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RESTAURANTS | THE MIXER

Taste of Taipei for the after-midnight crowd

April 20, 2006|Cindy Chang | Special to The Times

AUTHENTIC Taiwanese food is so plentiful in the San Gabriel Valley that immigrants from that culinarily rich island hardly have a chance to feel homesick.

What the Sinicized parts of the Valley have always lacked is night life reminiscent of Taipei's rollicking basement jazz hangouts, bass-thumping dance clubs and country-style pubs. Though the mini-malls of Koreatown are dense with distinctively Korean clubs and bars, Alhambra and San Gabriel revert to their suburban roots after-hours, with only the scattered karaoke joint or hole-in-the-wall restaurant serving xiao ye or midnight snacks.

Lately, expats have converged on a Taiwanese pub called Indian, which opened a year ago on a sparsely developed stretch of San Gabriel Boulevard.

With its rustic wood tables, cheap pitchers of beer and superb Taiwanese pub food, Indian is a place to hang out until the wee hours.

Owners Su Yu Feng Yu and her husband, Wen Tiung Yu, modeled Indian after a Taipei pub of the same name, with similar Native American tchotchkes and thick logs embedded in the walls for a campground atmosphere. For anyone who has been to Taiwan, the place feels genuine, offering home-style food as well as a familial coziness particular to the Taiwanese.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Indian draws clusters of young men with dyed brown hair and head-to-toe black outfits, gaggles of sleek-haired girls and rowdy groups of fortysomethings. On weeknights, the hip young Taiwanese crowd shares the restaurant with white-haired grandmothers and families. The lingua franca at Indian is Taiwanese-inflected Mandarin. Middle-aged men with mainland Chinese brogues can also be heard discussing the merits of the classic Taiwanese dish three-flavored chicken, and on a recent Saturday night, a Cantonese-speaking group played a game of dice at ear-splitting volume. Waitresses, who wear headbands with a feather jauntily tucked in, have no problem understanding orders given in English.

Indian's deep-fried morsels -- chicken, oysters, mushrooms, pork intestines -- hardly deserve to be put in the same category as the lackluster French fries or calamari served at many American bars. The grilled corn, lightly tinged with barbecue flavor, is a favorite. Liberal use of basil is a hallmark of Taiwanese cooking, and Indian offers a long list of basil-laden dishes, including stir-fried clams and duck tongue.

Is Indian at the forefront of a trend? A place called Native in downtown Arcadia has similar Native American kitsch and serves three-flavored chicken and grilled odorous tofu. Yummy in Rowland Heights feels like a K-town bar but has a lengthy menu of fried Taiwanese snacks and noodle soups.

*

Indian

Where: 633 S. San Gabriel Blvd., Suite 105, San Gabriel

When: 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday; 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Price: pitchers $7.99 to $12; grilled corn $2.50; three-flavored sauce with chicken in pot $7.99

Info: (626) 287-0688

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