First Bite: Uptown Oakland’s Taiwan Bento

Stacy Tang’s MBA from Cornell led her to work in the tech industry for a time. But her husband, Willy Wang (also in tech), convinced her that her passion resided elsewhere, namely in the restaurant business. They’ve recently opened Taiwan Bento in uptown Oakland, where the focus is on bento-style Taiwanese food that Tang has updated from her family’s traditional recipes.

Executive chef and co-owner Stacy Tang in front of the hand-written bento menu at Taiwan Bento. Photo: Kim Westerman
Executive chef and co-owner Stacy Tang in front of the hand-written bento menu at Taiwan Bento. Photo: Kim Westerman

I relaxed with sweetened winter melon and ginger tea (served cold, no caffeine) while our order was being prepared. Everyone in the place seemed to be on a quick break in the middle of a busy day, and this is exactly the kind of customer the restaurant wants to attract. Each bento is made to order, but comes out of the kitchen in only a few minutes.

The counter and kitchen at the center of Taiwan Bento. Photo: Kim Westerman
The counter and kitchen at the center of Taiwan Bento. Photo: Kim Westerman

The menu, which is written on a chalkboard just inside the entrance, is small, contains only five bento options, and a few side add-ons.

We settled on the braised pork and the ma-po tofu, both served in bowls (rather than boxes) to keep the sauce safely in.

Braised pork bento bowl. Photo: Kim Westerman
Braised pork bento bowl. Photo: Kim Westerman

The pork, ground and wok-braised, was redolent of five spice, topped with cilantro, and served with a cabbage, carrot, and edamame mixture with a slice of pickled daikon and a hard-boiled egg cooked in tea leaves. The soft tofu had the same presentation, with the addition of a few chiles and cooked green onions. Both were served on top of rice, and both were generous portions for about nine bucks each.

Ma-po tofu bento bowl. Photo: Kim Westerman
Ma-po tofu bento bowl. Photo: Kim Westerman

For an extra $1-$2, you can add extra meat, tofu, rice, or veggies, or a soft-boiled egg instead of the tea-leaf version.

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Tang circulated with a sample of her beef noodle soup, a hearty braise of beef in a rich, slightly spicy broth with wide noodles, perhaps the most classic dish on the menu, and one that I’d happily order on a return visit.

Tang told us that her hope was to make Taiwanese food more desirable to Bay Area diners by slightly reducing the fat content and using local meats and vegetables, as much as possible.

Music is foregrounded here, controlled by diners who’ve installed the Rockbot app, which will lend itself nicely to the space’s eventual evening vibe.

Information:

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Taiwan Bento
Address: [Map]
412 22nd Street
Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: 510-250-9858
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11am-2:30pm; closed Saturday-Sunday (Lunch service only now but plan to serve dinner in the near future)
Price Range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)
Facebook: Taiwan Bento
Twitter: @TaiwanBento

The new Taiwan Bento in uptown Oakland. For now, the restaurant is serving lunch only, but the plan is to work up to a dinner menu soon. Photo: Kim Westerman
The new Taiwan Bento in uptown Oakland. For now, the restaurant is serving lunch only, but the plan is to work up to a dinner menu soon.

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