Our critic finds Taiwanese comfort food close to home at this Ashburn establishment.
I moved from Fairfax County to Loudoun for love. Gustatorily, it hasn’t been easy. There is only one Korean barbecue restaurant in the whole county. For most of my favorite cuisines, it’s at least a half-hour drive. First-world problems of the highest order, but those minor difficulties make it even more exciting when I find a restaurant that will be a new staple close to home. Tiny Yen’s Café has been around since 2008, but I just discovered it.
According to Yen’s website, it offers “Homestyle Taiwanese Recipes with our Grandma’s Tender Touch!” And believe me, the exclamation point is not misplaced. I only tried three of the 200 or so dishes on the menu, but each had me purring with the pleasure that only a grandma’s food can produce. Long Taiwanese-style potstickers, with their crispy bottoms, are filled with dense pork and enhanced with a garlicky dipping sauce. Halfway through the plate of six, my dining partner started talking about ordering more.
But we had other chicken to fry. I’d been craving Taiwanese popcorn chicken, with its crisp, starchy coating, for weeks. The dish, blanketed in a crunchy collection of fried basil leaves, arrived hot, juicy, and redolent of five spice. But I was equally won over by the sha cha beef with snow pea leaves. I’m a sucker for that particular veggie, and these were ideally tender with just a hint of crunch. The velveted beef was more punctuation than centerpiece, a meaty bite meant to add flavor, not create a fleshy feast. The lightly spicy sauce, rich with sweet garlic, bled into my mound of steamed white rice, creating another dish I would be happy to eat on its own.
Given the gigantic menu, there is so much more to try. Three-cup chicken is on the horizon. So are Taiwanese sticky rice and crystal-sugar pig feet, both of which require a call to pre-order. And each call, I’m sure, will help me to settle into Loudoun County just a little bit more.
43490 Yukon Dr., Ste. #113, Ashburn
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