My love affair with Taipei has been a long-lasting one - for a good 6 or 7 years, I went there at least once a year! There are many parts to Taipei, so I'll break it down into 3 parts: Night Markets, Restaurants & Other Sights.
I won't claim to know all about Taipei, but I do have a few favourites that I *must* visit every time, so let's get started with the recommendations!
(A) Xi Men Ding - Young, trendy area with plenty of shops.
1. When here, hunt down Ah Chung Mee Sua (in traditional Chinese it's written as 阿綜面線). The Mee Sua is served in bowls, there won't be any tables, but there'll be plenty of seats around... It does add to the atmosphere when you're standing around slurping down the hot bowl of goodness! Warning for the unadventurous - unlike the version in Singapore, this famous Taipei Mee Sua is served not with chicken & oysters, but with pig intestines. Add garlic, vinegar and chili to taste, and enjoy!
2. Try the street food from those mobile pushcarts if you can find them. They're not legal, so when the police are around, the stall owners tend to push the cart into tiny corners & streets to hide. (In reality, it feels like the authorities close an eye to them and tolerate it. I wouldn't be surprised if the cops who are off duty purchase snacks from these pushcarts too!) Some of the dishes I would recommend trying in this area include 葱油餅 (a spring onion pastry that kinda looks like roti prata).
3. Some people like the braised duck's tongue at Lau Tian Lu (老天禄卤味)... It's not a favourite of mine (eating duck's tongue in concept seems like you're french kissing a duck, haha) but I couldn't not share it, because it's SUPER popular, and always crowded!
(B) Shilin Night Market - Pretty much THE most famous night market in Taipei.
1. Guan Zhi Lin's Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang 官芝霖大腸包小腸 - This dish is basically Taiwan's version of a hot dog, except instead of a regular hotdog bun, it's encased a glutinous rice "bun", with a mix of picked vegetables in it, and sauces too. There's only one stall I go back to, time after time - it's right at the corner of the entire Shilin area. The stall has an orange signboard, a TV playing a loop of their feature on a Taiwanese variety show, and an English & Chinese menu describing the various versions you can order. I personally don't like the Taiwan sausage & ginger (in general I just find the sausage too fatty), so I usually order the Little Spicy version, just the big glutinous rice sausage, minus ginger. So so good. I've tried tons of other stalls in this market and others too - never had any others match up to this, so I always go back. Tip: Add them on Facebook and you'll get a discount! ;)
3. Taiwan Chicken 豪大大雞排 - The famous one! They have franchises all around Taiwan and even the world (Singapore included), but the original / most crowded stall is a pushcart with the recognisable blue signboard located outside a cinema (陽明戲院), right along the road. It's a mega huge piece of fried chicken with lots of seasoning. The chunk of chicken has bones. They also don't cut it to share (not like how they do it in Singapore), so don't bother asking them to. I like to wait for the lady wearing the cap to do the final touches on the chicken... When the guy does it, he sometimes doesn't get the seasoning to chicken ratio right (yes, I'm particular that way, I've been there at least once everytime I'm in Taipei, and I've been there 7 times in 7 years, so this conclusion is based on proper "research", haha).
(C) Shida Night Market - Near Shida university, shopping wise has more small shops with unique stuff, females would love this.
1. Xu Ji 許記生煎包 - tiny cabbage buns, made fresh. Best eaten while hot! So so good. It's small so no matter what, make sure you fit it in you stomach somehow. I never fail to have at least one if I'm in Taipei. A must to hunt down!
2. Tempura 甜不辣 - from the corner where Watsons & Kodak is, walk down the small street. My favourite stall for this is on the right (should be near a crepe stall which is also often crowded). Pick and mix whatever you like - they'll fry it for you and toss it with the seasoning. I love having a mix of the big thick mushroom stems, long beans, and some fishcake thingie. You can tell them if you want it spicy or non-spicy.
3. Salted Chicken 極品鹽水雞 - This is located opposite 7-11, along the main street of Shida. Pick and mix 2-3 veggies with this dish. The lady will debone the salted chicken leg, cut up the veggies and toss it with pepper and seasoning for you - absolutely refreshing. I love the broccoli and cucumber with this dish. They add other condiments like strips of ginger (and spring onion too, if I remember correctly), so if you don't like ginger, let them know to leave it out.
4. 大台北平價滷味 - The Taiwan version of our Singaporean Yong Tau Foo. The one I go to is on the main street of the Shida night market. They are in "cahoots" with a drink stall - so grab the dish, get a drink (I recommend the Winter Melon Milk Tea, great either hot or cold), and you can sit down to enjoy the dish. Start by picking everything into a basket, they'll cook it in their special broth, dump it unceremoniously on one plate, then add chili, pickled vegetables and the secret sauce on it. I wouldn't suggest you visit the toilet here though - you'd definitely lose your appetite. There's another small street with plenty of small cafes where you can visit the (cleaner) toilet, as long as you get a coffee.
(D) Ningxia Night Market 寧夏夜市 - Famous food street that opens at night! No other shopping available here, unlike the other night markets I listed before.
