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Formoosa adds Taiwan to the Convoy Asian Cultural District

An island bar serves tea, savory donuts, scallion pancake rolls, and beef noodle soup

Beef noodle soup, a Taiwan specialty served at Formoosa
Beef noodle soup, a Taiwan specialty served at Formoosa

If a current fundraising effort succeeds, the 805 freeway will get a set of new, city-official signs announcing the offramps to the Convoy Asian Cultural District.

Place

Formoosa

4646 Convoy St #103, San Diego

Highway signs may not sound like that big a deal. But these would send a signal that Kearny Mesa isn’t merely a culinary destination for locals in the know. It will alert out-of-town guests to the dozens, maybe hundreds of pan-Asian restaurants (I’ve given up trying to count) that can be found within small shopping strips up and down Convoy Street, and branching out along several cross streets.

Due to the volume and breadth of cultural cuisines, the district serves as a beacon for food enthusiasts seeking out favorites, old and new. And that means that, despite a preponderance of dining options, there’s still room for small-timers to find an audience for niche concepts.

One particular shopping strip presents a microcosm of this idea: 4646 Convoy Street. The small complex is best known for its stalwart anchor properties: Tofu House and O’Brien’s Pub opened here way back in the 20th century, and several others have succeeded past the ten-year mark. Currently, all but one of its 16 or so storefronts houses a restaurant, meaning in this one small corner of Convoy alone, visitors have a choice of Chinese noodles, Japanese hot pot, Korean stews, sushi, ramen, and fried chicken. Its notoriously cramped parking lot never stood a chance.

A center island bar remains from the restaurant's previous iteration.

Still, there is room for something new, and that something is Formoosa, self-described as “A taste of Taiwan.”

Tawianese dishes aren’t new to Convoy, and Taiwan-specific restaurants have come and gone from the area over the years. As there’s been a lot of population exchange between Taiwan and mainland China, their food histories are intertwined, and many dishes are at least similar. I do not pretend to know the fine distinctions that might make Taiwanese-style dishes stand out on a menu.

All the more reason to check out Formoosa, a relatively small restaurant with a limited, you might say focused menu, that highlights a few dishes that are popular on the island nation. Formoosa takes over a suite previously occupied by the (underrated) hand roll sushi specialist, J/Wata, and it’s held onto that restaurant’s center island sushi counter. Depending how you approach it, this can lead to a social, community dining vibe, where you’re chatting with the people next to or across from you; or you can pop in for a quick, solo meal.

These crullers are neither French nor sweet: they're savory youtiao, sometimes called Chinese donuts.

In that regard, it doesn’t have to be a meal. First, Formoosa doubles as a tea shop, both hot and cold, with a variety to choose from. However, considering bubble tea did originate in Taiwan, it’s probably worth knowing they don’t serve boba here.

Second, much of Formoosa’s menu consists of small plates and shareable snacks. For example, there are pork and shrimp wontons (eight for $12.50), dressed with either sesame or chili, and popcorn chicken ($10.50). To pair with tea, the crullers ($5) aren’t the sweet, French crullers most of us know, rather they’re youtiao, sometimes called Chinese donuts. These are neither glazed, sugary, nor round. Instead the cruller sticks prove that fried, raised dough can be satisfying in a savory context.

Taiwanese beef rolls make an any-time-of-day snack.

My favorite of the “smaller bites” are the Taiwanese beef rolls ($10.50). These feature beef and cucumber rolled up in Chinese style scallion pancakes (cong you bing), giving a crispy, chewy, savory wrapper for succulent beef. I will be grabbing more of these to snack on, next time I pick up an order of Mochinuts, across the street.

For meals, the reason to make a priority of Formoosa is another well-known Taiwan staple: beef noodle soup. This signature dish features wheat noodles, the knife-cut style with frilled edges (akin to lasagna ruffles), ideal spots for the soup’s thick, almost stew-like beef broth to coalesce. Topped with soft boiled eggs, plus braised beef and bok choy that have been charred with a blowtorch, this nourishing, comforting soup makes an excellent ramen alternative. And the kind of thing you only find on Convoy.

