HBS Hangouts-Taiwan Café

Taiwan Café
Details: Dinner for two: $40
34 Oxford Street (at Beach Street, in Chinatown)

In the hustle and bustle of Boston’s Chinatown, it can be hard to spot the truly delicious Chinese food. Although Spangler’s dumplings and rice bowls are a welcome choice during the busy school-lunch hour, nights or weekends will hopefully present spare time to explore some more authentic options. If you are looking for a taste of real Taiwanese cuisine, Taiwan Café is for you.

Entering a flight of stairs and under a blue awning, you will be greeted by the sight of a jam-packed dining room. Filled with Chinese families, the simple dining room is the scene of a dizzying array of intriguing dishes.

With more than 100 dishes on the menu, navigating the dining alternatives can be challenging if you are not familiar with the cuisine. You can certainly make a meal out of the mini-steamed buns with pork-yummy morsels of thin dough wrapped around highly seasoned pork nuggets. Be sure to dip them in the vinegar-y sauce that is loaded with shredded ginger for the best flavor complement. Another good pick is the scallion pancake, which balances chewy inside layers with a satisfyingly crunchy outer layer.

A half page of the menu is dedicated to rice and noodles. From veal chop with black pepper sauce over rice, to hearty noodles with pork and vegetables, you can go back again and again to explore all the delicious options.
If you are looking for lighter selections, be sure to try something from the vegetable section. True to many Chinese kitchens, these are simple preparations of fresh vegetables. One of my favorites is sautéed mustard greens with edamame and fresh bean curd.

For the more adventurous, 1,000-year old egg with chilled tofu is both creamy and gelatinous at the same time (and it tastes better than it sounds!). Chilled jellyfish with garlic and five-spice, cold-cut roast beef are also interesting dishes. I would add a word of warning that both are spicy dishes and, in general, Taiwan Café is serious about delivering on its promise of spiciness when an item is coded with a chili-pepper symbol.

As proof of its non-Westernized and no-fusion menu, there are refreshingly few dilutions to its pure Taiwanese roots or concessions to North American palates. Hence, the availability of fried pork intestine, sautéed duck tongue and blood-pudding rice cake. Feel free to get as close to these genuine Chinese dishes as you want!

There are very limited picks for those seeking dessert. The only sweet item I’ve seen on the menu is sweet sticky rice with dried fruit. However, I would recommend walking to one of the many bubble-tea spots in Chinatown to finish your spicy meal with a cool drink.

In addition to being a great casual lunch and dinner option, Taiwan Café is also worth seeking out as a late-night dining spot. Open until 1:00 a.m., Taiwan Café’s food and prices both hit the spot after a night on the town in Boston.

*This article was originally posted on March 27, 2006.

January 22, 2008
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