Tip #1: Go with empty stomach and wear something cool, especially during summer months. There are so many things to eat as you make your way down the entire street.
Tip #2: I'd suggest walking down from one end to the other to list down what you're interested in, then if you're there as a group, split up to queue for those you've decided on and meet up at a pre-determined spot after... Makes it way easier, and more efficient!
The highlight for me here was the fried yam ball with pork floss and salted egg yolk filling.
Restaurants / Cafés / Food Stalls
(1) Elixir Health Pot 無老鍋- CRAZY AWESOME GOOD. BEST HOTPOT EVERRRRR. This is also the inspiration behind Singapore's famous "Beauty In A Pot" (which IMO still pales in comparison to this one in Taipei though!). Must try the Meiji Icecream Tofu in the Beauty Pot. So so good. They have 3 outlets in Taipei alone, so google and pick the most convenient for yourself! The soup comes with lots of 面包豆腐 (loosely translated, it's "bread tofu", which is SUPER yummy) already, and duck's blood too, so tell them if you don't want duck's blood served, and don't order so many tofu products cos it's free to top up the 面包豆腐. They also serve a 麻辣 (má là) version here, which I hear is great too, so you can ask for a 2-in-1 pot if you prefer!
(2) Tian Wai Tian Hotpot 天外天 - buffet style, loads of food to load up on, but the highlight for me was the free flow of Haagen Daaz ice cream and BEER. I've not seen other steamboats with free-flow beer included in the price, so IMO, this is awesome.
(3) Du Xiao Yue 度小月 (I think that's how it's written) - Local Taiwanese restaurant with a history... Since 1895! Famous for noodles, and also serve plenty of local dishes. Wouldn't put this top of the list, but it's still good to try!
(4) Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 - The original. Menu is mostly the same, but a few dishes are made slightly different though. The cucumber appetizer is delicious - much better than the one we have in Singapore. If you're not a fan of duck's blood, don't order the hot & sour soup, because it comes with it. Xiao Long Bao is of the same standard as Singapore, IMO.
(5) Kao Chi 高記 - They have several outlets for this place, so pick the one closest to you. The 小籠包 here (as pictured below) is as good as Din Tai Fung and the restaurant usually has a much shorter queue, or no queue at all! I wouldn't order their 生煎包 even though it's listed as their signature though. It's more like panfried 大包 (meat-filled buns)... I prefer the cabbage dumplings version from Shida Night Market.
(6) Formosa Chang 鬍鬚張 - Famously known for their braised pork rice (a traditional Taiwanese dish), this chain has many outlets throughout Taiwan - just hunt for the one closest to you! Don't be tricked by their "set meals" though... Last I checked, it's the same price as ordering everything separately, so if there's a dish you don't like in the set meal, don't feel pressured into ordering it! :)
(7) Yong Kang Beef Noodles 永康牛肉麵 - do note they close in the afternoon for a break - best to check online for opening hours before going down. I liked the steamed intestines, but only order it if you're game to dig into a really fatty dish, because even though it's steamed, it is SUPER oily. The 红烧牛肉面 or braised beef noodles is nicer than the plain one for sure. Check out the spread TWO of us ordered!
(8) 雙連高記/三五手工水餃店 - I often stay near Shuanglian station, and do enjoy the rather residential neighbourhood. One of my favourite breakfast spots is this hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves freshly made dumplings (you can probably catch them wrapping dumplings at any time of day), hot and sour soup, as well as other cold dishes you can snack on.
(9) Mu Ji Beef Noodle 穆記牛肉麵 - Chen Shui Bian's favourite noodle shop, apparently. I didn't get to try this, but a friend recommended it, and shared that the original 正中 flavour is the best, and the pancake rolls are good too. If you do manage to give it a go, do share some feedback! :)
(1) Wu Fen Pu (五分埔) - wholesale market. Cheaper than the usual stores outside, you can get discounts for multiple pieces of the same design, but you really have to hunt for nicer and more stylish clothes. Men, don't bother going. Women, bring a big bag, you're gonna need it (if you like the Korean-ish designs).
(2) Maokung Mountain (貓空) - Located near the Taipei Zoo Station, you'll have to take a 20min cable car ride up. You can choose between a normal cable car or a crystal cabin, which essentially means it's a glass floor - great if you're a fan of heights, hell on earth if you're not. Once you get to the top, exit the station and take the route to the left. Walk up until you come to an area with lots of restaurants. I like the first restaurant on the second/third floor on the left of the street(can't remember the name, sadly!). Go up to the third floor - gorgeous view. On a clear day, you can see Taipei 101. They serve tea-infused dishes, and teach you how to brew tea the right way (you have to buy a bag, but can bring home the remainder). Do note that they'll charge you a "water fee". I like their tea fried rice and deep-fried mushrooms. Flavourful, and a different experience from the hustle and bustle of Taipei.
I hope you'll enjoy Taipei as much as I have over the years! Some of these shops may have moved or closed since I last visited - if you should know of any changes, please do leave a comment and let me know, so that I may update this page! :)