Skip to main content

A Taiwanese Restaurant a Lifetime in the Making is Opening in Andersonville

Daniel Hautzinger
A seated Rich Wang smiles in an apron in front of a seafoam wall and windows
“I didn’t get into cooking because I wanted to cook,” says Rich Wang, the chef and owner of Mínyólǐ. “I got into cooking because I wanted to introduce Taiwanese food.” Credit: Aliya Ikhumen for WTTW

Get more recipes, food news, and stories by signing up for our Deep Dish newsletter.

A rare Taiwanese restaurant opening May 9 in Andersonville has been a lifetime in the making. Mínyólǐ is named after the Taipei district where chef and owner Rich Wang spent the first fourteen years of his life, and it will serve food inspired by the cuisine of places like his now-razed childhood neighborhood: beef noodle soup, braised snacks, and deep-fried treats.

“It’s an attempt to celebrate the cuisines of those neighborhoods,” says Wang of Mínyólǐ, which will be open for dinner Tuesday through Friday and for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. (UPDATE: Mínyólǐ has adjusted its hours for the time being to dinner Wednesday through Sunday and lunch on Sunday.) “I’m thinking about the kind of mom-and-pop place that we used to have in our neighborhood.”

Those neighborhoods have begun to be cleared in the past few decades in the name of urban renewal, putting the unique culture and cuisine they built up in danger of disappearing. Known as juàn cūn or “military dependents’ villages,” they were constructed after World War II as provisional housing for Nationalist Chinese military personnel who ended up in Taiwan after the Nationalist Kuomintang retreated there following its loss to the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War. Although the districts were meant to be temporary and thus built quickly, often by the residents themselves, they ended up becoming permanent.

Juàn cūn ended up housing people from all over the vast Chinese mainland, not just the Hokkien people from neighboring Fujian province or southern Chinese Hakka who had long interacted with the island. The food that sprung up in the neighborhoods reflects that mixture. “It’s kind of like a fusion Chinese culture that you wouldn’t find in China, necessarily,” Wang says.

The bar of Minyoli
Mínyólǐ is Rich Wang's homage to the distinctive food of juàn cūn or "military dependents' villages" like his childhood neighborhood in Taipei. Credit: Aliya Ikhumen for WTTW

The massive, sudden emigration from China transformed Taiwan, as can be seen narrowly in the beef noodle soup that emerged from juàn cūn. Today it is an iconic dish of the island, and will be the “soul” of Mínyólǐ. “[Wheat] noodles in Taiwan specifically come out of those neighborhoods, because wheat noodles were not consumed in Taiwan before the Chinese arrived,” Wang says. As in the rest of Southeast Asia, rice and rice noodles were the staple of the diet, according to Wang. He says that wheat only became widely available in Taiwan when the U.S. military was based there during the Korean War. Even today, most wheat in Taiwan is imported from the U.S.

The beef that flavors the aromatic broth and is braised as a protein in beef noodle soup is also a relative newcomer to Taiwan. “My maternal grandparents, they didn’t eat beef,” Wang says. “Taiwanese people before World War II didn’t eat beef.” (Mínyólǐ will also offer a vegan noodle soup with a kombu- and mushroom-based stock.) It’s all topped with pickled mustard greens from Southern China.

That history explains why beef noodle soup is still considered “immigrant Chinese food” in Taiwan, according to Wang, despite its fame. Taiwanese food is narrowly defined as Hokkien- influenced – many ethnic Chinese people in Taiwan still speak Hokkien. Wang and others consider that definition outdated in its ignorance of juàncūn, indigenous, and other cuisines, but the braised snacks known as lu wei that he will serve at Mínyólǐ do derive from Hokkien cooking.

For the lu wei, eggs, tofu, kombu, and other ingredients are cooked in the same stock Wang uses for the noodle soup and served cold and sliced, “kind of like charcuterie,” he says. (The tofu will be from Phoenix Bean, which is less than a mile away; Phoenix’s owner Jenny Wang is also Taiwanese and lives in the neighborhood.) Mínyólǐ’s other category of appetizers are deep-fried bites like Taiwanese chicken, all made with the most common Taiwanese fry coating of sweet potato starch as well as some plum powder for sweetness. That starch can also be found in gluten-free noodles that can be substituted for wheat noodles, while all the soy sauce at the restaurant is gluten-free as well.

