Thanks to all those who helped with my asking of Taipei recommendations a few months ago. I wasn't able to follow through on them, but did very well myself. Just recently came back from Taiwan and ate like a madman over there.
Bottom line is that if you don't speak the language or at least be able to read Chinese (or know someone there who does), it seems more challening to be able to eat like the locals.
Shihlin night market is probably the most accessible and best place to go to sample the street food, especially for vistors of any sort. For around US$1 or less you can have a decent portion of a snack or a drink. Highly recommended is the Sang Jien Bao, which is the doughy version of xiao long bao, fried at the bottom. The pork meat mixture inside is juicy and tarty, and the SJB goes extremely well with the thicker soy paste sauce and of course the chili sauce. Two locations, one appears to be closed on Tuesdays. The better of the two is closer to the Yang Ming movie theater. Go to the right of the movie theater entrance and there's an alleyway going up the street. The SJB vendor will be on the left. You can't miss it.
Also strategically located outside the movie theater is a fried chicken vendor (something to the effect of Hao Da, meaning *huge*)that serves supposedly the best version around. The chicken is marinated, then dipped into flour and deep fried right on the spot. The line to this vendor is insane but it moves fairly fast so the wait is not bad. About $40 to $50 NT for a humongous piece of wonderful fried food. This is a must try if you like Taiwanese style fried chicken. Save room for it, or buy it to share. Right nearby is another vendor that serves something similar but you will see that it gathers very little business, so obviously not as good.
Another killer item is the pepper baked bun, or Woo Jao Bing. This one is supposed to be the original/authentic version from Foo Jao China (sorry I don't know what the proper pingyin spelling is). To get to this stall, exit the MRT station from Jian Tan, walk across the street until you reach the entrance of the night market (not to the side where the cars cross, but the place where only pedestrians can go with shops and vendors on both side of the street). Keep walking until you reach an intersection, and there should be a large sneaker shoes store on your left. Turn left and walk for a little bit, and this marvelous vendor of pepper bun will be on your left. Very similar to Sang Jian Bao, except the bun is baked solid, has a nice crisp texture, and very juicy pork meat + cabbage mix on the inside with a strong touch of pepper. I should have eaten more!
Shihlin has way too much good stuff, can't possibly sample everything there within a short time.
Another great eating place, accessible only by car or taxi, is Wu Lai. Take the MRT to Xindian (last train stop southward I believe on the green line), and a cab ride (might cost a bit). There's a street/alleyway once you cross a small bridge filled with food vendors. We ate at the first one on the left. Small snacks were wonderful, though we didn't try the more exotic aborigine dishes like the roast mountain pork. The stir fried rice noodles were great, as was the bamboo shoot soup, the salt/pepper fried river shrimp (tiny ones with the shell still on) and the local tiny fish. Highlights were the mountain vegetables....very very fresh and unique to the region, chuan chee and soo chai. Stir fried and cooked to order. 4 people can eat very well there for less than US$8.
North of Taipei is the holy mecca of eating, the Keelung (Jeelung) Temple front night market. Must be at least 100 to 200 food stalls there and I managed to sample 10 things that were fantastic. Getting there is tricky. Not all cabs from Taipei may be willing to go to Keelung, so you should ask the cab driver first. On weekends the traffic is crazy crazy, and expect the ride to be least $1000NT and 30 mins+.
First item was a specialty dish that even the local celebs love to bits. More info (if you can read Chinese) and a picture at www.100wu.com.tw. This vendor is likely the first food vendor to ever open in the area and has a 100 year history. Doesn't get any better than that ;-). If you love fishball ho fun soup (classic chiew chow style) then this is for you.
The fried oyster pancake was awesome, as was the fried chicken rolls, and the stewed pork over rice (Lu Ro Fan). These you can find at the numbered vendors (which are also labeled in English for the tourists). The hidden gem is one vendor outside the main area, on the next street. They specialize in pig feet, not made the common stewed way, but in soup! The Chinese name of the shop has 2 characters on it, and also has a sit down restaurant location right across the vendor stall right on the pavement, next to the lingerie shop. They pretty much only have two dishes; pig feet tendon soup (tastes rather herbal) and a large portioned pig feet soup with a generous amount of pig feet. Almost tastes like German style pigs knuckles but even better (and piping hot in soup)! We only had those two items between the 3 of us, but the cost was a bit high...close to US$30, but you eat like a king.
For fantastic tofu fa (tofu custard), the restaurant called "Sahm Shung Dee" (three brothers) is very well known at the Keelung area.
About 15 minutes outside of Taipei is an area called Shenkiang. Very famous for tofu dishes. The best vendor there is right next to the temple once you walk down the main "old" street, and walk into the area where the temple is. Tofu soup is nice although a little too vinegary for me, and the fried tofu is fantastic, almost like a nice agedashi Japanese style tofu.
Back into Taipei, there is a very nice upscale Japanese restaurant called Hachiogi on Fuxing (foo shing) North Road #276. Apparently President Chan eats there too. For Taipei is it a pricey place, with 3 people needing to order a min of $4000NT. Cooked dishes are great, and they have a kaiseki menu which was at least $2500NT. We had a mixed sashimi set for $900NT which had hamachi, maguro, salmon, uni on top of yamaimo and ika. Uni was great but not as nice as the sweetest from Santa Barbara. Ika was fantastic and I guess it was the standard Japanese Ika (not the so so kind we get in the States).
Finally if you are into Chiang Bai style (a place in China) sour cabbage soup hot pot, then look further than the Chiang Bai restaurant at Gwang Fu South Road, Alley # 240, 53. Place has at least a 30 to 40 year history, and is wonderful on a cold night. Apparently this is the best place to have the definitive version of sour cabbage hot pot. Base pot comes with a big gas heated pot of sour cabbage in soup (not plain hot water) and a layer of thinly sliced fatty pork belly which does not taste too fattening. Add side dishes or additional meats/veg (meats are pork belly, beef, or lamb). We had a pot for 3, another side plate of beef + pork belly, one canned tea drink to share, one green onion pancake, one plate of bean noodle and A chai. Total came to around $2500NT, which is not cheap but wow what an experience! This place is easy to find...it is right down the street from the other Din Tai Fung location.