’s official recipes—for those pork patties, for instance—from one of its suppliers, allowing her to offer what she believes to be the closest thing you can find in the United States to an “authentic” Mei Er Mei experience. (She also owns the “Mei Er Mei” trademark in the U.S., for future expansion purposes.) 

Dan bing with corn. (Cafe Mei)

True to its name, the restaurant will also offer a slightly fancier sit-down cafe experience than you’d find at a Mei Er Mei street corner food stall in Taiwan—eventually, that is. To start out, though, the restaurant will be takeout only, with outdoor seating, shared with the rest of the plaza, available out in the parking lot. 

For more than a year now, Wang has been selling her Cafe Mei sandwiches once a week, on a preorder-only basis, so opening five days a week will be a big step up. She’s grateful, though, that she’s already found a built-in customer base that has gotten more and more enthusiastic as the official opening has approached.

“They don’t just pay for their orders; they want to express how excited they are,” Wang says. “They say we brought great memories of home. That it tastes just like home.’”

Cafe Mei’s initial opening hours will be Wednesday through Sunday, 8am–2pm. For the month of August, all menu items will be sold at a 15% discount. See the opening menu below:

Copyright 2021 KQED