Unexpected Food Gems at Taiwan’s Danwu Shops

From beef noodles at Wego to donuts at Kura Sushi, Taiwanese establishments brim with culinary surprises. 

I have a confession to make. The term “danwu shop” is something I made up for this article after struggling to find a translation of the Taiwanese phrase 被耽誤的店 (bei danwu de dian). Consider it a descriptor for a restaurant or establishment with food items that are more delicious or popular than those it initially visualized as its signature mark.  

The word 耽誤 (danwu) literally means “delay.” For example, if a pizzeria is more famous for its ice cream than its calzones, a Taiwanese person would usually say that it’s an “ice cream shop delayed by pizza” (被批薩耽誤的冰淇淋店), where the pizza almost becomes a hindrance to the ice cream’s success. 

Having heard a few examples over the years and finding lots of Chinese-language blogs covering danwu shops, I thought it was about time these treasures were shared with English speakers. Below are six items you should try for surprising gastronomic experiences.  

Fried chicken at Napoli Pizza 

Although Napoli’s designation on Google Maps is “pizza,” its draw among diners is the fried chicken. This place is likely Taiwan’s most famous danwu shop – in fact, Napoli’s fried chicken is so famous among locals that it doesn’t qualify as a “hidden gem.” (The shop signs even read “pizza and fried chicken” – 披薩/炸鷄 – in Chinese.) 

When Napoli first opened in 1997, it sought to provide delicious food for its customers’ enjoyment at an affordable price. In an effort to stand out, the restaurant decided to try bringing together pizza and fried chicken for “double the (caloric) trouble,” an endeavor that proved greatly successful. Today, pizza and fried chicken have become an instinctive go-to combination order among customers in Taiwan, with chains like Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza also offering chicken on their menus. 

Not a fan of fried chicken myself, I bravely sat down to try Napoli’s famous danwu items. I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised. The chicken is juicy, thick, and fibrous, and the coating is crispy but not too thick.  

The lemon-and-cheese-flavored chicken is not citrusy but rather perfectly balances sweet and salty. The cheese flavor is not too rich the way many cheese-incorporated dishes easily are. Meanwhile, the Sichuan spicy drumsticks are well-seasoned and come right off the bone. The spice hits you at once but doesn’t linger. Being one of the few fried chicken meals I’ve actually enjoyed, these items make Napoli Pizza well worth a visit.  

Beef noodles at Wego 

“My friend told me that Wego has great beef noodles,” an acquaintance said when I asked her if she knew any danwu shops. I was surprised – Wego is Taiwan’s best-known love hotel chain and not a place I’d associate with good food.  

Love hotels are short-stay hotels used mainly for romantic trysts. Their signage usually reads 休息 (xiuxi, rest), and guests can pay hourly or nightly rates. Although Wego has a cap on the number of guests allowed in one room, it’s often also utilized for hosting parties. With names like “American Dancer,” “Venetian Music Box,” and “Madam Butterfly,” each room boasts its own theme and features unique décor and details, from Turkish baths to ceiling mirrors.  

Intrigued, I went to Wego’s Linsen North Road branch to try the noodles. In a sign of respect for privacy, the dish was left in the hallway outside the room, and I was notified of its presence through a phone call from reception.  

Beef noodle soup (牛肉麵, niu rou mian) is a staple dish in Taiwan. The beef is often stewed with the broth and simmered for hours. But even before that, chefs allow the bone marrow stock to simmer for extended periods of time – some vendors cook the beef stock for up to 24 hours. The dish is frequently served with suan cai (酸菜, Chinese sauerkraut), scallions, and chili. 

Wego’s noodles are served al dente, but they are not handmade, and the beef comes in thick slices rather than the more commonly seen chunks. The broth is light, yet spicy and zesty. If you want to add more flavors, the dish comes with a side of chili and suan cai.   

All in all, Wego’s niu rou mian is surprisingly tasty. However, beware of the fact that “I swear I just went for the beef noodles” might not be an acceptable explanation for a Wego receipt, should your partner start asking questions.  

Beef noodle soup is a good reason to visit a Wego love motel – just don’t expect your partner to believe that.

Beef noodles at Partyworld 

If you live in Taiwan, you will inevitably end up singing at a KTV (karaoke television) parlor with friends or colleagues on more than one occasion. KTV is one of Taiwan’s most popular pastimes – in 2021 it made up 50% of all entertainment tax revenue in southern Taiwan.  

With 18 venues across Taiwan, Partyworld is one of the most popular KTV chains here. The company operating this chain is Cash Box Partyworld Co., which opened its first parlor on Taipei’s Linsen North Road in 1989. In addition to its Taiwan locations, Cash Box Partyworld has set up 19 venues with more than 2,400 rooms across eight major cities in China.  

If Wego’s beef noodles are too spicy for you, you could give Partyworld’s niu rou mian a try. The chain’s beef noodle soup features exceptionally elastic noodles best enjoyed immediately upon serving to prevent overcooking. The addition of scallions enhances the flavor of the soup, which has a moderate level of saltiness. The soup’s beef cubes are crafted from brisket, typically between four and five pieces. 

