The words "Got banh mi?" are still on the walls, left over from its past life as B10 Vietnamese Café, but there's no mistaking the food at Tainan Bistro. Menus posted above the counters are all in hànzì and on the hot line to the left of the counter, the chafing dishes are uniformly filled with the simple, colorful fare of Taiwan. You can point at what you want, or you can head to the counter where a menu is taped that has English translations of varying accuracy. Luckily, counter staff is happy to help, both pointing you toward the best dishes and explaining the translations.
When I recently headed to Tainan Bistro, I already had my order in mind. I was in the mood for ji pai, or Taiwanese fried chicken steak. But I didn't see it on the menu. Nonetheless, when I asked for it, the gentleman at the counter told me it was a great choice. Was it off-menu? It turns out, the translation didn't just anglicize but Texas-ize the dish. It's listed as "chicken-fried steak with rice."
Chicken-fried chicken would be more accurate, though the next item "fish-fried steak," hints at the intention. But there was no confusion once my plate was ready. Two giant, thin-pounded "chicken steaks" arrived atop a mound of rice covered in anise-scented, braised pork. Stewed cabbage and carrots were seasoned with little besides salt, but played a welcome supporting role to a tea egg and leathery-jacketed tofu.
Though I would have been perfectly happy dining on nothing but the meaty rice, the chicken was indeed the thing. The flesh is dyed pink by its flavorsome marinade of five spice, soy and rice wine, but don't worry, it's fully cooked. Its crisp, floury exterior adds an extra dose of five spice, along with a liberal measure of salt and pepper that recalls Cantonese salt-and-pepper pork. My dining partner, who was bored by her bland noodle dish, shared my lunch. It was easily enough for the two of us. After all, chicken-fried steak is hearty meal by any measure, even when it's not exactly (and perhaps something better than) chicken-fried steak.