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Johnny Rocket Rock & Roll Cafe

Medium / The China Post
Date / 1996.12.13
Writer / Maxie Gamboa

Turning on the chili at Johnny Rocket Rock & Roll Café

  Despite the tremendous menagerie of eateries in Taiwan, it really is difficult to find good chili. When I say good chili, I mean the kind that makes your mouth water when you smell it, makes your tongue tingle when you taste it, and makes you break out in a sweat by the third bite.

  If the thought of spice-savory, tangy tomatoey chili is a turn-on, then check out the fare at the newly opened Johnny Rocket Rock &Roll Cafe in Taipei’s Shihlin district, where the pork chili is scrumptious, even by E1 Paso standards.

  If youve spent any time in Los Angeles, you may be rolling you eyes at this point, but have no fear: this restaurant has no connection with the chain franchise Johnny Rockets (with an "s" for "stomach upset") that plagues Southern California with its glorified fast food.

  In fact, Taipei's Johnny Rocket is in a world of its own, with first-class food at a reasonable (NT$100+ a plate) price. There’s also a bar serving up everything from the prosaic Budweiser and margarita to the exotic alcoholic "Mexican Milk-shake" (cacao, Baileys and chocolate ice cream) and something called a "Guam Sky." I stuck with the American coffee (NT$90, but the refills are free), which was rich and strong without being bitter.

  The gustatory environment is no less unusual. A wall mural of Neal Armstrong on the moon shares space with a dime store pony ride and enough neon to make Times Squire blush. On each table sits a deck of playing cards so that grungecore English teachers and Japanese businessmen alike can get down with some leisurely poker or cribbage. The super-stack stereo features Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas" one moment and Beck's "Two Turntables and a Microphone" the next.

  "We don't just serve hamburgers here," explains restaurateur Ted Su, one of the mad geniuses behind Johnny Rocket. "We also serve the music and culture."

  And there is more to the menu than the killer chili, which, by the way, I recommend on either the chili fries (NT$70) or the super special chili burger (NT$100for one patty, NT$140 for two) Also available area are an ashram of salads, from Caesar to smoked chicken (both NT$100), and a feast-fest of entrees, including chicken curry over steamed rice (N$130), beef stew with paprika, also over steamed rice (NT$130), spaghetti with meat sauce (NT$130), and the ever-popular club sandwich (NT$90).

  Dessert-wise, you could spend hours deciding between the "banana coined sundae" (NT$90), "Caribbean sun sundae" (also NT$90), or rich-as-Bill-Gates brownie (NT$80, NT$100 with ice cream). The cheesecake (NT$100) comes bathed in strawberry sauce, and the portion isn’t generous, it's downright philanthropic.

  No doubt, Johnny Rocket is one of those restaurants you'll go back to so often, you'll end up memorizing the entire menu in Chinese. Enough said.

Below: A single patty version of the "super-special Johnny Rocket chili burger" and a bowl of cream of onion soup make a delicious and very affordable light meal.