Diner food in Taipei is typically ambitious, promising a transportive experience that sends the expatriate back to New York on the wings of BeeGees hits and retro furnishings. ATA serves diner food, too, but it’s more interested in catering to local office workers.
The decor is thoughtful, seemingly conceived with the professional in mind. There’s a glass-partitioned private space furnished with leather couches and fancy end tables, obviously inspired by an executive boardroom. There’s light pop music to relax your client, and ample lighting so you can close that big business deal and see what you’re doing. Or maybe not — when I was there, I was surrounded by twenty-something office workers who weren’t talking business at all, but working tirelessly with shirtsleeves rolled up over heaping plates of spaghetti.
Pastas, visibly the most popular item during my visit, use imported spaghetti and fresh sauces made daily from scratch. They are economical for a business lunch set — NT$149 for any pasta (clam in wine pasta, seafood club pasta, tomato beef sauce pasta and vegetarian pasta) plus a small salad and a drink.
Still in its soft opening, ATA offers just a handful of other items — mostly burgers — all at prices one notch below standard American-style menus in Taiwan. At many other restaurants, the cheapest burger is NT$250. Here the codfish burger will set you back NT$130, while the steak burger is the priciest at NT$200.
Toasted buns and all, ATA burgers stand at about the height of a vertical fist. The ATA Double Bacon Cheese Burger (NT$130 a la carte) is disappointing on arrival, because it’s missing a beef patty, which in other burgers is a beautiful hand-formed mound of USDA choice ground beef. That aside, the burger has everything else you would probably want: a fat flavorful slice of tomato, onion rings, ream of lettuce, mozzarella cheese and literally two layers of bacon fried to order and then baked to a crisp.
ATA offers a main course menu during dinner hours, and that has some of the best deals. There’s the straightforwardly named Juicy Steak (NT$280) — a 10 ounce New Zealand shoulder tender — and the Pork Knuckle with Sauerkraut and Sausage (NT$250), which usually costs upwards of NT$300, even at a street stand. Here, the trotter is cheap and decent: the red meat falls right off under the blade, and the crust is hard after being fried, then baked, just like the bacon burger. It’s no-complaints unadulterated flavor for at least the first 10 bites.
After that? It’s greasy, and some yellow oil pools on to the plate. But even then, maybe you won’t complain, because that’s what you came for. This is affordable and satisfying fried meat and potatoes for locals, which probably makes it more diner-like in spirit than a lot of Taipei Americana.