Taiwanese snack attack

Taiwan Best Mart

Good for: quick, affordable lunch or dinner to-go
Notable dishes: any rice bowl, sausages, popcorn chicken

Taiwan Best Mart

2219 10th St.
Sacramento, CA 95818

(916) 498-1698

It’s widely known that Taiwan boasts one of the most exciting street food scenes in the world. The night markets are notorious hubs of sights and smells: stinky tofu, braised chicken feet, oyster omelets, a seemingly endless supply of mango varieties. And the eating culture is very pro-snack. Three meals a day? Nibbling all day is more fun.

There are hardly any places to get a sense of Taiwanese food in Sacramento—as few as two, actually, apart from boba tea shops. The most well-known is Yang’s Noodles, but it serves dishes from all over China that are popular in Taiwan, less so Taiwan-specific fare. The other is Taiwan Best Mart, a family-run operation that started out in 2002 as a sausage business in a home kitchen. The Changs crafted tubes for restaurants until demand for Taiwanese goods grew so high that they opened a brick-and-mortar downtown in 2012. It’s a tiny place next to Osaka-Ya with two small tables and a couple of freezers stocked with Taiwanese favorites to take home. There’s also a small menu of hot food priced absurdly low, particularly given the quality and on-the-grid location.

Start out with the place’s bread and butter: sausages. The fatty, slightly sweet tubes of pork are served on a stick, just like on the streets of Taiwan, with a crackling skin, dark grill marks and a level of juiciness that bursts upon impact. There are five to choose from, but the original ($1.99) is a great place to start. Within the local Taiwanese community, the sausage flavored with kaoliang liquor ($2.25) is popular, but my favorite is the mala spicy ($2.25), which leaves your lips tingling from Sichuan peppercorn.

From there, keep snacking. Taiwan Best Mart offers all kinds of tasty fried things, including springy cuttlefish balls ($3.25) and addictive popcorn chicken ($3.95). The chef’s skill with salt cannot be overstated.

Or, go for one of the entree-sized rice bowls: simple, comforting and, again, remarkably affordable. You get a protein atop rice—short-grain, of course, and perfectly soft and seasoned—along with chopped pickled mustard greens, which add a nice sharpness. Every option is delicious, from the stewed minced pork belly ($4.50) to the miso-glazed salmon ($5.99). Fans of Japanese pork katsu ought to try the juicy pork chop ($4.99), expertly fried with an extra crunchy crust made from tapioca starch.

Another house specialty is the meat roll ($4.50), which should not be confused with the northern China-style beef roll at Yang’s. Instead of beef wrapped in a scallion pancake, this one features pork, water chestnuts and aromatics rolled inside bean curd skin, deep fried and sliced. Each bite offers lots of texture perfumed with five-spice.

Of course, Taiwan Best Mart also makes its own scallion pancakes ($3.50). They aren’t quite as layered and flaky as those at, say, Yang’s, but the flavors are spot-on.

The only dish that suffers from blandness is the Taiwanese classic ba-wan ($3.95), basically a giant steamed dumpling with a translucent, chewy wrapper. Taiwan Best Mart’s version is filled with pork, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo, but a pour of gravy on top leaves the whole thing feeling one-dimensionally sweet. I would happily sprinkle on some MSG here, but the Changs don’t touch the stuff.

Since the kitchen closes at 5:30 p.m., this is really more of a lunch spot or place to grab dinner to-go and, while at it, pick up some frozen dumplings for later. The hot food comes out fast—usually in about five minutes, depending on the order.

With all that said, doesn’t a snack sound nice right about now?