3050 Alafaya Trail, Oviedo | 407-542-1528 | taipei101orlando.com | $
We last took in the delights of Taiwanese cuisine a couple of years ago when we popped into Teriyaki House, the West Colonial Drive family-run eatery with nary a lick of teriyaki on its menu. (The name was a holdover from the restaurant that previously occupied the space; the current owners never bothered to change it). Providing a commendable crosstown balance is Taipei 101, another family-run eatery, but one situated near the UCF campus – the proverbial yin to Teriyaki House’s yang, or is it the other way around?
Regardless, Taipei 101’s sparsely decorated space is quite small, though the size of the kitchen is about three times that of the dining area. I’m guessing they figured business would be primarily of the takeout variety, but on one recent Sunday evening, every table in the room was taken. The cooks in that spacious kitchen had to be doing something right, we thought then, as under the pallor of fluorescent lights we watched patron after patron walk in and grab any and all available seats.
Not wanting to abandon our table, I went up to the counter and ordered for the group. Seeing I was open to suggestions, the polite hostess pointed to a few items she felt we should try, the first of which was the gua bao ($3) – steamed buns with an epic stuffing of pork belly, peanuts, cilantro and a sweet-and-sour sauce. We rode the pork belly wave straight into a plate of lu rou fan ($7.50), arguably Taiwan’s national dish. It’s a comforting heap of slow-cooked pork belly and daikon over rice, served with a tea egg – a boiled egg darkened from a thorough stewing in a brine of soy sauce and tea leaves.
Compared to, say, Hunan or Sichuan cuisine, Taiwanese fare is sauced and seasoned sparingly, so ingredients’ natural flavors inevitably shine through. The spicy beef noodle soup ($8.50), for example, wasn’t spicy at all, but that hardly took away from this steaming bowl of plush beef shank, egg noodles, bok choy and tomato slices. If you must have heat, the squeeze bottle of hot sauce will add a hefty kick to the fresh-tasting broth. While employing a Styrofoam container instead of a hot pot significantly curtailed the allure of the three-cups chicken ($8), the cleaved fowl (cooked in one cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine) was every bit as moist and flavorful as advertised by our server. The chicken is served with rice, glass noodles, sausage slices, greens and a tea egg.
Two “snack items” that wowed: cubes of deep-fried tofu ($3) topped with spicy kimchi (for a little added pan-Asian flair), and turnip rice cake ($3), soft on the inside and ever-so-crisp on the outside thanks to a proper pan-fry, drizzled with a bit of oyster sauce. Boba tea notwithstanding, the waffle egg rolls (five for $3), wrapped in airtight packaging, are the lone dessert item. Consider these crumbly, house-made tubes a more worthy substitute for the post-meal fortune cookie, minus the fortune.
As far as this restaurant’s fortunes are concerned, things are looking good. I’m not certain if the name is a collegiate reference to Formosan basics or an homage to the namesake skyscraper, but either way, Taipei 101 stands tall in this sector of higher learning.