WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN TAINAN
Tainan became my favourite city in Taiwan within minutes of stepping off the train. Peering out the taxi window as we sped towards our accommodation, I could sense a unique vibe. Boutique shops, vintage clothing stores, quirky looking cafes, and narrow lanes inviting further exploration. Within hours I was in love, picturing spending a couple of years here, not just a couple of days. But two days was all we had, and between checking out the city’s best sights, I was determined to uncover a little of the magic I could sense down the back alleys and hidden streets. And what better way to do that than through food and drink? From coffee to cocktails, here’s my favourite places to eat and drink in Tainan.
See the map at the bottom for locations of all the places mentioned in this guide.
PLAN YOUR TIME IN TAINAN
Meandering alleys and charming back streets came to represent Tainan as a whole for us, and seeking out PariPari led us down our first one. This elegant and understated 70s style Japanese coffee salon had me grinning from ear to ear at first sight.
The exterior sums up everything I love about grungy Taiwanese architecture – with a polished twist. The tiny green tiles. The caged windows. The terrazzo doorsteps and row of wooden seats. It’s worth a visit to admire this alone.
Step inside and you’ll find a design store on the ground floor, full of creative pieces from Taiwanese artists and designers. Upstairs is the cafe, a large, high-ceilinged room with dark leather seating lining the window wall and neatly positioned green marble-topped tables. A few stools surround the bar and window counter to the right, perfect for solo patrons. Books and antiques provide a focal point on the end wall, everything coming together to create a bright and uncluttered space. The coffee is great, and you can nibble on light bites like cakes and quiche alongside it. A must visit cafe and one of the very best places to eat and drink in Tainan.
ZYUU TSUBO 十平
Just across the alley from PariPari you’ll find this narrow Japanese restaurant. It’s run by a charming chef from Taipei who feels much more at home in chilled out Tainan. It’s a small place, with just ten or so stools at the long counter. There’s a chance you may need to wait or arrange a time to come back, but the food is delicious and the service is friendly, relaxed and welcoming.
There’s no English menu but the owner can talk you through some options, or you can choose from photos as we did. The fried chicken is succulent and pairs perfectly with their draft beer, served chilled to the point of freezing. Their donburi bowls are especially great, with thick cuts of sashimi or slightly flame seared salmon belly. After rounding off our meal with complimentary miso soup and sake, we were pleasantly full and glad we’d waited to eat here.
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甘單咖啡 (GANDAN CAFE)
I could hang out at this cosy little retro cafe all day long. As with all the best Tainan cafes, Gandan (as I believe it translates to in English) is tucked away on the backstreets. Its setting, by a little courtyard and tiny Kailung Temple, heightens its charming appeal.
But this isn’t just an all style and no substance establishment. Their coffee is great, as are their cakes (especially the cannelés!). The staff are friendly and there’s even a resident dog. The cafe has a refreshingly laid-back vibe, with plenty of regulars popping in throughout the day, or stopping off at the take-away window.
僾果鮮 (FRESH FRUIT JUICE)
Just a few doors down from Gandan Cafe, at the entrance to the lane, lies one of Tainan’s most picturesque buildings. Not that we realised it when we stopped off for an enticing fresh fruit juice. In fact, it was a bit of a serendipitous moment.
As we sipped on our refreshing drinks, I decided (for the first time ever) to search the city on Instagram to see if anywhere sparked our interest. Numerous photos of a beautiful old shop kept appearing, and when I clicked on the location it turned out to be really close by. I stepped outside excitedly, looking around for it, but couldn’t see it anywhere. Then of course, I turned around and realised that was because we were sitting inside the very building! Del shrugged his shoulders. I was totally freaked out. And we both enjoyed the juice and views very much.
KLIN TAINAN BAOZI 克林台包
For a cheap and deliciously satisfying snack, stop by Klin and pick up some steamed buns and crystal dumplings. This shop is somewhat of a Tainan institution, operating for over 60 years. Their reputation is certainly deserved, their scrumptious mushroom baozi having us return three days in a row!
