Down the road from our apartment is a small restaurant called Taiwan Ah-cheng Danzi mian (台灣阿成担仔麵). At least, that’s the name on the business card: the street sign is hard to find, although you can tell it is a restaurant by the lanterns and green Heineken beer sign out the front. Ah-cheng serves stir-fried dishes, especially seafood, although despite its name does not specialize in danzi mian (pole-carried noodles).
We are semi-regular diners at Ah-cheng. It is close-by, always open, lively, cheap and doesn’t stand on ceremony. So it fits most of my criteria for a casual dining venue. We had a stream of overseas visitors recently and invariably we always ended up at Ah-chengs. Friends and family loved the eating-with-the-locals atmosphere – and the food – yet strangely it never crossed my mind to write a review until they suggested it.
The interior at Ah-chengs is simple, with small wooden stools set around square wooden tables. Although it forbids smoking, a stream of nicotine addicts constantly disappears out onto the street in front. The atmosphere is civilized but noisy – it gets louder as more beer (or kaoliang) is consumed. It is a standard ‘rechao 100’ (熱炒) place – offering stir-fry dishes starting from NT$100. But unlike fancier establishments, the wait staff are unassuming – no beer girls here.
Many dishes on the long, Chinese-only menu are simple but fresh – if somewhat salty and oily – and designed to complement beer. And while there are many locally themed ingredients (i.e. offal), there were still mainstream options to satisfy our lao wai guests. Stock standards such as Hakka small fry (客家小炒), prawns with pineapple (鳳梨蝦球), Gongbao chicken (宮保雞丁), peppery beef hot place (鐵板牛柳), stir-fried spicy clams (炒蛤ㄚ) and even fried rice are reliably good.
Although a bit rich, I highly recommend Ah Cheng’s fried oysters (炸蚵ㄚ); crisp on the outside they melt on the inside. And if you are open-minded, try the grilled sardines (烤喜相逢), which are stuffed full with fish roe, and also the fish-roe flavored Taiwanese sausages, both good with beer.
While fresh, Ah-Cheng’s dishes at times lack individuality. For example, I was disappointed with Ah Cheng’s rustic sashimi. And the lamb stew (羊肉爐), while comforting on a cold evening, was ordinary. Yet Ah Chengs is more about the atmosphere, and is a rare affordable restaurant along Xinyi Road (No 83 Section 6).