KQED's Eating Taiwanese in the Bay is a series of stories exploring Taiwanese food culture in all of its glorious, delicious complexity.
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 also 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, Berkeley
This 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 Oakland
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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