Working in the franchise-restaurant hell that is downtown Boston, it’s easy to become jaded enough to believe that your only lunch options are $11 sandwiches or long lines at fast-food joints. But here’s a tip: skip the lines, and with the time you save, take a walk to Chinatown. Your body will thank you for the exercise, your wallet will thank you for the saved cash, and your stomach will thank you for not inflicting yet another pre-fab beef patty on it.
Taiwan Café’s $6.95 lunch-special menu eschews standard Chinese-American fare (only a single offering out of 31 features chicken, and it ain’t General Gau’s) in favor of traditional island dishes, such as home-style scrambled eggs, sautéed clams with basil, and more pork parts than you can shake a chopstick at. But the best deals on the menu are in the appetizer section. Number Four starts with a thick, yeasty steamed bun that’s been folded over like an oversize taco shell. Inside you’ll find thick-sliced, ultra-tender pieces of slow-cooked pork belly glazed in a soy-based sauce — an example of Japan’s influence on Taiwanese cuisine. Cutting through the richness of the belly is a healthy spoonful of tender-crisp pickled mustard greens, which have a sour edge that rides behind their pungent wasabi-like heat. A generous sprinkle of sugar rounds out the flavors with a sweetness that brings out the meatiness of the pork — like the Thousand Island dressing on a Reuben — and a sprinkle of sesame seeds adds its welcome nutty crunch.
Boss keeping track of your lunch breaks? The thick bun means that you can safely order the braised pork to go and eat it on your quick and satisfied walk back to the office.
Available for $3.50 at Taiwan Café, 34 Oxford Street, in Boston. Call 617.426.8181.