At home and abroad, Taiwanese entrepreneurs have shown verve and ingenuity in crafting new dining concepts. They hit all the right notes—comfort, atmosphere, deliciousness—that lead to foodie bliss. Taipei is a beachhead for the island’s food culture, featuring lively night markets, trendy coffee shops and cozy, family-owned eateries. With the café/diner concept in mind, here’s an assortment of new establishments and old favorites to try out, as the country swelters through the dog days of summer.
Herban Kitchen. This vibrant, vegetarian eatery serves up tasty eats in a co-op atmosphere. A slice of California has been transplanted to a Taipei side street, mixing wholesome Berkeley vibes with a touch of San Francisco class. What feels like a group of sorority sisters runs the joint: black tank tops, cheerful banter, and occasional eye rolls. The open prep area features utensils and cooking equipment familiar to anyone who’s lived in a Bay Area co-op; the lively kitchen exchanges also serve to entertain. Staff members happily sip the same beverages on offer—red wine, a green smoothie—showing that it’s good stuff.
Dishes are mainly hearty, well-crafted plays on vegetarian comfort-food classics, such as eggs benedict with zucchini and onion (one of three types of benedict) and delectable new entrants, like mushroom-garlic-focaccia tapas. Unlike some cutting-edge restaurants, the interior isn’t sparse or clinical. Forgoing spaceship white, Herban instead abounds in dark green, distressed wood, and tin. Filling dishes, 張懸 soundtrack, verdant design sensibility, and an atmosphere of culinary sisterhood make for a dining experience that feels just like home.
Herban Kitchen & Bar
No. 27, Lane 101, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District
Smith & Hsu. Not a gun shop, but a tea-and-scones parlor. The impassive birch door slides open to reveal comfy seating and an elegant counter—think Zen Designer rather than Floral Teahouse. Head upstairs and the café blossoms into light: pale wooden bookcases run along both sides of the room, floor to ceiling, framing bright window views. You’ll be presented with a tray of two-dozen flavors of tea leaves to sniff and inhale before settling on your choice of beverage. Scents range from Rooibos with Caramel, to Traditional Oolong, to a house blend of Countess Grey. Fabulous scones are paired with butter and real fruit preserves, a taste of heaven in every bite. Smith & Hsu’s afternoon tea is enormously popular, but if you come early (say around noon), you’ll enjoy a couple hours of languorous relaxation, or productive serenity, before happy families and chatting couples fill the venue.
Smith & Hsu (Nanjing East Road)
No. 21, Section 1, Nanjing East Road, Zhongshan
5 Senses Café. Located near the north end of National Taiwan University campus, 5 Senses serves as a study haven, spot for casual dates, and social watering hole, all at once. The diverse seating includes comfy couches, shared tables normally seen at ramen shops, high counters, and library desks on which you can spread your books. The interior is well lit by the sun, with nooks and crannies for privacy if desired. The affordable and tasty menu features drinks, pastries and snackable sandwiches; look for teatime sets such as coffee/tea, plus a tart of your choice. If you don’t know which dessert will hit the spot, order the item literally called, “I’m not sure what I’ll have today! 我不確定點什麼!” for NT$100. You’ll be presented with a surprise pastry of the day, such as a slice of lemon merengue pie. Take the MRT to Gongguan Station, rent a YouBike and pedal up Zhousan Road. Another YouBike station sits across from the café for easy parking. The upstairs can apparently be booked for evening events.
5 Senses Café (NTU)
No. 85, Section 3, Keelung Road, Da’an District
LoCo Food. Perched on the corner where two alleys meet, this turquoise-hued, hipster joint always draws a lunchtime crowd. Long before noon, the line of customers snakes around the corner, affirming the adage that Taiwanese like to queue. Sandwiches, burgers, and egg crepes are served in six-inch cast-iron skillets, with salads, wings and fries as optional sides. After ordering at the open-air counter—“to go” orders can skip the wait, but hardly anyone seems to go for this option—circle back out to the separate dining room entrance, to be seated at a small two-person table, or a giant mesa for communal eating. The egg crepes 蛋卷 (danjuan), a fluffed-up version of breakfast staple 蛋餅 (danbing), pair well with house-made spicy sauce, but the veggie sandwich was nothing special: lettuce, tomatoes, white bread. Between iced coffee and milk tea, tea is the superior choice here. Be forewarned, most dishes sell out before 1 p.m. and you’ll have to settle for your second or third choice. LoCo Food skates by on its reputation, so despite the buzz, I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the wait
LoCo Food 樂口福
No. 5-4, Lane 89, Section 3, Nanjing East Road, Zhongshan District
Oromo Cafe. The newest addition to cram-school street near Taipei Main Station, Oromo Café offers four floors of diverse environments for studying, relaxing and hanging out. Like other Oromo locations, the menu contains quirky teas and coffees, but the real specialties are themed interior designs. The ground floor screams “pirate-steampunk” with iron and wood paneling, mechanical grinding equipment, and bulging sacks of coffee beans. The second-floor tearoom strives for sophistication with plush upholstered chairs and drapes, though the chandeliers are a bit tacky. One level up, astroturf covers the floor, with vivid colors splashed across benches. An immense, two-story tall bookshelf has shelves filled with old-school televisions, funky toys, and strange tomes. (One hopes every item is bolted to the wall when the next quake shakes Taipei.) The piece de resistance: a steep wooden slide running from the fourth floor to the third, where you can momentarily rediscover your inner child. Servers are friendly, and the bathrooms sport shiny copper pipes, but only time will tell if this venue is a flash-in-the-pan novelty or can sustain a longer run to become a Taipei favorite.
Oromo Café (Taipei Main Station location) 奧蘿茉 (北車店 )
No. 26 Nanyang Road, Zhongzheng Distric
(Feature photo of coffee on table, from Pixabay)
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