This picturesque section of Taipei offers a variety of options for dining or snacking.
PHOTOS AND TEXT BY JULES QUARTLY
Caffe City North (小城外咖啡)
2F, No. 4 Minle St.
Tel: (02) 2559-5560
Caffe City North is difficult to find, but a pleasure once you do. It has one entrance accessible through an eco-conscious fine-crafts store called Earthing Way and another entrance around the back. The café is outfitted with comfy leather chairs, a grandfather clock, and a long wooden bar with shiny brass fittings, from where coffee is served during the day and cocktails at night. There’s also a selection of small eats to accompany the drinking, such as cakes and Japanese curries.
The place extrudes a Japanese ambiance borrowed from European high classicism. Drinks include a delicious mulled wine, craft beers, and slightly off-beat cocktail favorites like A Perfect Place to Start, which stars lychee liqueur, lemon juice, and rose syrup with a suffused tea and gin.
It’s a great place to meet and chat, and the manager says it’s particularly popular among groups of professional women. A beautiful atrium outside the bar makes a smaller café-cum-bar, in addition to elegant wooden seating, potted plants, and lamps.
No. 247, Nanjing West Rd.
Tel: (02) 2558-8843
Housed in a historic 100-year-old Baroque building that has benefited from being renovated and listed as a landmark, OrigInn also has a bed-and-breakfast facility on the second and third floors. The rooms are outfitted in the style of a bygone era for the sake of nostalgia. This includes vintage items like speakers from the 1970s and daybeds from the ’50s.
According to the owner, Harvey Huang, the downstairs area of OrigInn Space was initially set up as a store that also served coffee as a sideline. Now it’s a proper café, although guests can still browse eclectic objects for sale, including old record players, records, ceramics, and bags.
The single-origin coffee is good, and the owner is friendly and knowledgeable about the area. He is often found behind his large desk, chatting with locals as if it were forever coffee time.
No. 308, Minsheng West Rd.
Tel: (02) 2556-0710
Established in 1934 when Taiwan was a Japanese colony, Bolero features Japanese-style Western cuisine. Both the food and the nostalgic ambiance make it a worthwhile visit. Bolero was established by music-mad chef Liao Shui-lai, who named the restaurant after the pacey Spanish song by Maurice Ravel. Elegant surroundings and the best stereo music system in town quickly attracted the literati.
In its 1950s and ’60s heydays, the eatery was the go-to spot for Dihua’s many famed industrialists and the occasional tangwai (“outside the party”) politician to congregate over a meal and some wine. It was also the place to bring your date and pop the big question. Proposals have been made here for over eight decades now.
The main dish is undeniably the house steak cooked on an iron plate. Diners would also be wise to try the grilled fish dishes, cutlets, and surf ‘n’ turf, along with old-style dessert favorites like banana split and cherry sundae.
Gu Zao Wei (目苔米)
No. 89, Minle St.
Again, visitors are offered a taste of the past in this “hole in the wall,” which has been selling its signature rice noodle soup for two generations. The current owners, a brother and sister surnamed Chen, say little has changed since the shop opened over 60 years ago, except for the price of the food. This would include the décor, which is clean and spry but far from modern.
In its early days, a bowl of Gu Zao Wei’s rice noodles cost just NT$1. Today a bowl of noodles is still cheap at only NT$20, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better meal for less anywhere else. They also make a rather moreish Taiwanese-style fish cake known as tianbula (甜不辣), which is sweet and spicy and comfortably warm.
Mr. Chen believes that although the area has changed cosmetically because of the restoration project, it retains its original flavor. “The outside of the buildings has been done up, but it’s the same inside,” he says.
The Chens are dyed-in-the-wool locals who can tell you everything there is to know about the area, from the people who have opened new businesses to the cost per ping of taking a lease on Dihua Street. According to the Chens, Covid and the tough times have passed, and the area is starting to flourish once more.
Que Pasa (幹嘛日式餐酒館)
No. 18, Minle St.
Tel: (02) 2559-2100
A new kid on the block, Que Pasa advertises itself incongruously as a Spanish tapas bar while serving unmistakably Japanese dishes like sushi, grilled fish, and beef skewers. The salads sprinkled with fish roe are a standout. When asked about the rather odd name, wait staff refers to tapas being a rolling menu of small eats, which is what is served up at Que Pasa, though the eats in question are classic Japanese dishes.
Que Pasa opened last year, and, like many new restaurants in the area, it is finding its feet after Covid. Best suited to groups, it typically greets a younger crowd that emphasizes good times and good food and drinks equally. Expect a lot of “kanpai!” and snacking until doors close around 11 pm. It also offers lunch specials 12-2 pm.
Liu An Tang Chinese Medicine Co. (六安堂參藥行)
No. 75, Dihua St., Section 1
Tel: (02) 2559-8599
This establishment, now run by the fourth generation of the same family, appears on the list because, in addition to herbal medicine, it also sells herbal tea bags and single-use sachets. There are said to be more than 200 traditional Chinese medicine stores in the area, often referred to as “Herbal Lane,” leaving shoppers spoiled for choice.
Like many other businesses in the area, Liu An Tang took advantage of Taipei City Government’s expertise and financial assistance by being part of the Store Reformation Project. The store now also appeals to a modern and international crowd with smart interior design, innovative tea products, and an online store.
Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市)
Safe, tasty, and offering excellent value, Ningxia Night Market is one of the best places for street food in Taiwan. A smart assortment of vendors, both young and old, serve up everything from blowtorched beef cubes to shrimp cooked with wine in a clay pot. It’s a real mix of your standard Taiwanese dishes and novel food adventures, as exemplified by the huge variety of innovative pearl milk tea offerings.
The restaurants surrounding the market have been around for decades and offer traditional favorites such as oyster omelets, fried sparerib soup, and Taiwanese sticky pork rice. Near the wet market, some well-established re chao (熱炒, stir fry) diners offer incredibly fresh Japanese sashimi dishes. Strollers can also enjoy Taiwan favorites like fried rice, grilled fish dishes, barbecued squid with a delicious piquant sauce, and a bottle of Taiwan 18 Beer. Ningxia has everything you need for cheap and cheerful eating.