Since Henry's Taiwan opened in Tempe last year, Taiwanese food in the Valley has been decidedly less difficult to find. After all the small, casual restaurant comes from Henry Ku, the chef and restaurateur "credited with putting Taiwanese food on the map in Seattle," giving the spot some immediate credibility and mass appeal.
However that's not the only place for affordable, enjoyable Taiwanese food and snacks. In Mesa, there's Taiwan Food Express, a casual restaurant with a lengthy menu of Taiwanese and Chinese eats.
Located at Mekong Plaza, Taiwan Food Express serves as both a casual sit down restaurant and a boba tea shop. You can enter from the front of the strip mall as well as though the inside of the plaza and you'll be seated at one of a small number of tables in the L-shaped dining room. On most nights you'll find nearly every one packed with diners, while others swing through for a milk tea and snack.
The menu stretches beyond the plastic-covered papers you'll be handed with extra dishes featured in photos hanging on the walls. Just about everything will set you back $7 or less and some of the best options are the $5 and under selections in the "Dim Sum" section of the list.
That's exactly where you'll find the Beef Roll ($3.95) a sharable plate of fried dough and meat -- true, it's pretty hard to mess up that combination but this dish rises to the top, or neat the top, of my list.
The construction of the dish is pretty simple: Stewed beef with hoisin sauce wrapped up in a scallion pancake. In this case, however, the sum is greater than the parts. The fried pancake -- usually made with nothing more than flour, salt, water, and scallions -- gets just crispy on the outside while remaining doughy and soft inside. And the beef, with the sweet/salty/tangy sauce, delivers a perfect punch of flavor.
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For a meat-free but similar experience, there's the scallion pancake with egg ($2.95), though after trying the beef it's unlikely that scrambled eggs will scratch your itch. The spicy wontons ($3.95) are also worth a try. You'll get six pork-filled dumplings swimming in spicy oil and topped with cilantro.