A cat logo on a partitioned curtain that says welcome in a restaurant entryway
The restaurant's cat logo and seafoam green draw on memories of juàn cūn. Credit: Aliya Ikhumen for WTTW

Wang believes the fried snacks pair perfectly with the Taiwanese beers he will be serving alongside cocktails featuring Taiwanese ingredients such as Kavalan whisky, the sweet rice wine known as jiuniang, and even the fermented rice lees from jiuniang. One of Taiwan’s greatest culinary exports, bubble tea, will be available in a basic form. There will also be a special type of roasted oolong tea sourced via Seattle’s Floating Leaves from a region near Taipei. “Please order that when you come,” Wang says of the rare tea. “That’s the one to order.”

Such commitment to Taiwanese elements even extends to the restaurant’s design. Wang has maintained the exposed brick of 5420 N. Clark St., which was most recently Land & Lake, because it’s “everywhere in juàn cūn.” The entryway is painted seafoam green, a color that’s ubiquitous in the neighborhoods, while the restaurant’s logo is a street cat like those found prowling juàn cūn thoroughfares. One of the only things Wang failed to replicate from Taiwan is its tropical climate for Mínyólǐ’s spacious, covered back patio.

“I get to have a space in Andersonville that feels like home, and that means a lot to me,” he says.

Tables on a patio
Mínyólǐ has a covered back patio as well as a bar serving cocktails taht incorporate Taiwanese ingredients. Credit: Aliya Ikhumen for WTTW

Wang’s family didn’t cook much in Taiwan, because eating out was so cheap – that’s what most people did for meals. It was only when they moved to the suburbs of Chicago when he was fourteen that they started drawing on their memories to recreate the dishes they once enjoyed.

“All of a sudden, the food that we were used to was not accessible or available,” he recalls. He participated in his mom’s process of recreating those dishes in America, using scents and tastes to try to revive a home that had been left behind in a new place.

But his first career wasn’t as a chef. He went to law school and became an attorney before realizing at the age of 30 that he wasn’t happy.

That was ten years ago, when there was even less Taiwanese food in Chicago than today, when the selection is basically limited to Hello Jasmine, Taipei Cafe, or the occasional Taiwanese dish at a Chinese restaurant. So Wang formulated a plan to open a Taiwanese restaurant. “I didn’t get into cooking because I wanted to cook,” he says. “I got into cooking because I wanted to introduce Taiwanese food.” (He is quick to qualify that he is only spotlighting a small portion of the breadth of Taiwanese cuisine.) 

The staff of a restaurant, some in aprons with its name and logo, stand and smile for a group photo
Wang's opening staff at Mínyólǐ includes his cousin, X Wang (front row, second from left), as front of house manager, and his friend Mike Alesi of Kedai Tapao (second row, second from right, ) as sous chef. Credit: Aliya Ikhumen for WTTW

But he’s meticulous and thorough, not one to plunge into something without the proper experience and knowledge. So he began a yearslong education to prepare himself, attending culinary school at Kendall College before working at Boka and Fat Rice, where he met Mike Alesi of Kedai Tapao, who is now Mínyólǐ’s sous chef. Western culinary training barely touches on Chinese techniques, so he then traveled to Lanzhou – a city famous for a different kind of beef noodle soup – to learn to hand-pull noodles. (That’s a time- and labor-intensive process, so the noodles at Mínyólǐ will be made in-house with a machine.) Interested in Macau because of Fat Rice, he then spent three years working at a Michelin-starred restaurant there.

“I’m kind of a nerd,” Wang says. “I think very hard about my food.”

Only after all that did he return to Chicago and begin the process of opening Mínyólǐ. Now that decade-long journey is about to come to fruition, but it’s still not the end for Wang.

“The restaurant will continue to evolve,” he says. “For me, it’s going to be a lifelong project.”

Try a recipe for Chinese boiled dumplings (Shuijiao (水餃)) from Rich Wang.