May 20, 2022

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Cooking is a hobby

26 Outstanding Taiwanese Restaurants in the Bay Area

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., Fremont
Mary’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., Newark
This 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.

Overhead view of a red yeast pork bento box: slices of red-tinged crispy pork, corn kernels, a braised egg and tofu over white rice.
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.

A takeout container of fried stinky tofu, with pickled cabbage and a tub of sauce on the side.
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.

Side dishes to be eaten with Taiwan Porridge Kingdom's sweet potato congee: pork ribs, pig's tongue, a dried radish omelet, fried peanuts and more.
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., Cupertino
This 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., Cupertino
Red 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 on a plate, on a white countertop.
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.