Partly because of my busy schedule, partly because of the lack of good Vietnamese food in Berkeley, I haven’t had Vietnamese food for months. I miss it, of course. Luckily, the neighboring cuisines share so much similarities that my “comfort food” category has steadily expanded to enclose most of East Asia. If for some reason America and I don’t get along, I think I can happily merge into Taiwan and Japan (not sure about Korea – their food is too spicy…).
So when I crave comfort food, if it’s Sunday or Monday and Musashi is closed, I go down University Avenue to the Taiwan Restaurant. It’s the purple building next to Anh Hong, and it’s another case of generic-names-hence-don’t-go-there type of restaurant. However, two Taiwanese told me that it was “good enough” – the owner of Asha Tea House across the street, and Kristen. As with any Asian eating establishment, you have to know what to get at the Taiwan Restaurant, otherwise you end up with oily overload. I haven’t strayed once out of the usuals. It’s comfort food, there’s no need to change it. In fact, I come here just for one type of soup: the pickled cabbage soup with tripe.
Currently, this is my favorite soup in the whole Bay Area (not counting noodle soups, of course!). Nowhere else serves it. (The second time I ordered it, the waiter skeptically asked me if I knew what it was.) The pickled cabbage (Chinese pickled cabbage, similar to Vietnamese dưa muối) makes the broth sour and clear, the pork tripe is chewy and smooth. I would drink it to the last drop, and it delights even a grumpy stomach.
Kristen introduced me to this dish – fried pork cutlet on rice with sweet pickled greens. It’s actually pretty oily, but the rice is soaked with the sweet and savory pork sauce… I intended to save half for the next day but in the end I cleaned up the bowl.
The last time I went, I paid a little more attention to the decoration (because the server forgot to bring me my pork, and I was just sitting there nibbling on the pig ears pretending to be cool). It looks rather classically Chinese – red lanterns and red table-clothed tables, all faded into a shade of cerise – hinting at some forgotten intention of being on the higher end. At the very least, it was set up to be a restaurant, not a simple food shack. Yet the food is cheap (these 3 dishes plus tip cost a meager $20.66), the atmosphere is utterly casual, and customers like me don’t ever think of its food as more than comfort food. The Taiwan Restaurant is, as its website claims, “the first restaurant in this country to serve Taiwan’s version of China’s epicurean delights”. I felt somewhat sad thinking that it has lost the glory that it might have once had.
The most pleasant surprise that prompted me to write about it was actually its tea. You know how all Chinese restaurants serve some kind of watered down “tea”, usually jasmine-flavored? The Taiwan restaurant actually serves Baochong. Watered down, but it’s still a legitimate Taiwanese oolong. I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before, but now that I have, I have enough reasons to recommend this restaurant to everyone. It is indeed “good enough”.
Address: Taiwan Restaurant
2071 University Avenue,