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Regional Interests

Cult Favorite Taiwanese Pop-Up Lands a Standalone Restaurant in Emeryville

When Angie Lin and Tony Tung first broke into the Bay Area’s burgeoning brewery-based pop-up scene about three years ago, all the cool craft breweries were slinging burgers or tacos or nachos. No one seemed to be repping what they believed to be an equally transcendent pairing: craft beer and handmade, “craft” dumplings. Good-to-Eat Dumplings stepped in to fill the void.

Eventually, the wife-and-wife duo settled into a permanent gig popping up out of the kitchen at Original Pattern Brewing, in Jack London Square, and slowly built up an avid cult following for its distinctly Taiwanese style of dumplings and bao, which also showcased fresh Northern California produce. 

Now, they will have a standalone restaurant of their own. Opening toward the end of 2021 in the former Yuzu Ramen & Broffee location on 65th Street in Emeryville, the new Good-to-Eat Dumplings will be one of a small number of full-fledged Taiwanese restaurants in the Oakland and Berkeley area—one of the only places, in fact, where diners will be able to sit down for a family-style Taiwanese meal.

The pop-up’s most famous dish is probably its long potstickers. (Good-to-Eat Dumplings)

As with so many businesses, the turning point was the pandemic. Prior to that, Good-to-Eat had stayed fairly one-minded in its focus on dumplings with seasonal fillings; its most famous dish was its long potstickers. But once shelter in place hit and Good-to-Eat shifted to doing takeout exclusively, Lin says it only made sense to offer more complete meals: rice plates, noodle dishes and weekly specials like Taiwanese-style lion’s head meatballs or crispy fried pork chops or an appetizer they stylized as “Taiwanese caprese”—a classic preparation from Tainan that combined ripe heirloom tomatoes, sugar and a gingery soy-sauce glaze. 

Regulars were immediately enamored with the new dishes, and, as in-person dining slowly ramped up again, the restaurant stuck with the expanded menu. On any given weekend, Lin says, the dining room would fill up with families across three generations. Each group would order a spread of dishes sumptuous enough to cover the table and then some.

“This is really what we love. This is why we are doing this,” Lin says. “We figured out that our food has this ability to bring people together like this.” 

Chef Tony Tung plates up an order of Taiwanese cabbage rolls. (Good-to-Eat Dumplings)

The problem was that their brewery kitchen was set up in the typical makeshift pop-up way. All of the dishes had to be prepped ahead of time at a commercial kitchen in downtown Oakland, which meant they weren’t able to make the menu as expansive and ambitious as they wanted it to be. Every time they added a new dish, they had to remove some other customer favorite.

The chefs’ vision for the new Emeryville location, then, is to serve an even larger selection of traditional Taiwanese dishes beyond dumplings and bao, focusing on the kind of dishes that are both homey and elegant—and special enough that you’d normally only encounter them at a banquet or celebration meal. As Lin puts it, “We love to showcase how delicate traditional Taiwanese cooking is.”

The aforementioned lion’s head meatballs, for instance, are stewed with just napa cabbage—no water—to yield an intensely flavorful broth. Lin and Tung will serve a chicken soup that gets slow-cooked in a clay pot for 24 hours. They’ll serve Taiwanese-style stuffed cabbage rolls. And they’ll be able to more regularly serve their labor-intensive pork belly gua bao, which include mustard leaves that they ferment in-house. 

At the same time, the restaurant will continue to serve all of its staples: the dumplings, the noodles, the various small plates.

At its core, then, the restaurant will be a place where customers will be able to sit down and enjoy a multi-course, family-style Taiwanese meal—a real rarity in this part of the East Bay, where almost all of the existing Taiwanese restaurants focus on street foods or bento boxes. 

Meanwhile, Lin says she and Tung have formed a deep connection with their customers in the Jack London area over the past three years, which is why they have no intention of leaving. Instead, they’ll continue to run the pop-up spot as “Baohous by GTE,” with a streamlined menu focused on sandwich-style steamed bao during the week and a callback to their original dumpling pop-up menu on Sundays.

In many ways, the restaurant’s trajectory mirrors the growing mainstream embrace of the Bay Area’s Taiwanese food scene in general. When they were first starting out, Lin and Tung were afraid that if they even included the word “Taiwanese” in their branding, customers would just wind up feeling confused. Now, Lin says she’s definitely going to make sure people know that Good-to-Eat Dumplings is Taiwanese.

“Now everyone has much more awareness,” Lin says. “Food from Taiwan is a category that customers want to explore.”

If all goes according to plan, Good-to-Eat Dumplings will open at 1298 65th Street in Emeryville as early as November 2021. For updates, follow the restaurant on Instagram.

Copyright 2021 KQED