Taiwan isn’t the world’s largest country, but it might be one of the friendliest, yummiest, and calmest; despite the swarms of citizens zipping by on their motorbikes. Little did we know all this before arriving. Existing guide books just don’t offer that kind of insight.

Boarding the 11:30 p.m. EVA Airlines (www.evaair.com ) flight to Taipei came with some mild trepidation. Was the uncertainty coming from wondering about how to manage a 14 hour 36 minute flight (not that anyone was counting); the fact that Asian cuisines are not (well, at least until this trip, WERE not) top of our list of foods that please our palate and we knew we were in for nothing but Asian food breakfast, lunch, and dinner; was it sheer fear we’d have to go for more than a week without seeing a piece of cheese (thank you Chef Ashish Deva, at Taroko Silks resort in Hualien www.taroko.silksplace.com.tw/index_en.html for making that an unfounded fear); or was it that uncertainty of not knowing our traveling companions and wondering how we would all get along over eight days and knowing that if we didn’t it was going to be really painful finding ourselves stuck in a foreign country with people whose company we didn’t enjoy.

None of these fears were of concern from the moment we started eating in Taiwan, just about an hour after we arrived. Our first meal was in the hotel club lounge of The Regent Taipei www.grandformosa.com.tw/EN. In the Tai Pan lounge, where the concierges were as gracious and welcoming as any weary traveler would want to meet, a wide selection of appealingly tasty Asian and Western fare was beautifully presented.

And it just got better from there. Street food galore (intestines you didn’t want to put down, scallion pancakes that put others to shame), local dumpling houses, country restaurants, mountain resorts serving indigenous fare and others offering the finest cuisine in high Taiwanese style.

And there were great cocktails to be had too thanks to Angus at Marquee www.marquee-taipei.com and Aki at Indulge www.indulgetaipei.blogspot.com where we encountered the same kind of personalized attention we love here, partnered with warm Asian hospitality and knock-your-socks off terrific cocktails.

All these foods, and more, were worth traveling for to a country where it’s easy to communicate and get around even if you only read English and women can feel safe walking alone in towns, at most times of the day or night.

So, if you find yourself in Taiwan, check out some of our favorite spots (detailed list to follow), explore to find your own and, for a sure bet, try these five frequented by Florian Kuhn, Hotel Manager, for the new W Hotel, slated to open in February.

Ding Tai Fung
No. 194 (corner of Yunkang Street), Xinyi Road Sec. 2, Taipei
(Best Dumplings)
Ding Tai Fun is a must visit place if you want to have good “xiao long bao”(pork dumplings).
The consistency of great quality food attracts not only the tourists, but locals, too.
Other recommended dishes: chicken soup, and beef soup noodles.

2. L’ATELIER de Joel Robuchon – Taipei
5F., No.28, Songlong Rd., Xinyi Dist., Taipei
(Business Lunch)
Worldwide famous 3-star-michelin Chef Joel Robuchon has his L’atelier in this luxury department store “Bellavita,” which is located next door W Taipei.
Robuchon’s French haute cuisine is served in a stylized environment. An open kitchen is set in the middle for gourmets to overlook while the chefs are preparing the food.
Signature dishes: Cauliflower Cream with Caviar and Potato Puree./ Free-range Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras

3. ABU
No.28, Siwei Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei
(Romantic Date)
ABU is named after Chef Abu who is originally from Hong Kong.
Open just under a year now, Abu is clearly making his mark in the upscale dining scene of Taipei.
During dinner hours Abu features two prix fixe menus, approximately $80 US each.
The 8-course meals offer fine French inspired dishes, including two sinfully delicious dessert courses.
For the dessert connoisseurs, be sure to ask about Abu’s special soufflé that needs its own table for delivery

4. Yuan Guo Hot Pot
No.6 Alley178, Zhuang-Jing Road, Taipei
(Gathering for friends)
Of all the restaurants, Yuan Guo is the most relaxing and fun place to be.
The restaurant is run by famous local movie star/artist Tony Young – close friends called him yoyo.
(http://yoyo520.tv.to/) Thus it’s a hangout place for models and artists after work as well.
( The restaurant is open until 3 in the morning during weekends!)
Hotpot and traditional Taiwanese stir-fried are served.

No.1-3, Ln. 20, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd., Zhongshan Dist., Taipei
(Gathering for friends)
HANABI is a Japanese tapas restaurants that starts serving alcohol at noon and the dishes on the menu are all appetizers that go well with booze, like tapas dishes.
They have great selections of sake, wines and cocktails. Recommended dishes: Fluffy Fish Egg Omelet./ Mushroom and Truffle Rice Bowl./ Grilled chicken wings./
One interesting item, not listed on the menu, is the Miso-flavored ice cream!!