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, August 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.
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 optional egg on top marks it as “breakfast,” but it would make a fine meal at any time of day.
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.