So busy recently, no time for much reviews or eating out at new places. :-)
I mentioned this place while passing by Milpitas Square a while back, never got around to checking it out myself until today. After not having any good luck with superb Taiwanese food in the Bay Area (especially after spending 3+ weeks in Taipei at some of the best places for small eats like Wu Lai, Keelung, Shihlin), we went south and decided to brave this place to see what it was all about.
Good near authentic Taiwanese small eats up here is pretty much non existent, and Joy has gone downhill for me (especially after eating there a week after coming back from Taiwan, BIG mistake). From today's experience I would definitely go back a few more times to try the other things.
To be honest I ate there twice today....first for lunch and a 2nd time for an afternoon snack. When you walk in, you go up to the register who takes your order. Then you pick up a # and place it on a placard stand, and your food is delivered to you within a few minutes (yes they are that fast for most items).
Their signature dish is the "mien sien" (mee swa) ($2.95) which was one of the first things I had, a small bowl of thin noodle in a soup base thickened with corn starch. Pretty much the same thing as the Taiwanese oyster noodle (o ah mee swa), but without the oysters. The mien sien does have chitterlings in it and fortunately is cut into small pieces and very soft (not rubbery). Overall this has a nice texture, but the soup base was lacking depth and flavor, and seemed a bit watery (consistency/thickness was ok). It was missing the signature hint of sourness....normally vinegar is mixed in, but I guess the restaurant decided to leave that part of the seasoning to the customer. Squirt containers of black vinegar were made available next to the self help chopsticks, napkins, and spoons.
The meatball soup (gong wahn tang) had some semi decent meatballs in it, but the soup lacked flavor. Perhaps it needed more material in it or needed to be cooked longer. There was a layer of sesame oil on top that I was not used to. ($2.50)
Oyster pancake ($4.50) - I remember tanspace said this was good and I checked it out. Yes this was a winner! I say they do this way better than the Tainan restaurants or any other place I've had it (in the Bay Area). This dish is known for having a gooey texture, but it wasn't terribly so. There were not as many oysters as I had hoped, but the red sauce that was served on top was good, not too sweet. ($4.50). They have a shrimp pancake (shrimp instead of oyster) which I will try next time.
Boiled vegetables ($2.75) - small dish of Taiwan cabbage (taiwan bai tsai), stir fried with I believe dried minced shallots and a few other spices/ingredients I could not recognize. Vegetable was stir fried in high heat, and the ingredients brought out the flavor altogether. Good simple stuff! ($2.75)
I had the A-Li Mountain Ice Tea ($2) which was a good portion in a to go cup, sweetened with some sugar. This tea was marked as Oolong on the receipt but really is not oolong; the flavor was more subtle and smooth, not bitter. There were other varieties of tea, pearl milk tea, and freezes (bing sha) as well as snow ice desserts on the menu.
For the afternoon snack I had minced pork rice ($2.95) that was as good as Joy's version (Loo Rou Fahn), also served with preserved veggie though it wasn't authentic unfortunately according to the missus. The portion is small but just right for people (like me) who want to sample multiple things. The minced pork is like buta kakuni, layer of lean meat and chunk of fat on top that melts in your mouth (the whole thing). :-)
The real winner for the 2nd visit was the meat stew bean noodle soup (Roh Gahn Dung Fun). You can substitute this for rice noodle (mee fun) or regular noodle. The meat stew was puffy and the soup was thickened more with additional ingredients (finely chopped celery and parsley, some pea sprouts all in a broth that I think was fish based) which really brought out the flavor. The "meat stew" is very similar texture to the famous Dan Shui snack dish "Yu Soo" (if you know what I'm talking about), basically a wee bit airy/puffy, tastes as if it was dried before cooking, but wow lots of flavor in each chew.
The last item I had was the bean cake $2.25, which is basically thinly sliced marinated medium firm tofu, Taiwanese style (doh gahn). This was one of the best I've had, even better than the ones served at the Taiwanese congee places like Wang Wang in Cupterino Village. The marination was not overpowering, and the thick soy based dipping sauce served on the side was the perfect companion. Portion was good, and definitely needs 2 or more people to share. A shame they didn't have a lot of the Taiwanese marinated small dishes; the only other offerings are pig's ear, chitterlings, beef stomach, and seaweed.
A lot of customers ordered the steak or fish/meat fillets (served on hot iron plate). These are $8 to $13 and come with soup and salad.
So yeah not everything is a hit, but most items I had happened to be luckily. I would say this restaurant is more authentic than Tainan, Taiwan Point, and Joy, and serves really good and fairly cheap small eats.
Next time perhaps I will try the goose and duck meat offerings (either standalone with the dipping sauce, or with noodle).
They also have beef noodle soup, but I'm not sure if that one will be good.
Ay Chung Noodle
458 Barber Lane
Milpitas, CA 95035
Hours: 11 am to 10 pm (Friday/Saturday till 11 pm)