When Stacy Tang first opened Taiwan Bento in downtown Oakland in 2014, customers routinely asked whether the restaurant served Thai food or Japanese takeout. No one seemed to have even heard of Taiwanese beef noodle soup, so Tang and her husband, Willy Wang, spent an inordinate amount of time each day explaining how Taiwan’s national dish differed from ramen or pho.
Eight years later, the landscape of Taiwanese cuisine in the Bay Area is completely different, thanks in part to Tang’s scrappy little restaurant, which served many local, non-Taiwanese customers their first gua bao, their first classic Taiwanese pork chop over rice. “Right now, it’s easier to be yourself,” Tang says. “Because people know more about [Taiwanese food], you don’t need a lot of explanation.”
It’s more than a little bittersweet, then, that Tang and Wang have decided to close Taiwan Bento at the end of this month, marking the end of an era for one of the real pioneers of Taiwanese food culture in the Bay Area. The restaurant’s last day of business will be Friday, July 29.
According to Tang, it's closing due to a combination of factors. Of course, the pandemic has been brutal, and Tang says Taiwan Bento is still dealing with the same COVID-related staffing shortages and financial pressures that have put so many other local restaurants through the wringer. Still, she says of the pandemic, “We actually made it through it.”
More immediately, Tang says she needs to take some time away from the industry in order to be with her family. Last year was especially tough: In Taiwan, her godfather passed away, and her mother underwent a major surgical procedure. But because of the daily pressures of running a restaurant, she never had a chance to plan a trip there.