Algirdas Bakas

Taiwan's capital has an artful soul, creative energy, and ultramodern landmarks that are redefining the city's landscape.

Howie Kahn
August 12, 2014

Lay of the Land

Daan: Wide, tree-lined boulevards, the city’s largest park, and an endless array of restaurants and boutiques make the Daan district Taipei’s most coveted address.

Datong: Once a mighty economic center, Datong is now home to Japanese colonial architecture, the Ningxia Night Food Market, and the resurgent Dihua Street.

Xinyi: Skyscrapers continue to rise in what used to be the quiet western part of town, as Taipei’s financial and retail hubs move into the area.

Zhongshan: Not to be confused with neighboring Zhongzheng, this area is known for its upscale fashion flagships, the Fine Arts Museum, and the National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine.

Getting Around

Taipei’s mass rapid transit system is fast and convenient, with signs in English on trains and in stations. Taxis are also plentiful and easy to hail.

#TLMoment: Taipei Railway Sprint

Stay

Taipei’s hottest new hotels, and some classics.

Humble House: The just-opened Humble House, with its welcoming staff and notable work from international artists such as Zadok Ben-David, has already become one of Taipei’s most desirable places to stay. Rooms come with high ceilings, modern furniture, and silk velvet bathrobes. $

Regent: The Regent has hushed, dimmed hallways and formal accents of marble and wood—and the 20th-floor spa, with its suite- size treatment rooms, is an oasis of light and calm. Beneath the hotel, there’s the Regent Galleria, full of high-end shops, including a Goyard boutique. $$$$

VVG BB+B: Situated in nondescript residential buildings, these three flats designed by local lifestyle impresario Grace Wang are part of the VVG (“Very Very Good”) mini-empire of beautifully curated restaurants and shops. Furnishings reflect Wang’s obsession with comfort and craft, from the Chiang Mai–made four-poster bed in the Francia suite to the deep copper tub in the London-inspired June room. $

Mandarin Oriental: Taipei’s newest big-ticket hotel has walk-in closets in every room, a 50,000-crystal-bead lobby chandelier, a Yabu Pushelberg–designed spa, and a patisserie serving chocolates by World Chocolate Master Frank Haasnoot. $$$$

W: This hotel in the Xinyi district has all the signature W touches—thumping bass in the lobby; shag rugs and tilde-shaped leather chaises; a pool scene that doesn’t quit—and a young staff in slick black suits. $$$

WXYZ: The “W” in WXYZ stands for Woolloomooloo, the burgeoning artisanal hospitality company named after the Sydney suburb and founded by Jimmy Yang, a 41-year-old architect. His first boutique property feels like an updated, DIY Japanese ryokan. A former love hotel, it has only six rooms with simple wooden headboards and vintage maps on the walls. $

Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000

 

Shop

 

Five treasure troves across the city.

Cans Tea & Books House: Sip house-made oolongs in private, bamboo-lined nooks built into the walls before browsing the one-of-a-kind Chinese book collection on tea culture, photography, and other fine arts.

Deco Collect: In a renovated shop-house dating from the end of the Japanese occupation, this design emporium is a must-see in the vein of New York’s ABC Carpet & Home. Locally made pottery and decorative leather objects occupy the first floor; the upper levels showcase high-end Asian furniture. 251 Nanjing West Rd.; 886-2/2796-8276.

Shiatzy: Chen Taipei’s best-known luxury fashion house stands out on a prime Zhongshan block, thanks to its Jaya Ibrahim–designed latticed façade. Inside, five floors of stylish pieces (slim-cut cotton shirts and blouses; silk evening gowns) seamlessly combine Eastern and Western fashion sensibilities.

VVG: Something Equal parts boutique and bookstore, this hidden gem in Daan stocks an idiosyncratic array of design curios (small-batch copper pencils; vintage typewriters). Look for limited-edition craft magazines and rare art titles such as Andy Warhol’s Red Books.

Xiaoqi Chifeng 28: The slim, airy Datong district boutique is a one-stop shop for cult Japanese lifestyle brands—Studio M ceramic vases; Fog Linen Work tablecloths. There’s also an on-site florist, Takako Mine, who hosts flower-arranging workshops every month. 28 Chifeng St.; 886-2/2555-6969.

 

See+Do

 

Leave time to explore these cultural stops.

Villa 32: The hot springs of Beitou, a quiet northern suburb, have been famous for their healing properties since the late 1800’s, but Villa 32 brings the revivifying soak to a thoroughly modern level. Eight slick indoor and outdoor pools aid in everything from skin detoxification to enhanced circulatory health.

Xue Xue Foundation: One of Taipei’s foremost centers dedicated to creative arts education is located in an unremarkable Neihu District office park. Meaning “Learn Learn” in Mandarin, Xue Xue Foundation houses public libraries, test kitchens, and classrooms that host lectures on Taiwanese music and philosophy as well as interactive workshops for children.

