What you need to know
Bookended by an old shoe shop and a Chinese medicine pharmacy in one of Taipei’s oldest districts is a relatively new pizza restaurant with a most intriguing owner.
By Kate Lin
Bookended by an old shoe shop and a Chinese medicine pharmacy in one of Taipei’s oldest districts is a relatively new pizza restaurant with a most intriguing owner. Pizza Has a Face is located on Yanping North Road in Taipei’s Dadaocheng district, a New York-style pizza parlor in the streets of old Taipei.
The owner, Jeff Chen, had a long-standing interest in the charms of the city's past — he was a history major in college. But when asked about the details of how he chose the Dadaocheng location, he mentioned that he originally wanted to open beside the bar Revolver, near Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. “When people are drinking, they’ll want to eat, too. And then after they eat, they’ll go back to drink more. It felt like a perfect combination.”
But there were no storefronts available for rent at the time. So Chen cast his gaze westward to Daodaocheng. “Things turned out fine. We’re in an oasis of quiet amid a busy commercial district. Behind the store is the Dihua Street commercial district. People on their outings can come here for a drink and pizza.”
Having studied humanities in the United Kingdom, worked on the planning of “venue” (濕地) a mixed-use restaurant and arts space in Taipei, and now in managing Pizza Has a Face, Chen has developed a talent for creating an atmosphere.
Above the simple wood counters are pictures hung in steel frames are pictures of models and pizza. Posted on the refrigerator are stickers of band logos and alcohol brands. The restaurant balances a minimalist aesthetic with a decidedly human touch. It’s the kind of place that draws in people of all generations.
“I like the dive bars and cheap restaurants that tourists from abroad tend to go to. Although they can be ugly in a conventional sense, there’s a lot of forgiveness as expectations aren’t too high. All are welcome at these kinds of places, too.” Chen said that he loved things with a history or a story. He often listens to music from his 90s childhood, providing him with inspiration for music that helps make the relaxed atmosphere while not disturbing conversations.
A fan of rock from the U.K., Chen will play his favorites and give the restaurant the feeling of a London pub. But when asked what his favorite band is, he answered shyly, “Nirvana.”
Surprisingly, Chen has lukewarm feelings about pizza. “I only think pizza is a social food. When you think of pizza, you think of a scene with friends. Another aspect of it is its ease in any surroundings. It can be at home in all settings.”
Pizza has a zine
Chen’s artistic ideas on pizza led him to release a zine called “PHAF”.
The goal of the zine was to reflect the restaurant’s motto: “No matter where you are or what you do, eating pizza is cool.” Chen interviewed people from various professions, and categorized their job with a corresponding pizza style. “We used street photography. Our original plan was to stick to a proper zine, but it grew into something bigger.” Despite its unusual origins, it appeared at zine fairs. Asked when the next issue will come out, Chen said, “I really don’t know.”
New York vs. Italian Style
I asked Chen a question he never tires of discussing. Is his pizza based on New York or traditional Italian pizza? Chen flipped to a page in the zine which was dedicated to this topic and said, “This is very important.”
According to the zine, the pizza’s dough has the aroma of being baked in a traditional pizza oven, but the names of the pizzas speak of the unique status of the restaurant, straddling styles and cultures. One pizza is called “Final Fantasy,” named for the video-game series, because of its abundance of meat — an ultimate challenge for a hearty eater. There’s no hard and fast lineage, but New York is without a doubt the biggest influence.
As for the beer on offer, featuring a bevy of Taiwanese brands like “Ugly Half Beer” and “Alchemist,” Chen mostly relied on his own favorites and instinct, keeping with the theme of having most of the restaurant’s details arising from his personal tastes and sometimes whims. This highly personal style hasn't failed him yet.
TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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