The story of Formosa, a dumpling and noodle shop that opened in November on a quiet corner in Bushwick, is global at its core, with roots going back more than 30 years when co-owner Hsin Chang Lee founded what would become a dumpling empire in Taiwan. Lee sold the chain there a decade ago — the name of which translates roughly to Overseas Dragon — and moved to New York, but there are still more than 100 of those shops all over his native country.
But Formosa is also an extremely local story. Co-owner Chuya Lee, Hsin Chang’s daughter, has lived in four different apartments in Bushwick over the last eight years, and is thrilled to be feeding her neighbors. She even furnished the place almost entirely from local second-hand stores — mismatched tables and chairs, random percussion instruments and an old-school landline phone.
Formosa in Bushwick (Scott Lynch)
“I picked this location because I love the Bushwick vibe,” she tells Brooklyn Magazine. “It’s down to Earth, and the people are fun and nice. It’s chaotic sometimes, but in a good way.”
So that’s all good and sweet and worthy of our support, but really, the most important news here is that Formosa is an excellent restaurant, currently serving some of the best dumplings in town. There are six different varieties on the menu, all of which you can get either boiled or fried (both are equally delicious; the former a bit juicier, the latter a bit chewier), and hit the table covered in chili oil, scallions, garlic, and cilantro. Where’s the dipping sauce, you ask? There is none, and you don’t need it at all.
Embark on your dumpling journey here with Hsin Chang Lee’s “signature pork,” the one that started it all back in 1993. These are an absolute delight, just exploding with fire, funk, and flavor. You can also get your pork dumplings stuffed with yellow chives, which, as Luke Fortney first reported in Eater, is Lee’s longtime secret ingredient, or with kimchi.
Chuya Lee contributed two of her own creations to the dumpling menu, one of which may have been my favorite dish of the night, a seafood spectacular stuffed with marinated shrimp, tilapia and octopus, with celery adding a bit of crunch. I ate these just a couple of days ago and haven’t stopped jonesing for a re-up since. Lee also came up with a vegetarian option.
A platter or two of dumplings makes for a delicious and perfectly acceptable meal, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about Formosa’s other offerings. The Taiwanese beef noodle soup here is a top notch version of that iconic dish, the headlining ingredients generously portioned (the beef shank is wonderfully fatty and tender) and swimming in a rich broth redolent with ginger and star anise. And those sodden hunks of turnips lurking within are divine.
Tawainese beef noodle soup, $16 (Scott Lynch)
There are also straightforward scallion noodles available, and fried king oyster mushrooms, and pork buns, popcorn chicken, and a robust bowl of lu rou fan, featuring braised pork belly spooned over rice and co-starring a century egg, a slab of sticky tofu, and some mustard greens and bok choy. Beer and wine are coming soon(ish), but in the meantime bubble milk tea and sarsaparilla soda do the trick.
Lu rou fan, or braised pork rice, $15 (Scott Lynch)
Formosa is located at 144 Evergreen Avenue, at the corner of Jefferson Street, and is currently open on Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.