Home Business & Ventures From Passion to Plate: Bringing LA-Style Tacos to Taipei

From Passion to Plate: Bringing LA-Style Tacos to Taipei

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For two Taiwanese American residents, Taipei’s pandemic lull sparked a deep dive into their shared passion, culminating in a joint business venture. Nestled in the heart of Taipei’s eastern district, LA-style taco restaurant Chale Taqueria & Cantina now welcomes patrons on the hunt for SoCal Mexican comfort food.  

The decor at Chale features muted versions of the green, white, and red found on the Mexican flag, striking a balance between minimalist and earthy tones. The space is adorned with Day of the Dead memorabilia and graffiti-style art, and the speakers mostly play ’90s hip hop.  

“We want to be a casual place, where people can come for a bite and a couple of drinks and hang out with their friends,” says cofounder and owner Charles Chuang. “There’s no time limit on the tables and there’s a happy hour every day. This restaurant is our way to build a fun home away from home.” 

Chuang, who grew up in Southern California with Taiwanese parents, moved to Taiwan in 2011 to care for a family member and first worked in the tech industry here. A few years later, he met Winton Congdon through mutual friends, and the two quickly bonded over their shared love of food. Congdon’s related experience proved valuable as they embarked on creating Chale. 

“But being in the tech industry also does translate well into hospitality and food and beverage,” says Chuang. “When you’re creating something like this, attention to detail is very important.”  

The restaurant serves as a cultural bridge, introducing authentic Mexican cuisine and LA-style street food to a Taiwanese audience. Congdon notes that perceptions of Mexican food in Taiwan have evolved significantly in recent years.  

“I think Mexican culture is generally growing in Taiwan from an unknown entity to something people are more familiar with,” he says. “And it’s great to see that people are willing to try new things. It took some time in the U.S. to appreciate more authentic Mexican cuisine as well. People thought it was just chimichangas and beans and rice, but now the food scene has really grown.” 

The owners take pride in their meticulous use of spices and seasonings that authentically reflect Mexican culinary traditions. “Food standards in Taiwan are more akin to those of the EU, making it somewhat challenging to work with suppliers from the U.S.,” Congdon explains. “Still, importing certain ingredients is the backbone of our identity. To get the flavors you’d get in LA, you need those Mexican ingredients. Otherwise it doesn’t taste the same.” 

For this reason, Chale imports Mexican dried spices and heirloom corn varieties for its masa. The hot sauces are crafted in-house, with plans to expand their manufacturing and sales on a larger scale in the future. 

The menu at Chale features an array of dishes and drinks, ranging from homemade horchata to classic tacos and quesadillas, all offered at affordable prices without compromising quality. Chuang describes their tacos as traditional LA street style. “If it takes more than three bites to finish, it’s too big,” he says. 

Adding a local twist, Chale also serves a unique frozen Kaoliangrita, a Margarita that uses the traditional Taiwanese liquor kaoliang as its base. “It started off as a bit of a joke,” says Chuang. “A lot of people were convinced it wouldn’t taste good, but we wanted to make something with Taiwanese elements. And once we tried it, it was surprisingly tasty. Now it’s one of our top sellers.” 

But the standout dishes that capture the essence of Southern California at Chale are the fries. “Back in LA, you’d get them in a takeout box and just mix everything together,” says Chuang. “It’s typical drunk food – our take on Taiwan’s cold noodles.” 

Congdon and Chuang are adamant that unlike fries, tacos are not suited for takeout. “I’m really insistent on not doing tacos for takeaway,” says Chuang. “You got to eat them fresh.” However, the restaurant may consider adding burritos, burrito bowls, and fries to its takeout menu in the future, catering to those who prefer to enjoy their meal elsewhere. 

Starting and running Chale has not been without its challenges. While crafting the menu was a creative process that involved many nights of gathering feedback from hungry friends, securing a suitable location proved to be far more difficult. Congdon and Chuang searched for about a year and a half before settling on a spot along Dunhua South Road that matched their vision and budget.  

“Real estate in Taipei is really expensive,” Congdon notes. “It took time and luck to find something like this.” Another big challenge was the lack of interest in hospitality work after many had lost their jobs during the pandemic lock-downs.  

Word of mouth has been instrumental in Chale’s marketing efforts. Looking ahead, the owners plan to host events and engage in social media advertising to broaden their reach. They also have a clear vision for the future, hoping to expand their business by potentially opening additional locations and continuously refining their offerings based on customer feedback. Their aim is to scale the business and possibly explore other ventures related to Mexican cuisine. “There’s still a lot more work to do, but this is hopefully the first of many restaurants,” says Congdon. 

The business partners’ key piece of advice for foreign nationals aiming to start a business in Taiwan is straightforward: learn to read and speak Chinese. Beyond language skills, Congdon emphasizes the importance of building a strong support network. “Get good advisors, a reliable accountant, a competent lawyer, and people who can help you handle the basics of the business,” he says. This foundational support is critical for navigating the complexities of establishing and running a successful enterprise in a foreign country.  

“Networking in general is really important,” Congdon adds. “The food and beverage industry is very collaborative, and people here are generally willing to help. That’s one of the things we both like about Taiwan – the community. There’s always going to be setbacks, but if you build that local network, you will have support to help you solve the problems that come up.” 

From Passion to Plate is a TOPICS miniseries uplifting foreign nationals’ food ventures in Taiwan. Do you have a restaurant or cafe you’d like to see featured? Write to us at amcham.com.tw/about/contact

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