Tucked away in the back alleys not far from historic Shennong Street, Cafe Flaneur is a surprisingly busy little spot, popular with locals and tourists alike. The friendly owner is well travelled (he even lived in Scotland!), and his cafe reflects this passion. Lonely Planet guidebooks fill the shelves, and maps and world posters cover the bright yellow wall. It’s a good spot for evening drinks, and unlike many other Tainan cafes, serves meals too.
The cafe is temporarily closed, but keep an eye on their Facebook page for announcements of its re-opening.
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If you’re into cocktails, TCRC (The Checkered Record Club) is where it’s at in Tainan. Heck, even if you’re not, it’s got a unique thing going on that makes it worth checking out anyway. The narrow, dimly-lit bar has a speakeasy vibe, split between a front and back room. A row of stools sits at each bar, with tall wooden tables lining the opposite walls. The gantries are impressive, with hundreds of bottles reaching all the way to the ceiling. You can order off the menu, or tell the bartender what kind of taste you like (sour, sweet, bitter, etc.) and have them make a bespoke cocktail for you.
Just don’t expect to wander in and grab a seat. They run a pretty tight ship, with waiting lists and designated seating. If you want to avoid queuing, try turning up around 7pm to get your name on the list, returning at your allocated time. Alternatively, you can try sending a private message 1 – 30 days in advance via Facebook, including your name, number of people, phone number, and the date and time you want to reserve seats for.
At the end of a dark residential alley, just a few doors from an old city gate, lies Lola. From the outside you wouldn’t even know it was a bar, with no telltale sign on the door or people visible through the small window. But push the door and wander past the vinyl and CDs for sale in the traditional front room, through the beaded curtain to the back.
Here you’ll find a mishmash of vintage furnishings, a bartender shaking cocktails and a relaxed crowd enjoying good food and drink, and even better music. It’s an altogether more chilled vibe than in TCRC, with cult films screening on mute and the occasional live band. One not to be missed on your hunt for the best bars in Tainan.
Run by the same owner as Lola, one of my absolute favourite cafes in Tainan moved to a different spot a month after we visited. It’s now known as Tin Drum, and is located a few doors down in an old wooden Japanese house. The retro furnishings of the old cafe are no more, with period Japanese furniture staying true to the building’s heritage. It looks stunning, but you’ll need to visit in our place and let us know in the comments below! Oh, and you can still find the resident bull terrier, Hinoki, next door where you order.
Prefer retro Taiwanese style? Head upstairs above the kitchen where some of the furniture from the previous cafe, 順風號 (Shunfeng), has found a new home. The Belgian waffles are to die for. And I’m not even a waffle fan.
A FEW OTHERS TO TRY
With just a couple of days in the city, we couldn’t possibly make it everywhere on our food and drink wish list. Here’s a few places to eat and drink in Tainan that we didn’t get to, but that you might like to check out.
If, like me, you’re an absolute sucker for retro Taiwanese style, then you’ll probably want to hunt this place down. It’s got all the classic design features – Terrazzo staircase, metal grated windows, and a bright, airy interior. They serve various drinks, cakes and light snacks – plus there’s a resident dog. What more could you ask for?
Check out the map below for locations of all the places to eat and drink in Tainan covered in this guide.
LOOKING FOR TAINAN ACCOMMODATION?
Want a cool place to stay in Tainan? We spent 3 nights at Machiya Hinoki, and loved it. It’s a wonderful Japanese inspired boutique accommodation, hidden down a back alley near a local park, within walking distance to everywhere mentioned in this guide. Oh, and it has a Japanese bath tub in each room. Heavenly for a soak after all that exploring!
For more hand-picked accommodation recommendations to suit all budgets, check out our Tainan Guide.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN TAINAN
Enjoy indulging yourself with all the city has to offer. If you know of other great places to eat and drink in Tainan, feel free to share in the comments below, and help us guide people to the best cafes, bars and restaurants around.
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