180 Degrees F Cafe, 650 Broad St.
Teenagers and college-aged kids in Taiwan, I've been told, spend their Friday nights at quick-service restaurants like 180 Degrees F Cafe. Friends gather after class to cram salty, oily foods onto insatiable stomachs and wash it all down lychee boba teas.
So it's surprising that 180 F feels like an office. Leather chairs last seen in your doctor's waiting room offer comfort while dipping Taiwan-style chicken nuggets into sweet and sour sauce. I assume dark brown walls effectively hide grease splatters. I'll have to ask my guy at Lowe's.
The secretary working the counter thinks 180F's wings are, like, really good. His eyes roll back into his 20-year-old noggin when he says this. Don't smile and succumb to his advice. You're here for fish balls, not wings. Stay on task.
Briefly, 180F serves all the goodies in an Asian market's freezer. They fry up all the freeze-dried packages at Fook's you've been wondering about.
Two examples: Fish tofu and Thai fish balls. The former is fish meat pulverized and cubed like tofu, but there's no tofu. It's pliable like a sweet fish sponge wrapped in yuba (soy bean curd skin). The preceding sentence is one of complete endearment. The latter are supple, brown-fringed medallions of fish (run through a machine that erases all texture), green onion, and hot pepper hints.
A braised pork belly bao ($3.95) at 180 Degrees F. Slow-cooked for hours so that the hunks of pig fat stand no chance to the bite. Moisture and seasoning from its rendering lingers, and sweet pickles, cilantro, chopped peanuts round out this surprisingly fresh sleeper hit at a restaurant whose workhorse is a deep fryer.
This is a hamburger-sized fist of a snack: a punch to the face in flavor, a wallop that hangs around. The bun's density only adds to its staying power.
Steamed buns come frozen, that's no secret. And these lose something in the thaw. There's an odd residue left on the fingers, a stickiness like a hot marshmallow. It's the only flaw, one easily fixed with a wet nap.
180 Degrees F Cafe : 650 W. Broad St. M-F, noon until 10.