An Upcoming Taiwanese Noodle Shop Spotlights a Culture’s Fading History

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An upcoming Taiwanese restaurant in Andersonville will champion beef noodle soup — a Taiwanese staple that has been embraced by many as the country’s national dish.

Taiwan-born chef Rich Wang has worked at award-winning restaurants like Boka in Lincoln Park and Fat Rice in Logan Square. His first solo project, Minyoli, is aiming for an early April debut at 5420 N. Clark Street. It’s the former home of Korean-Italian hit Passerotto, and more recently, an outpost of Loop restaurant Land & Lake Kitchen. He will present a traditional beef noodle soup with a deep and herbal broth infused with warm spices like cardamom and cinnamon; springy noodles made on-site and cut by hand each day; and melt-in-your-mouth cuts of beef shank — “the cherry on top,” he says.

The menu allows Minyoli to pay homage to juàn cun, Taiwan’s distinctive and fast-disappearing cultural enclaves. Wang was born at one of these “military dependents’ villages” in Tapei before he immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 14. He’s watched with interest and concern as villages like the one he grew up in dwindled amid a governmental push for “urban renewal” across the island nation.

A rendering of a long, narrow restaurant space.
Renderings show a sleek, minimalist aesthetic.

Juàn cun initially emerged in the late 1940s toward the end of the Chinese Civil War to house Chinese military personnel and their families. Over time, these enclaves generated unique culinary and cultural mash-ups, and at their height numbered more than 800 throughout the country. However, they have grappled with issues of poor housing construction, disrepair, dereliction, and abandonment. As of 2019, fewer than 30 juàn cun remain in Taiwan. The beef noodle Wang will serve originates from juán cun.

“It was rough and provisional housing, and as you can imagine, a lot of Chinese culture suddenly merged into these small neighborhoods and engendered a unique cuisine only found in Taiwan,” he says. “It’s great that people are moving into better neighborhoods, but I want to remember the cuisine.”

The restaurant’s debut will realize a long-held goal for Wang, who at age 30 left a career as a corporate attorney for the hospitality industry. His culinary chops extend beyond the U.S. border, as Wang cooked for three years under lauded Cantonese chef Tam Kwok Fung at his Michelin-starred restaurant in Macau.

Wang has also spent a month at a hand-pulled noodle “boot camp” in Lanzhou, China (a city famed for its noodles) where he earned an official certification in the technique. While he won’t have the staff or time to make hand-pulled noodles at Minyoli, the experience was memorable. “It was the middle of December for eight hours a day, seven days a week,” he says. “There were no breaks and no heat — I was wearing my down jacket pulling noodles for a month.”

In Andersonville, his team will also serve lu wei (or lou mai in Cantonese), which Wang roughly translates to mean braised snacks. They’ll braise tofu, eggs, and meats in the same master stock as the soup to complement the noodles. Wang also promises a small cocktail menu featuring Taiwanese liquors, beer, and cocktails, as well as a dessert menu with ice cream flavors like taro, black sesame, and red bean.

A rendering of a bar inside a restaurant.
Minyoli’s Taiwanese focus will extend to the bar menus.

Minyoli’s long and narrow 1,775 square-foot space on Andersonville’s main drag is undergoing a facelift with an abundance of light natural wood, woven basket lampshades, and exposed brick walls. Wang also notes that while the overall aesthetic leans into subtlety, it will also feature pops of a very particular shade of aquamarine.

“That specific color, you can find it everywhere in juàn cun, probably because it was the cheapest paint available at the time,” Wang says. “That color specifically reminds me of my childhood.”

Minyoli, 5420 N. Clark Street, scheduled to open in early April.

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