Food & Restaurants in Taipei
Taipei probably has one of the highest densities of restaurants in the world. Almost every street and alley offers some kind of eatery. Of course, Chinese food (from all provinces) is well-represented. In addition, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Italian cuisines are also popular. Basically, East Taipei, especially around Dunhua and Anhe Roads, and also the expat enclave of Tianmu are where to clash chopsticks with the rich and famous, whereas West Taipei offers more smaller, homey restaurants.
Several night markets (夜市) are located in each district. Some are open during daytime, and all are open until around midnight. Night markets consist of restaurants and stores at the permanent locations and little booths along the center. Every night market has a huge variety of food, so a visit to any one is a good bet for good food.
A lot of Taiwanese street food hasn't actually originated from Taipei, but any popular xiaochi(small snack) eventually makes their way up to the capital. Some of the best known night market snacks are: oyster vermicelli (蚵仔麵線; ô-á mī-sòa), oyster omelet (蚵仔煎; ô-á-chian), fried chicken fillet (雞排; jīpái), stinky tofu (臭豆腐; chòudòufǔ) and aiyu jelly (愛玉冰; ài-yù-bīng) among a long list of others. Because of the vast selection, the recommendation is to go with a few people and share the food. Otherwise, honestly the best way to eat is to join the longest queue in the market, or just buy whatever catches your eye! Vendor food is generally safe to eat, but use common sense though if you have a sensitive stomach.
The most famous one in Taipei is the Shilin Night Market (士林夜市). It is easily accessible via the MRT at either the Jiantan (劍潭) or Shilin (士林) stations. Locals in Taipei view Shilin as touristy, with food catering to the tastes of mainland visitors. Another excellent option is Ning Xia Night Market (寧夏夜市) in Datong located near theTaipei Circle (建成圓環) and accessible via the MRT at Zhongshan (中山) station. Raohe Street Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市) is also a viable option. It is a mere stone's throw away from the TRA-administered Songshan (松山) railway station.
While it might be possible to spend all your dinners at night markets, Taipei also has plenty of sit-down restaurants with more substantial dishes. For upmarket Taiwanese cuisine, which revolves around the mild yet flavorful trio of basil, garlic and chili, in addition to white rice or sweet potato congee (no wheat-based products for example), try Ching-yeh Aoba in Zhongshan or Shinyeh Table in Daan. But for more down-to-earth experiences, don't forget to go to one of the many "hot fry" (熱炒) restaurants in Taipei where the locals go to eat Taiwanese food and drink beer and kaoliang. Be prepared for a noisy atmosphere, tiny seats, lots of empty beer bottles and excellent food at a low price.
The influx of KMT migrants perhaps makes Taipei one of the easiest places to sample a quality spread of Chinese provincial cuisines. Xiaolongbao (小籠包) or soup dumplings is a Shanghainese dish made famous by Din Tai Fung, whose first storefront at Xinyi Road remains heavily patronised by fans of the world-wide franchise. They have many branches all over the city too, though their branch at Taipei 101 is also extra crowded. Around the corner from Xinyi Road is Yongkang Street, which boasts quite a mix of old and new restaurants like Kaochi or Jin Ji Yuan. Both serve xiaolongbao, along with other dishes such as fried chicken, good alternatives for when the queue to Din Tai Fung is an hour long.
Beef noodle soup is a national icon; Taipei even holds a yearly judging event every September to appraise competitors. There are two main types: hongshao (紅燒牛肉麵), a strongly flavored dish derived from Sichuan spicy bean paste and soya sauce braised beef, and qingdun (清燉牛肉麵), a clear light broth, although there are even tomato varieties popping up around the city. On Yongkang St alone, there're already two beef noodle shops, Yongkang Beef Noodle and Lao Zhang, which have their own regulars. Those more game to get to hard-to-find places can reward themselves at Lin Tung Fong in Zhongshan or the one at Taoyuan Street near Ximending.
Vegetarian food (素食) is also common fare, with the city boasting more than two hundred vegetarian restaurants and vendor stands. Another Taipei specialty is vegetarian buffets. They are common in every neighborhood, and unlike the 'all-you-can-eat' buffets listed below (which charge a set price, usually ranging from NT$250 - NT$350 including dessert and coffee/tea), the cost is estimated by the weight of the food on your plate. Rice (there is usually a choice of brown or white) is charged separately, but soup is free and you can refill as many times as you like. NT$75–120 will buy you a good sized, nutritious meal. Note that many of these veggie restaurants are Buddhist in nature and so meals do not contain garlic or onion (which traditionalists claim inflames passion).
- Minder Vegetarian. This is a restaurant chain offering the above-mentioned vegetarian buffet. Aside from the usual line of vegetarian dishes, contemporary cuisine such as rice rolls, tempura and a range of desserts, all entirely vegetarian, are offered as well. Major branches in Taipei are available at Taipei Main Station 2F, Breeze Taipei Branch, No. 3, Beiping North Road, Eslite Bookstore B2, Xinyi Branch, Xinyi District, No. 11, Songgao Road and Eslite Bookstore B1, Dunhua South Branch, Da-an District, No. 245, Dunhua South Road, Sec. 1.
- Lotus Pavilion Restaurant, 153-155 Xinyi Rd B1, Sec. 4 (entrance in alley behind Changhwa Bank), . An upscale all-you-can-eat buffet.
- King Join, No 18 Shin-Wei Rd, . Traditional Chinese setting.
- For a special Taipei street experience, check out the veggie vendor outside No. 30, Lane 216, Zhongxiao East Road Sec. 4 (in the alleys behind the Dunhua South Road Eslite Mall and book store). The rice noodles are especially delicious and cheap and a plate of their dougan (dried tofu) makes a great side dish.