Ye Classical Art Gallery: The National Palace Museum has countless gems, but you can also view and even buy classical art at Ye Classical Art Gallery (No. 1, Section 1, Bade Rd.). Ceramics are the main draw here, ranging from delicate Song dynasty porcelains to antique tea utensils used by samurais.

 

Eat

 

Read on for the city’s top tables.

Cha Cha Thé: The local fashion house Shiatzy Chen is the brains behind this teahouse and restaurant in Taipei’s Eastern district. A retail section features several poetically named blends (“thick emptiness”; “heavy embrace”) while the dining room beyond serves sophisticated dishes such as handmade green linguine with spring onion, seafood, and sakura blossom. $$$

Din Tai Fung: What started as a cooking-oil retailer 56 years ago has evolved into one of the most sought-after dining experiences around the globe, with outposts in 10 countries. Guests line up for the popular xiao long bao (juicy, steamy, one-bite soup dumplings), but the deep and delicious menu includes a variety of dishes, from pickled cabbage and pan-fried pork cutlets to the most full-bodied chicken soup. $$

Lau Jio: Director Ang Lee’s favorite spot for traditional Taiwanese hot pot may also be yours. A bubbling vessel is set in the center of the table. The hot coals beneath keep it warm, and over the course of a couple of hours the flavors all mix: the fermented cabbage, the marbled beef, the soy bean curd, and the broth. 307 Fuxing North Rd.; 886-2/2718-​1122. $$

Nonzero: Open and airy, with an inviting menu to match, Nonzero follows a Slow Food philosophy and caters to a crowd of regulars with its soups, stews, and small plates. “It’s comfort food from all over,” owner Tan Yee Ming says. Order the seductive Tunisian chorba lamb with house-made harissa and sea bass in a lemongrass-infused broth. $$

Si Zhi Tang: With its shabby-chic, mismatched décor and focus on homegrown ingredients, the secluded yet intimate Si Zhi Tang recalls similar spaces in Brooklyn, the Bay Area, and Portland, Oregon. The food is Taiwanese fusion: loofah in bonito broth to start, followed by a medley of dishes in pots: spicy, stinky tofu; rice-noodle soup with taro root; star fruit; and fish balls. $$

Worth the Trip

Just a 45-minute drive from downtown, the densely forested hills of Yangminshan National Park feel centuries away. Shi-Yang ($$), a monastic, glass- and-wood restaurant, specializes in vegetarian dishes. The soup, whose dried-lotus-flower garnish captures steam and blossoms on the table, is a highlight. After, head to Door Number 6, an open-air teahouse overlooking rolling hills where monklike servers brew leaves from a 200-year-old Pu-erh tea tree.

Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150

#TLMoment: Escape the Rain in Taipei

 

Local Take

 

Three insiders share their favorite places in Taipei.

Amber Lin

Chef/TV presenter

“Near Taipei International Airport, Addiction Aquatic Development is a fish market and food hall popular with foodies seeking quality, but affordable, seafood. For the best traditional Taiwanese breakfast, the little-known Fu Hang Dou Jiang (886-2/ 2392-2175; $) serves sweet soy milk and fried doughnuts. The minute you walk into Fong Da Coffee, you can smell the beans roasting. Get your cup of coffee with the walnut-and-sesame cookies—they’re mind-blowing.”

Ping Chu

Founder of Canmeng, Canbran, and Canlove

“For great shopping, go to Mogu, a stylish store opened by young fashion and graphic designers that sells everything from notebooks to canvas totes. Ask to see their working studio in the back. Nearby, owner He Jian’s peaceful Yeh Tang Culture Research Institute (886-2/​2356-7841), in a timber-framed building, draws the city’s literati. Don’t miss the events at Red Room on the third Saturday of every month; a creative crowd gathers to chat in Chinese and English about topics such as politics and art.”

Crystal Wang

Designer-owner of Crystal Wang

“Catch a movie at Spot, a colonial-style mansion turned theater that shows indie and art-house films. The charming café next door is the perfect place for afternoon tea. In the Dun-Hua area, the recently opened Arcarts Gallery has wonderful exhibitions of up-and-coming artists. On weekends, I take my dog to Dajia Riverside Park, where locals like to bike and go for picnics. It’s not as crowded as the famous Daan Forest Park, which makes it a relaxing escape.”

Coffee Culture

Where to get your caffeine fix.

Fika Fika Café: On a quiet street in Zhongshan, minimalist Fika Fika specializes in single-origin Nordic-style brews and is a favorite among Taipei chefs.

GaBe: Owner Van Lin, Taiwan’s reigning barista champion, treats visitors to Italian- style roasts and expert latte art at his brown-walled coffee shop in Daan. 886-2/2713-8772.

Woolloomooloo Xinyi: It seems everyone has a favorite slow-drip pour at this industrial-chic café owned by Jimmy Yang. The brunch is one of the city’s best. 886-2/8789-0128.

Appeared as "T+L Decoder: Our Definitive Guide to Taipei" T+L Magazine

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