After visiting Alilang (阿里郎), a plate lunch anywhere else will feel like a disappointment. The Korean restaurant, located in New Taipei City’s Yonghe District, serves a tasty bibimbap (拌飯), or rice with mixed vegetables and meat, at a nice price — NT$130 with either beef or pork.
Alilang’s bibimbap doesn’t look particularly special, but its mojo derives from the freshness of the ingredients. After countless bowls at department store food courts and budget Korean eateries in the Shida (師大) neighborhood, I gained a sudden appreciation for what finely shredded carrots, crunchy bean sprouts, spicy kimchi and a fried egg could do when mixed in harmony. My bowl practically sang, “Where have you been all this time?”
What I liked even better was the restaurant’s dolsot bibimbap (有機芽石鍋拌飯, NT$170). This has the same ingredients as the regular bibimbap, except that the egg is raw instead of fried, and everything sits in a sizzling hot black stone bowl, which you should absolutely not touch when it arrives at the table. Do, however, use your chopsticks and spoon to mix everything right away. At the bottom of the bowl is a layer of sesame oil, which adds a nice crispness to the rice. (Don’t take the Chinese name for this item literally: youjiya (有機芽) implies that the bean sprouts are organic when they’re really not. The name is just meant to make the dish sound attractive, according to the waitstaff).
For those who judge a restaurant by its soup, Alilang would certainly pass muster. The seaweed soup that accompanies all of the rice plate meals, again, doesn’t look special, but the hearty broth is delicious, and made me realize that we’ve all been cheated by the watery concoctions served at most lunch box (便當) joints. Here, I actually wanted to have seconds of seaweed soup.
Address: 14 Zhulin Rd, Yonghe Dist, New Taipei City (新北市永和區竹林路14號)
Telephone: (02) 2925-1566
Open: Open from 11:30am to 2:30pm and 5:30pm to 10pm. Closed every first and third Monday of the month
Details: Chinese menu only, cash only, nearest MRT station is Dingxi (頂溪捷運站), Exit 2.
The same holds for Alilang’s cold appetizers, or panchan. Everything we had, from the pickled seaweed to the mildly spicy kimchi, tasted homemade. I particularly enjoyed the cubed potato, which is stewed with onions in a sweet soy sauce. The panchan is included in the price of the meal and is offered in an unlimited supply.
Other lunch selections include a kimchi hot pot bowl with rice (泡菜鍋, NT$150), which is not as spicy as it looks (though the kitchen can adjust the dish to your preferred level of spiciness). Hot pot lunch sets, which include beef or seafood, are NT$150. And you can’t go wrong with the restaurant’s specialty, barbeque beef or pork with rice (招牌烤肉飯, NT$150).
Alilang offers an extensive menu suited for dinner or large parties, which includes Korean favorites such as seafood pajeon (海鮮煎餅, NT$200), a flour pancake made with scallion, and copper-plate barbeque and hot pot with beef (銅盤牛肉, NT$220). Family-style main course dishes run between NT$300 and NT$500, and include another specialty, Shandong-style barbeque chicken (山東燒雞, NT$300), as well as ginseng chicken (人參雞, NT$350) and budae jjigae (部隊鍋, NT$400), or literally “army base stew.”
Alilang is situated in a renovated Japanese-era house, but the plain-Jane decor (cheap wallpaper and plywood tables) is not the restaurant’s strong suit. Still, the place is spacious and comfortable enough to enjoy an extended hot pot meal, and the food is worth a try if you’re in the neighborhood. The restaurant is a five-minute walk from Dingxi MRT Station (頂溪捷運站), Exit 2.