I believe I’ve at least discerned the pure and simple reason as to why vampires avoid Asians like the plague in all those blood-sucking thrillers. It is garlic, which Good Time Café in Chino Hills uses as liberally as Americans do salt. It shows up in the rice, in noodle dishes, in plain old appetizers, and in the most alluringly vicious product of all—stinky tofu, or chou dofu. Its essence continues to haunt couples long after the digestion of half a tin of Altoids fails to dispel its aromatic charms.
Good Time Café is the Taiwanese version of a greasy spoon, and it revels in its de facto status as the Inland Empire representation of that independent island community whose culinary roots derive from mainland China, Japan, and the island’s aboriginals (the real Taiwanese, not the immigrants who call themselves Taiwanese). Their clientele is mostly Chinese, although the occasional non-Asian will float in just for a gander, in which case a capable translator is required (English presents a slight challenge here). Also requiring a translator for clientele not in the know—the close to 200 items (46 for appetizers alone) that reflect the tastes and smells of late-night street markets in Taipei, like the pork chop rice, simmered pig ear, pork stomach, pig blood, kidneys, noodle soups and chitterlings. Yes, that’s right, chitterlings and all the viscera that us everyday folk out here regularly crave.
The way to go is through the appetizers, Asian tapas that can be shared collectively and which run between $4.95 and $7.95 apiece. The locals live and die by the fried pork chop, but when in Taiwan, the locals crave stinky tofu. Like stinky cheese, stinky tofu is created by marinating fermented tofu in brine. In some cases, this brine could be created from the stuff that makes Andrew Zimmern’s show so eye popping, but I digress. This combination of brine and fermentation gives stinky tofu its distinctive rotten aroma. The version served here—fried squares of wispy tofu-like clouds—has no trace of stinky odor but rather a certain blandness that explodes in a rainbow of garlic after ritual drowning in the garlicky soy dipping sauce. Definitely not the most authentic by Asian standards (the more like rotting garbage, the more authentic), but a worth a try for those in the mood for a formidable taste of the unknown.
Another good dish to try is the Taiwanese sausage. It’s served side-by-side with slivers of garlic which one places atop sliced sausage. The sausage is actually a sweeter version of the traditional lop chang, a pepperoni-like pork sausage. This dish was a distinct tummy pleaser.
As for a formal entrée, the clams with parsley might look like the heavy Chinese equivalent with black bean sauce, but this version ranks much higher on the health scale. I liked that the strong earthiness of the basil and parsley and the pop of ginger gave the dish vibrancy that was a welcome departure in the wake of so much garlic.
However, the garlic was not to go away as it came back not so much in the forefront with the shrimp with ham fried rice, but as a flavor booster in tandem with the mild saltiness of the ham. Flecked with green onions, green peas and diced carrots, the fried rice makes a hearty course for those less inclined to sample the “real” tastes of Taiwan.
Despite the unintentional disasters Good Time Café might spell on the romance front, I would do these garlic moments all over again, until every last bite of street food is sampled till kingdom come. How’s that for a vampire pleaser?
Good Time Café, 2923 Chino Ave., #H-4, Chino Hills; (909) 364-8600. 11AM-10PM daily. MC, V.