Walk into Dolphin Bay, a 2-month-old Taiwanese eatery in Allston that replaced the ramen joint Inaka, and it’s clear that someone here loves sea mammals. Flipper and his ilk are the stars of a brightly painted mural that covers every inch of wall space. Beach kitsch rounds out the decor.
With its nautical theme (the counter is modeled after a boat and a post is outfitted as a lighthouse), it would be easy to assume that this spot celebrates seafood. But while shellfish appears in some dishes, executive chef-owner Shiu Chin Chang (she’s the dolphin lover) is cooking home-style dumplings, noodles, and rice plates featuring meat and poultry. Milky dessert drinks with beads of tapioca are also on offer. She’s replicating a Dolphin Bay formula that makes her two Southern California locations so popular.
One dish that Chang describes as uniquely Taiwanese is oyster pancake ($6.50). Plump whole oysters (these taste like they came from a jar,) are enveloped in a potato-starch batter. An egg and torn leaves of a-choy, a leafy Chinese green, are added, then the mixture is fried in hot oil. Its semi-opaque appearance and gelatinous texture might strike some as odd, but fans of the street food favorite (topped with a sweet amber-hued sauce) can’t get enough. You can also choose a version made with shrimp ($6.50), but bivalves offer more briny delight.
Popcorn chicken ($4.50 for an appetizer, $8.99 as a rice plate) resembles tatsuta age, the Japanese style of battered, then fried, boneless chicken nuggets. Japan’s 50-year rule of Taiwan through the end of World War II shows up now and again in the cuisine, including in shichimi togarashi, a powdered chile spice mix that liberally dusts the morsels of crisp poultry. The overall effect of the condiment is quite mild. Most flavors and textures here are that way, even when menu descriptions say otherwise.
Spicy wontons ($6.50) look like they pack heat. The wrinkly, boiled dumplings stuffed with gingery ground pork are doused with red chile oil, but the dish is more comforting and flavorful than spicy. The same goes for a generous bowl of beef-noodle soup ($8.99). Ask for the hottest version the kitchen can muster and only then will eyes water. Pork-noodle soup with salted vegetables ($8.99) offers a brothy entree with no heat.
Ground pork with dry noodles ($7.99) features the same long pasta as in the soup, smothered with soy- and mirin-sauced meat. It is artfully presented on a fish-shaped platter, with soft-cooked potatoes in yellow curry and broccoli florets bookending the noodles on either side. Less visually appealing, but nicely flavored and satisfying, are dishes like pork and egg-fried rice ($8.99) and stir-fried beef noodles with jalapeno gravy ($8.99). These won’t win any beauty contests.
For a spot that pays attention to decor, it’s odd that the place lacks individual plates for divvying up dishes designed for sharing. Friendly staff will provide rice bowls instead of plates, as well as serving spoons, but you have to ask. Hot tea is served in flimsy foam cups, and you need several of the whisper-thin napkins to line your lap.
This newest outpost of Dolphin Bay appears to have a loyal following among international students and families. On a Sunday afternoon, every diner has ordered a smoothie (blended with watermelon, sweet red beans, or purple taro) or a cold sweetened tea blended with milk. From the happy slurping sounds we know they’ve all opted for boba in their beverages, tapioca pearls that require a wide straw. The bouncy black orbs bob languidly in the pastel liquids, like kelp under the sea. Or maybe we’ve just been lulled into beach mode by the cavorting dolphins.
72 Brighton Ave., Allston,
All major credit cards accepted. Not wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $3.75-$5.50. Noodles and rice plates $6.99-$8.99. Smoothies and sweet milk tea with boba $3.50-$5.
Hours Sun-Wed 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Thu-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
What to order Oyster pancake, popcorn chicken, spicy wontons, ground pork with dry noodles.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at