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Beef noodle soup, a Taiwan specialty served at Formoosa
Beef noodle soup, a Taiwan specialty served at Formoosa

If a current fundraising effort succeeds, the 805 freeway will get a set of new, city-official signs announcing the offramps to the Convoy Asian Cultural District.

Place

Formoosa

4646 Convoy St #103, San Diego

Highway signs may not sound like that big a deal. But these would send a signal that Kearny Mesa isn’t merely a culinary destination for locals in the know. It will alert out-of-town guests to the dozens, maybe hundreds of pan-Asian restaurants (I’ve given up trying to count) that can be found within small shopping strips up and down Convoy Street, and branching out along several cross streets.

Due to the volume and breadth of cultural cuisines, the district serves as a beacon for food enthusiasts seeking out favorites, old and new. And that means that, despite a preponderance of dining options, there’s still room for small-timers to find an audience for niche concepts.

One particular shopping strip presents a microcosm of this idea: 4646 Convoy Street. The small complex is best known for its stalwart anchor properties: Tofu House and O’Brien’s Pub opened here way back in the 20th century, and several others have succeeded past the ten-year mark. Currently, all but one of its 16 or so storefronts houses a restaurant, meaning in this one small corner of Convoy alone, visitors have a choice of Chinese noodles, Japanese hot pot, Korean stews, sushi, ramen, and fried chicken. Its notoriously cramped parking lot never stood a chance.

A center island bar remains from the restaurant's previous iteration.

Still, there is room for something new, and that something is Formoosa, self-described as “A taste of Taiwan.”

Tawianese dishes aren’t new to Convoy, and Taiwan-specific restaurants have come and gone from the area over the years. As there’s been a lot of population exchange between Taiwan and mainland China, their food histories are intertwined, and many dishes are at least similar. I do not pretend to know the fine distinctions that might make Taiwanese-style dishes stand out on a menu.

All the more reason to check out Formoosa, a relatively small restaurant with a limited, you might say focused menu, that highlights a few dishes that are popular on the island nation. Formoosa takes over a suite previously occupied by the (underrated) hand roll sushi specialist, J/Wata, and it’s held onto that restaurant’s center island sushi counter. Depending how you approach it, this can lead to a social, community dining vibe, where you’re chatting with the people next to or across from you; or you can pop in for a quick, solo meal.

These crullers are neither French nor sweet: they're savory youtiao, sometimes called Chinese donuts.

In that regard, it doesn’t have to be a meal. First, Formoosa doubles as a tea shop, both hot and cold, with a variety to choose from. However, considering bubble tea did originate in Taiwan, it’s probably worth knowing they don’t serve boba here.

Second, much of Formoosa’s menu consists of small plates and shareable snacks. For example, there are pork and shrimp wontons (eight for $12.50), dressed with either sesame or chili, and popcorn chicken ($10.50). To pair with tea, the crullers ($5) aren’t the sweet, French crullers most of us know, rather they’re youtiao, sometimes called Chinese donuts. These are neither glazed, sugary, nor round. Instead the cruller sticks prove that fried, raised dough can be satisfying in a savory context.

Taiwanese beef rolls make an any-time-of-day snack.

My favorite of the “smaller bites” are the Taiwanese beef rolls ($10.50). These feature beef and cucumber rolled up in Chinese style scallion pancakes (cong you bing), giving a crispy, chewy, savory wrapper for succulent beef. I will be grabbing more of these to snack on, next time I pick up an order of Mochinuts, across the street.

For meals, the reason to make a priority of Formoosa is another well-known Taiwan staple: beef noodle soup. This signature dish features wheat noodles, the knife-cut style with frilled edges (akin to lasagna ruffles), ideal spots for the soup’s thick, almost stew-like beef broth to coalesce. Topped with soft boiled eggs, plus braised beef and bok choy that have been charred with a blowtorch, this nourishing, comforting soup makes an excellent ramen alternative. And the kind of thing you only find on Convoy.

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