Taitung is no doubt a lovely town, but good restaurants here are few and far between. If they each operated the way Chilipo does, they'd eventually be even fewer and farther between.
Located along Taitung City's scenic coastline, Chilipo, immediately became the central attraction of the park area that runs between the town and beach when the restaurant opened a couple years ago. It accomplished this in part by building a large two-story facility with panoramic views of the ocean and in part by elbowing out neighborhood competition: namely a hip little eatery called Kasa that once sat next door.
Kasa wasn't as much a restaurant as a seaside lounge. The best thing on the menu was the chili and the preferred activities were to slouch for hours on end at one of the tables outside or to lay in a grass yard the management had planted for just that purpose. Good music streamed over speakers and live, often impromptu jam sessions weren't unusual.
That all came to an end as Chilipo went up next door and eventually went into business. The tiny house that used to be Kasa quickly became a derelict eyesore after the landowner refused to renew the restaurant's lease.
So what have the residents of Taitung and those of us who visit there gotten in the end? While Chilipo offers quite a bit more in terms of its menu, it hasn't any of the ambiance or charm that Kasa had. The kitchen focuses on seafood fare, with hotpots particularly popular this time of year, but the seafood isn't any fresher for its proximity to the sea.
On a bracing New Year's Day visit, friends and I sat down to a seafood hotpot with milk soup, a pumpkin and seafood hotpot and a risotto that came about 20 minutes later. The hotpots did a good job of cutting the winter cold but did little else. Ditto for the risotto that eventually arrived. It was "good. But it didn't knock me off my seat," my friend told me.
The problem with restaurants that offer a large variety, as Chilipo does, is that specials are sorely lacking from the menu. Not price specials, mind you, but items which the kitchen staff makes especially well. The kitchen is more geared toward serving quantity -- and Chilipo serves hundreds each lunch and dinner times -- than it is quality.
Chilipo has at least done well to keep their menu priced fairly. And like Casa, patrons are welcome to linger as long as they please to take in the ocean view over coffee or thumb any of the glossy mags provided to patrons. During the summer months, a spacious balcony with umbrella-shaded tables opens up to make the lounging all the nicer.