The Best Date Restaurants and Cafés in Taipei

Those in Taiwan shot by Cupid’s arrow or the tactful marketing ploys of corporations this month, I’m sorry you have to endure Valentine’s Day twice more this year. (At last count, love celebration days in Taiwan currently stand at a superfluous three out of 365.) Dating and dates suck; as a former serial dater, I feel you. Though I never went on a date on any of Taiwan’s officially sanctioned dating days, I dated an exorbitant amount during the rest of the year. Which is to say that I’ve eaten out at too many places in the hopes of being eaten out. That’s a joke, you guys – sometimes, it was more about not wanting to be alone. Or hunger.

I hereby give you my unsolicited, unwarranted selection of some of Taipei’s most appropriate dining institutions for your romantic endeavours. But I should preface this by saying that I’m neither a food writer nor a particularly great person to be on a date with. And that some of these places aren’t actually appropriate at all.

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Addiction Aquatic Development. Image via 挪威 企鵝

Zhongshan District

Addiction Aquatic Development (Xingtian Temple)
Best for: When you indulge in sexual hedonism to such excess, your other senses begin to mimic the same behaviour.
I thank the Japanese for eroticising everything – including fish. It makes it easier when your relationship begins to mirror In the Realm of the Senses –the Oshima film that starts with passionate sex and ends with a dismembered dick in a bag– and you need to suppress your ferocious sexual appetite in favour of a more normative, food-related one. Tonguing raw slippery fish flesh on a Wasabi high at the aptly named fish market-cum-designer sushi bar made me realise all the ways in which food is better than sex. Of course, it may be that titillating your taste buds becomes sexually titillating in itself and you end up going home afterwards to bang one out. I’m not saying that sashimi is a gateway drug to sex; that’s your own undoing.

Spot Taipei (Zhongshan)
Best for: A fleeting romance with your delusional bourgeois fantasy.
Do you ever want look good in your Helmut Lang skirt without thinking about the tiny sweatshop fingers that built it? And admire the aesthetic style of America’s colonial past without people bring up the Civil War? Do you refuse to see the classist attitudes underpinning high culture? And ignore existing systems of oppression – in the name of love? Spot Taipei is your spot. The food may not be great enough to impress here (but okay, is Caesar salad ever great, especially in East Asia?), but it’s housed in only the best art house cinema in the city and the two-storey heritage architecture porn that is the former American embassy. Who am I kidding, guys: my date may have gone to an Ivy League but I’m all about the proletariat – and I’m still too broke to spend eight dollars on a coffee.

Zhongzheng District

Xiang Se (CKS Memorial Hall)
Best for: Bringing up with your partner the prospect of living out the rest of your lives in a commune cult.
A secret garden in the midst of urban chaos, Xiang Se is the epitome of a stylised, Kinfolk-indoctrinated romance. If there’s to be one date restaurant you go to in Taiwan, this would be the one. I ate morsels that were making love with one another on what could have easily been a vintage cheese board from France – hardly hyperbolic given that even the door to the restaurant itself is said to be imported European vintage. The whole affair is so precariously curated you feel like your mere corporeal presence disrupts the ecosystem; any ungainly movement could cause the all-linen-outfitted staff to have brain haemorrhages (I don’t even want to know what the protocol is for wine spillages). For the sake of romance, and but more so for the sanctity of this puritan environment, you should spend the rest of the evening neither speaking nor moving, as you bore into your partner’s eyes and hope that the meditative state will elevate you to a different and less stressful plane than this one.

 

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Xiang Se. Image via Xiang Se.

Da’an District

Din Tai Fung (Dongmen)
Best for: Testing the strength of your relationship.
I get it, dumplings are cute. Through 500 Days of Summer-tinted glasses, your sundressed Deschanel is feeding a Gordon-Levitt xiaolongbaos; the broth spills everywhere and they laugh. But this is the original Din Tai Fung, people. Do you realise how many Japanese tourists in the queue you’ll have to elbow your way through before you even make it through to the uniformed cyborgs at the front desk, who will then harass you with their chorus of multilingual greetings and exceptional service? Seriously, you can’t even want to try to play footsie here, because they just be all up in your grill with “More tea?” – all the time, every time.

Tomodachi (SYS Memorial Hall)
Best for: Conflict resolution, but minus the resolution part.
The Japanese Izakaya must have bad Feng Shui at their new locale. The food and selection of Japanese wines and spirits remain diverse and top-notch, but the once cosy and dynamic Dunhua haunt is now an aesthetically comatose space reeking of middle-aged drunkards and slacker service. With neither staff nor patrons really giving a shit about your party, you can open with ease the floodgates of your relationship anguish. Choose from an eclectic array of antagonistic entrées ranging from insecurity to jealousy, before moving onto destructive mains ranging from a cold shoulder to cold water poured down your shirt.

Toasteria Café (Zhongxiao Dunhua)
Best for: Circumventing a date; or, Friendzoning: A Love Story.
If you’ve already done everything in your means to throw someone off the romance scent, are you really at fault for trying to worm your way out of a date for the tenth time in a row? For people who really just want to ‘be friends’, or for those who’ve exhausted their list of excuses (“Sorry, I’m not in the country at the moment”), Toasteria is your saviour. I don’t care how good the reviews are for this place; they literally serve toast, which is literally the most white bread thing I can think of when it comes to dining. Even if your ‘date’ can’t pick up on social cues and work out what taking someone out to eat toast really means, Toasteria’s popularity amongst groups of friends will surely allow the loud and boastful chatter to drown out whatever unimportant thing your unimportant friend has to say.

