While Silicon Valley is well endowed with Taiwanese restaurants, few of the local representations of the cuisine excite me much. Some of the dishes have an overly fishy smell that puts me off. Perhaps you need to be a native of Taiwan to enjoy it. But at Liang’s Village Cuisine in Cupertino, I get it. I have finally found a Taiwanese restaurant with broad appeal.
Taiwanese food can be thought of as a subset of Chinese food. In the 1940s, there was an exodus of people leaving China for Taiwan, many of whom were supporters of nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. In addition, the Communists considered opulent, intricately made Chinese food decadent and bourgeois, and many chefs were driven out of China for their traditional culinary practices.
The Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 was a particularly oppressive time. The government closed down restaurants and many chefs fled for Taiwan. Although Chinese food in China is currently enjoying a renaissance, some of China’s greatest chefs kept Chinese cuisine alive in Taiwan during the dark years.
There’s another side to Taiwanese food, too: a more informal cuisine best represented by the street food at Taipei’s famed night markets. This is cheap, fast food that can be eaten on the go: noodle soups, fried wontons, Taiwanese “hamburgers,” seafood omelettes and quickly prepared rice dishes.
Silicon Valley has a few of the higher-end Taiwanese, places like Liou’s House in Milpitas, but more of the former group. Of them, Liang’s is the best I have tried. While I support the consumption of all parts of an animal, a lot of Taiwanese restaurants go too heavy on the organ meats for me. (Pig spleen, anyone?)
Liang’s is a California-based chain with four locations in Southern California. The Cupertino restaurant is the company’s only NorCal spot. Models of World War II–era fighter planes and a few modern jets dangle from the ceiling. The menu and walls are adorned with photos of military officials and family snapshots from the Chiang Kai-shek fighting days.
Liang’s is all about noodles: Cold noodles, noodle soups, noodles with wontons, dry noodles. Lots of noodles. Come at lunch and expect to wait as crowds of people line up for, you guessed it, noodles.
My favorite is the beef noodle soup ($6.95), a classic of Taiwanese cuisine if there ever was one. Available with thick or thin noodles (I like the ragged big noodles), the soup is a deep, dark brown and loaded with shanky chunks of beef in a light but aromatic broth. Cilantro and green onions add color and bright flavors to the hearty broth.
My other favorite is the ground pork and pickle noodles ($5.75), tangy pickled Chinese greens with ground pork served over a spaghettilike noodle in a light, nutty soy sauce.
The menu at Liang’s is quite long and invites exploration. After making your choices you fill in your order on a separate menu. Service is fast, friendly and efficient. Most of the clientele are Chinese or Taiwanese, but the servers help non-Chinese navigate the menu.
In addition to the beef noodle soup, the other must-order at Liang’s is the pancake wrap with beef ($6.75), a.k.a. the Chinese burrito. The crispy, borderline-greasy bread is wrapped around tender, marinated beef and Chinese greens and then sliced into sections. It’s more of a sandwich than a pancake, and it’s quite good. Eat this one right away. It loses its appeal when it cools off.
Two other great starters are the spicy red-oil wontons ($4.95) and delicious stewed tofu ($3.75).
There are lots of good side dishes that shouldn’t escape your attention, such as the special house pickles ($3.50), big sheets of sour, crunchy cabbage; the cold mixed cucumbers ($4); and the hard-to-stop-eating stewed peanuts ($3.50).
Liang’s doesn’t serve alcohol, but you’ll be OK with a glass of sweet, grass jelly juice ($2.50) or fresh coconut juice ($3.95). Raise your coconut shell and toast Silicon Valley’s best Taiwanese restaurant.
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