Formosa Taipei

Beef Noodle Soup
Why is it that Chinatowns tend to be Cantonese, and the Taiwanese/Northern Chinese restaurants always seems to be a bit further out?  OK, granted, I don’t have that many data points.  I’m thinking of New York and Boston in particular.  In New York, the best Taiwanese food is definitely in Flushing, not in Chinatown.  Similarly, in Boston, the best Taiwanese food (with the exception of Taiwan Cafe), is also outside of the city.  My two favorites are basically in the burbs: Shangri La in Belmont and Chung Shin Yuan in Newton.  Even Jo Jo Taipei (Allston), Mulan (Cambridge), and Wisteria (Allston) are not in Chinatown.

More recently, some former members of the Jo Jo Taipei team left to open up a new restaurant in Lexington (another suburban Taiwanese spot!).  This location is literally a 5-minute drive from my church.  After church we are always looking for good places to eat in Lexington (and, honestly, there aren’t that many), so we were excited to check this place out.
Formosa Taipei counter
First thing’s first. It’s important to know that this is really just a take out place.  There are a couple stools and benches along this table on one wall, but that’s it.  It’s pretty hard to go with more than one person if you want to have meaningful conversation while you’re there.  Unless if you don’t mind all sitting in a line facing out the window.
Take out containers
They even serve everything in takeout boxes.
Formosa Tapei

The first thing that tickled us were the super authentic fobby lunch boxes. This is the box that is holding the pork chop over rice (quintessential Taiwanese dish).  My friend, Emily, was like,

“they’re importing boxes all the way from Taiwan!” For some reason, it really added to the authenticity of the experience.  I could almost feel like I was sitting on a train in Taiwan, ordering a “bian dang.” (lunch box)
Pai Gu Fan (Pork Chop Rice)
And inside, the pork chop over rice.  Despite its authentic exterior, we were underwhelmed with the pork chop.  It was a little soggy, the meat was kind of dry and overcooked.  The flavor was decent, but overall it was quite average.  The entire dish is pretty authentic, though, down to the soy sauce egg, the pickled radish, and the sour mustard greens.
Spicy Beef Noodle Soup (sans soup)
I got the beef noodle soup, which is supposedly one of their best dishes.  It comes packaged separately, which is pretty nice.  You pour the soup & beef over the noodles when you get home.  This prevents the noodles from becoming overly soggy.
Beef Noodle Soup
The flavor of the soup was pretty good – deep, rich, with a slight kick.  I thought the soup itself was quite oily, to the point that it detracted from my enjoyment of the dish.  The pieces of meat in this soup are quite fatty.  I would say it’s only about 50% meat, while the rest is tendon, fat, and other cartilage.  Perhaps the authentic version of this dish requires some fatty pieces, but I thought it was just too much.  I ended up throwing out large chunks of gelatinous stuff.
Three cup tofu
My vegetarian friend got the 3-cup tofu, which actually has pretty good flavor. “3-cup” dishes typically have a 1:1:1 ratio of soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil.  There’s also tons of basil, garlic, ginger, and sugar. This dish had nice, fragrant pieces of tofu infused with that beautiful combination of flavors.  I’ve actually had this at Jo Jo Taipei before, and it’s pretty similar.  I think the former chef of Jo Jo Taipei is actually here, so that makes sense.
Sesame beef
Sesame Beef: I think our friends who got this felt that this dish was a bit more Americanized than what they were expecting. I actually did not try this dish so I can’t comment on it.
Shaobing with beef
Bryan got this sesame flatbread (shao bing) with stewed beef shank and onions.  This was a very, very disappointing appetizer. Maybe I was expecting something else, but the flatbread was really dry and not really crispy at all.  I’m so used to the flaky and crispy ones (probably made with lard) from places like Shangri La. This tasted like a diet or lowfat version of the normal sesame flatbread.  Dry, no fat, kind of hard to chew.  I would not recommend getting this.
Boba Tea
Boba tea was solid, and is really a must have at a Taiwanese place, right? ;)
Formosa Tapei

Overall Thoughts
*SIGH* I really really really wanted to love this place.  It was so close to church.  It was Taiwanese.  It was opened by the Jo Jo Taipei folks.  I’m not sure what went wrong.  Did we order during an off time?  Or did we order the wrong things?  I still love the concept of having a Taiwanese take out place in Lexington, and considering that Lexington has a woeful selection of Chinese restaurants, this is actually a nice addition.  I might go back and try the dumplings (I think they even have soup dumplings!), and maybe something like the three cup chicken or something.  Bryan did originally want to order their “Ro Geng Mian” (Pork Bamboo Shoot Noodle Soup), but they had run out, so maybe we’ll go back and try that.

As it now stands, though, I would rank many places in Boston, including Shangri La in Belmont, Chung Shin Yuan in Newton, and Taiwan Cafe in Chinatown above this place.  However, if you are in Lexington and in the mood for Taiwanese food, this is still a decent option. It IS quite authentic.

Formosa Taipei
315 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421
Lexington, MA 02421
Formosa Taipei on Urbanspoon
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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been driving by frequently since they opened, but haven’t yet stopped in. I quite enjoyed the bun place that was there before and lasted less than a year. Hope Formasa Taipei has better luck in that space.

  2. says

    I think this paragraph from a NY Times article answers your question at the beginning of the post.

    “For much of the 20th century, this poor area of China was also, paradoxically, one of the most cosmopolitan regions of the country. It was the point of origin for many Chinese who emigrated overseas and settled in Chinatowns around the world, working in restaurants and on railroad projects. Huang Tang, the head of the Wong’s Association in Taishan, which tracks the genealogy of Wong families from the area (including this reporter’s), estimates that there are 1.3 million Taishanese and their descendants around the world. Perhaps the most prominent Taishanese descendant in the United States is Gary Locke, the current commerce secretary and former governor of the state of Washington.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/04/world/asia/04taishan.html?_r=1

  3. Bridget says

    hmm- they have another location in nashua, new hampshire called formosa taipei II, and it’s sit down. i thought that the oyster pancake, cold noodles, salty soy milk were good. also, on mothers day, they will have a special menu and all moms get a lobster. :)

  4. jentinyurbankitchen says

    Hey Bridget, thanks for the feedback. Did you go to the Nashua one? Maybe I need to try their Taiwanese brunch items next time I go!

  5. jentinyurbankitchen says

    Interesting . . so it looks like Taishan is really close to Hong Kong, thus explaining the Cantonese influence?

  6. Lisa says

    I went to FT II in Nashua to try some Taiwanese brunch items some weeks ago. All I can say is “huge disappointment!” Those dishes didn’t even taste authentic to me.

  7. says

    now that you mention it, i’m not sure i’ve had taiwanese food in the nyc area. any recommendations in flushing, as you mention? i have been to Taiwan Cafe in Boston, and i really liked it.

  8. Bridget says

    Yes, I’ve been to the one in Nashua. Only b/c my parents and sister’s family live up there and they have also been going quite often. It may not be worth it to come all the way up. It’s good Taiwanese food for NH. :)

  9. TestKitchen says

    They need to work on improving there cooking. I had to throw away all the dished I purchase the other night.

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