Eating Out: Brunch at Formosa Restaurant (台灣小館), Lake Forest, California
One of the few places in South Orange County to get a traditional Taiwanese breakfast is at Formosa Restaurant (台灣小館) in Lake Forest. We’ve been coming to this tiny hole-in-the-wall (attached to a Quality Inn motel) for as long as I can remember and it’s been turning out traditional versions of the comforting, starchy Taiwanese breakfast that my parents and I love. It’s a family-run business, with a cook that’s always willing to modify dishes to your liking and a friendly waitstaff. Charlie and Vivian are the two family members that work the front of the house, and they always make efforts to make everyone feel like they’re family. Aside from hopping on a plane and flying over to Taiwan, Formosa is the best place to get your breakfast on. (Note: Formosa also serves great lunch specials and dinner entrees, so hop on by and give them a try as well).
We always start with a few bowls of savory soybean milk (鹹豆漿):
A bowl of this milk comes piping hot with chopped pieces of pickled vegetables and is laced with black vinegar; chopped pieces of Chinese cruller (油條) give it textural contrast. For those who prefer a less-savory start to their morning, Formosa also offers the sweet version of the soybean milk (甜豆漿); which comes out unadulterated and unsweetened but with a shaker of white sugar, and leaves it up to the diner to sweeten it to his/her liking.
Three of the best things to enjoy with your soybean milk are Chinese crullers (油條), sesame flatbreads (燒餅) and five-spice beef stuffed sesame flatbreads (五香牛肉燒餅). The usual way to eat the crullers is to stuff them inside the flatbread (yes, you just made a starch-filled carb sandwich, isn’t it glorious?) and eat it between bites of the soybean milk. It’s enough starch and oil to cure any hangover. The five-spice beef flatbreads here are quite good also.
Shrimp stir-fried rice noodles (蝦仁炒米粉). Some Chinese restaurants tend to ruin this dish for me, frying the noodles so dry it feels like you’re swallowing hay; others tend to overdo it with the sauce, rendering the noodles limp and overly salted. But Formosa manages to achieve the right balance: the noodles are just sauced enough so they retain some moisture, yet they retain a right amount of chew. I also love the fact that they don’t skimp on the fried egg; my chopsticks always tend to hunt out those glorious bits of scrambled egg hidden in the nest of noodles.
Fried chicken drummettes. I’m not normally into chicken but these are delicious. These wings fried until the skin is so crisp it shatters when you bite into it and flavored with an addicting white-pepper rub. Those who love wings should definitely order these.
. . . and here comes the offal. My vegan/vegetarian friends, please look away. This is MY dish (mine being the fact that no one else in my family besides my dad and I really like eating this). Pork intestines are stir-fried in a spicy/sour sauce with pickled vegetables (大腸炒酸菜). It’s umami to the n-th degree and these are definitely worth trying, even for the offal-phobic (rest assured, there’s none of the stinkiness that sometimes comes with eating pork intestines, Formosa has always cleaned them well enough). Gross-looking? Maybe? Delicious? Definitely.
Soup dumplings (小龍包). These come four to a steamer; hefty pork-filled dumplings that are filled with steaming porky broth. Be careful when you pick them up with your chopsticks; you don’t want to tear the skin and lose any of the broth. Do yourself a favor and put some black vinegar and shredded ginger that’s offered with the dish into a spoon, place the dumpling on top, and eat it all in one glorious bite.
The last dish: glutinous rice roll (飯糰). This is the ultimate Taiwanese comfort food: shredded pork floss, pickled greens and a Chinese cruller (yes, we Taiwanese like pairing our starches with MORE starch) are stuffed into a roll made of fragrant glutinous rice and steamed. Totally gut-busting but delicious anyway. Just make sure you remember to peel off the plastic wrap before you dive in.
Formosa Chinese Restaurant (台灣小館)
23702 Rockfield Blvd
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Tue – Fri: 11 am – 9:30 pm
Sat – Sun: 10 am – 9:30 pm