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Woolloomooloo. Image via Woolloomooloo.

Xinyi District

Solo Trattoria (Taipei City Hall)
Best for: Maintaining some semblance of class while staying true to your abject ways.
At age 19, I binge ate and drank my way through Italy like a disgusting, drunken slob. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise the extent to which we were all in on Italian cuisine’s great big secret – which is that self-abasement is always glorified as some Julia Roberts, ‘love yourself’ shit. Since then, Italian restaurants elsewhere in the world have continued to enable my gluttony and vino habit without revealing my true whale form. Solo Trattoria is not only one of Taipei’s very few Italian entries, but the kind of understated-ly chic casual dining spheres populated by East Area’s thirtysomething creative darlings. Perhaps we’ve all been down the dark path of eating entire boxes of pizza while drunk and sick on the bathroom floor at some point or another, but here, amongst heels and merino wool sweaters, and in between bites of gourmet Neapolitans cut by knife and fork, we’re all telling ourselves that it’s sexy, to love yourself.

Honey Pig (Taipei 101)
Best for: A destination date, to Carnevale di Hell.
Korean barbeque is a devil’s feast. I have no other term for slabs of bloody animal bits doused in bright red chili shit, with which you drink copious amounts of beer. Admittedly, it speaks to anyone with a mild carnivorous fetish, but you’d have to be seriously demonic to find this appealing at 4am. Thankfully, the 24-hr Honey Pig facilitates such Satanic rituals, spawning a new generation of devil-horned lovebirds getting horny over a grill plate. I wish I could say on the one occasion I came here on a date, I acquired an insatiable appetite for flesh and began eating my lover right there and then. Unfortunately, he was a former vegan of five years and, with the ethics and sustainability of global meat consumption hanging over our heads, we ate meekly and went home, effectively washing our hands clean of the bloodbath.

Woolloomooloo (Taipei 101)
Best for: Australians.
Maybe it’s a real testament to our supposedly laid-back ways that we have a habit of throwing a beer, a coffee, and all-day brunch on a barbie and calling it a day. Woolloomooloo looks and tastes and feels like any café in Sydney’s, well, Woolloomooloo – except owner Jimmy Yang really wants to hit the Australian nail over your head with the strategic placements of Aesop soap, Little Creatures beer and Antipodes water. These hip artefacts, along with maybe just the very existence of the Hemsworth brothers, really help back you up in establishing your Australian cool to your date. And if you’re not Australian, and have zero interest in overpriced designer goods from down south, then you’re just two people at a café eating avocadoes and pretending you like any of this industrial, raw-concrete nonsense.

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Sonnentor Cafe. Image via Forgemind ArchiMedia.

Datong District

打鐵町49番地 Yakiniku (Shuanglian)
Best for: Marinating baby lamb.
This is a metaphor but you can choose to ignore it, if you just like literal lamb and want to focus on that with your chosen date. In which case – good for you, they serve that shit here and usually it’s awesome. But for those with actual predatory inclinations, a roadside yakiniku joint masks your hunger or thirst or whatever label you wish to give your foray into college students well, serving up a whole lot of barbeque smoke and a strictly non-romantic air. You don’t even have to look at each other, let alone into each other’s eyes – effectively mitigating the awkwardness that may arise when he realises that he essentially skipped grades in dates, moving from holding hands in the cafeteria to navigating check etiquette, or when you realise that your quarter-life crisis Samantha Jones shtick is kind of not sticking.

Neihu District

Jolly Brewery & Restaurant (Huzhou)
Best for: Getting a feel of what it’s like to be hit on in an upscale airport pub, in the middle-of-buttfuck-nowhere America.
Admittedly Neihu sometimes feels as middle-of-buttfuck-nowhere America as Taipei gets, with its Costco and dive bars with a predominantly white clientele. But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and Jolly is that lemonade, except with craft beer. The food is at least Thai and not white – which is more you can say about its crowd. Its most redeeming aspect may be found in its flights of beer, which is sure to get you drunk enough to sit through your date, especially if he goes on a tirade re: the failings of neoliberalism. I mean, I get it dude, we’re in a restaurant full of middle-aged white Americans wiping their chili-paste-stained faces with their new New Taiwan Dollar bills, but do you even want to get laid?

Songshan District

Sonnentor (Songshan Airport)
Best for: A girl date.
I don’t care if your girl date is a girl friend or a girlfriend; mine was the former but I sat through too many sessions of her crying, venting, or general meltdowns – so it felt a lot like the latter. But, to borrow from January Jones, via Zoe Kravitz: “Women are allowed to feel up and down because they are like the moon and go thru different phases” – and I accept and celebrate this. Running at a speed three times as slow as everywhere else in metropolitan Taipei, Songshan’s Fujin Street is perhaps Taipei’s most soothing antidote for even the most volatile of Moon-women. While almost any café or restaurant in the precinct will do, Sonnentor lives up to its name and provides the sunshine. Seriously, how can a combination of organic food, oil paintings and homemade sangria not be wholesome and healing? Should you be a boy friend or a boyfriend, take note: “Men should act like the sun, shine strong 247/365 and serve women instead of getting like little bitches with vaginas”.

Feature image via Xiang Se.