The soup could be served hotter, but the flavor is still more balanced than that of many specialized beef noodle establishments. The soup base has been prepared in a central kitchen, ensuring consistency with every order.  

Lu Rou Fan at Oncor 

Oncor is currently Taipei’s trendiest high-end KTV destination. It describes itself as a “private entertainment suite” and promotes its venues for singing karaoke, hosting parties, and holding business meetings.  

This place spared no expense in developing its menu. For its VIP club, Oncor enlisted the services of international celebrity chef André Chiang, known for his Michelin two-star restaurant RAW (located in Taipei’s Zhongshan District) and featured in the Netflix documentary André & His Olive Tree. Chiang created five exclusive hot pot dishes for Oncor.  

The entertainment venue also collaborated with the team behind Michelin-recommended restaurant Gēn Creative (now closed) to design a menu of snacks from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and the United States. For its drinks, Oncor appointed award-winning celebrity bartender Ziyi Yang as its beverage consultant. 

With all these exclusive options, you might be surprised to learn that Oncor’s lu rou fan (滷肉飯, braised pork rice) is a must-try. Lu rou fan is usually a comforting side dish served at night market restaurants and not something you’d expect to be a highlight at a high-end establishment. But true to its brand, Oncor brings its own elegant flair to the presentation. The pork belly is served in slices rather than the usual chunks and accompanied by a deep-fried egg. This dish is a great remedy for fending off the nasty effects of excessive alcohol consumption during KTV sessions (that is, refusing to let go of the microphone as you croon Taylor Swift songs with teary eyes).  

Oncor has elevated the humble lu rou fan with chunky pork belly and a deep fried egg.

Egg tarts at KFC 

Many people will tell you that the best egg tarts in Taiwan can be found at KFC. In Taiwan, the American fast-food restaurant serves Portuguese egg tarts (蛋撻, dan ta) renowned for their flavor and texture. 

Although the tart smells savory, the light and creamy filling is sweet – not overwhelmingly so, although the sweetness lingers in the aftertaste. The caramelized tops are reminiscent of soft crème brûlée, and the pastry encasing the tart is crispy.  

While these egg tarts are decent, there’s something about the flavor that unmistakably links them to a fast-food chain. For novelty value, you can try whatever limited-edition flavor is on the menu when you go. Unfortunately, the flavor of the month when I went was century egg, and I couldn’t muster up the courage to take a bite. 

Donuts at Kura Sushi 

My favorite part of dining at Kura Sushi is the dessert. The Japanese chain restaurant’s soymilk donuts, served with Hokkaido milk soft-serve ice cream, red beans, and syrup, are the perfect way to finish off a conveyor belt sushi meal.  

The donuts are toasted before being served, making them hot and crispy on the outside but soft and warm on the inside. They blend perfectly with the rich, creamy ice cream. At first glance, the dollop of red bean paste and the trickle of syrup might seem modest. But their sweetness would make any larger quantities overpowering.  

“You should have told me their dessert was this good,” a friend of mine blurted out when I took her a couple of weeks ago. She rolled her eyes in pleasure as she shoved a generous scoop of ice cream into her mouth. “If I’d known, I wouldn’t have had so much sushi!” 

Another less surprising but equally tasty highlight is the taiyaki waffle, served with Hokkaido milk soft-serve sprinkled with nuts. Taiyaki is a classic Japanese street food, and the name derives from the tai (鯛, red sea bream) shape of the waffle. Kura’s taiyaki features a red bean paste filling, the most common filling for this soul-warming dessert.  

Leaving room for dessert is strongly advised for visitors of Kura Sushi.

Honorable mentions 

It wouldn’t be right to finish this article without mentioning the soft-serve ice cream at IKEA. In my native Sweden – land of IKEA – we usually go for the hotdogs or meatballs rather than ice cream during a visit. A hotdog at IKEA Sweden is sold at the low price of SEK5 (NT$15), and you’d be pressed to find a better deal anywhere else in the country. (By contrast, a 7-Eleven hotdog in Sweden sells for SEK25.)  

But in Taiwan, it’s the ice cream that steals the show. For NT$10, you can get an impeccably creamy soft-serve vanilla ice cream straight from a machine. It’s just the sugar kick you need after a long shopping spree.  

Another honorable mention is the black tea at MOS Burger. Considering that Taiwan has more drink shops than temples, you wouldn’t expect people to rave about black tea from a Japanese fast-food restaurant chain. Yet here we are.  

Finally, you’d be foolish to visit the renowned dumpling restaurant chain Din Tai Fung and only have the dumplings. In particular, you should try DTF’s pork chop fried rice. In case you missed the social media hype earlier this year, this is your chance to try the black pepper-specked pork chop, which rests atop a generous pile of well-seasoned rice. For the ultimate experience, pour some of the spicy sauce from the restaurant’s wontons on top.