JoJo Taipei is exactly the type of restaurant I love to discover. Inexpensive, casual, warm, friendly, and, best of all, serving food that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. For me, the chance to eat there came with a bonus. A Taiwanese friend came and chose all the foods we ordered. She kept us informed about how the dish is served in Taiwan, where and when we would eat it if we lived there, and what was actually in each of the wonderful morsels that we ate. I am very unfamiliar with Taiwanese food. So, one of the best aspects of this (besides her lovely company), was that it would have been unlikely that I ordered many of the dishes that we did based on the menu descriptions. Thus, the evening became an introduction to a cuisine and culture, in addition to a great foodie find.
JoJo Taipei doesn't have a liquor license, so we began with one of their herbal teas. The rose and dark plum was fruity and almost achingly sweet, but I appreciated this in contrast to some of our spicy dishes.
Next, the owner kindly presented us with a tray of cold dishes: pigs ear, lotus root and spicy bamboo shoots. Together they were a great starter. The pig's ear was chewy, gelatinous and tasted of sesame oil.
The bamboo shoots were so spicy that they brought tears to my eyes. The sweetness and vinegar of the lotus roots helped to sooth them.
One of my favorites of the evening is listed on the menu as "JoJo Mini Bun." These are also called soup dumplings or XiaoLongBao.
They look like your typical homemade dumpling. Yet you need to eat these carefully because they are filled with delicious pork and broth! To eat them, begin by putting a bit of the ginger-soy-vinegar sauce on your spoon.
Then, carefully take a little bite on the side of the dumpling, letting the soup inside drain into your spoon. Now, take a bite of the soup, dumpling and sauce all at once. Heaven! These must be eaten hot so try to eat them at JoJo Taipei (rather than taking them out.) This dish, which cost $6.99 could easily be a light meal for one person.
We had a completely different type of dumpling: Szcheuan Chao-Show. These were little thin pieces of dough wrapped around pork. They sat in a spicy sauce. I liked them, but prefer the more flavorful version at Sichuan Garden in Framingham.
I could have eaten platefuls of the green bean dish called "Sauteed Green Beans." These perfectly cooked beans were fantastic.
I knew they had a unique flavor and found out that they are sauteed with garlic, scallions and preserved cabbage. The taste was salty without being overpowering. They were just as addictive eaten cold the next day.
The oyster pancake was a wonderful omelet of sorts. Eggs were beaten with tapioca flour giving the omelet a delicious chewy and tender texture.
The oysters tasted a bit strong for me, but the sweet and spicy sauce made it impossible to stop nibbling.
Luckily I paused long enough to eat the absolutely delicious "Bamboo Cap Rice Pudding."
I assumed this was a sweet dessert, but what arrived was my version of comfort food: sticky rice infused with the scent and slices of mushrooms. It was also topped with the same red sauce. It was just as good heated up the next day.
Another of my favorites was the Jo Jo Beef Noodle Soup. My friend explained that the beef is cooked in a pressure cooker to make it tender.
I loved the beef, the spicy, savory, gingery broth and the chewy noodles. Again, this dish alone could be a meal for one person and cost just $8.99.
We shared another soup. It was listed on the menu as "Flunder (sic) Fish Fillet with Fresh Chili Pepper and Sour Cabbage." I assumed it would be fish with a spicy red chili sauce.
What arrived was a soup based of light fish broth. It was filled with chunks of flounder, mushrooms and sour cabbage. While my friends enjoyed it and called it "restorative," for me it was more of an acquired taste.
We all enjoyed the "Pancake Scallion Beef." These consisted of flaky scallion pancakes wrapped around beef and sweet hoisin sauce.
We enjoyed them hot and then cold for lunch the next day.
Another dish that will make me return again and again was the "Three Cup Chicken." Jo Jo Taipei offers this dish with a variety of proteins, from tofu to cuttlefish to duck tongue! Each one is simmered with sesame oil, rice wine, water, garlic, ginger and sugar.
This simplistic sounding mixture caramelizes the chicken creating a savory, nutty and completely addictive dish. I know that my kids would love this.
Finally, our last main dish was "Eggplant with Garlic Sauce."
It was gorgeous to look and was very tasty, though I have had other versions that are a bit more flavorful.
We ended with another dessert that was not on most menus: grass jelly soup.
This thick, black porridge tasted earthy, nutty and a bit like jellied dark tea. Again, it had tapioca and read beans. I liked ending the meal with a dessert that wasn't too sweet, but I am not sure I would have it again.
That being said, I will be back so many times to this wonderful restaurant. Despite ordering so much, we barely touched the breadth of dishes. My friend recommended the Dan Zai noodles, while Chowhounders had highlighted the Singapore noodles and the Sugar Cane Chicken. And just as we finished our meal, we noticed two other delicious looking dishes: salted chicken and Chinese Squash, a vegetable dish that made my friend sigh with adoration.
And, if you go, I encourage you to comment here and share other dishes that you loved!
Jo Jo Taipei, 103 Brighton Ave, Allston, 617-254-8889