One problem with Yilan is that there aren't a lot of good restaurants. Most of the places that cater to tourists are mediocre, and the local people usually eat at home. If you happen to be in Yilan city at night, this is a good bet for a decent meal.
It isn't very impressive compared to the big night markets in Taipei or Kaohsiung, not to mention the huge Luodong night market one town over. If you want the deluxe night market experience, definitely go down to Luodong. But if you've decided to stay in Yilan city for the evening and want a smaller low key night market, there are a couple of local specialties here worth trying.
Most of the food and atmosphere are like any other Taiwanese night market - stinky tofu, dubious sanitation, happy crowds, chicken posteriors on a stick, people selling cheap ugly clothing, duck necks, the fat guy sweating into a huge wok as he stirs the food, seaweed flavored shawarma .... Yes, even if you've never been here, you already know
exactly what it's like.
Most of the food here is the same as what you would get at any night market in Taipei. But there are two things you should definitely try while you're here. Both stands are right next to the entrance to the night market. On the left side path, the first vendor on the right sells scallion pancakes 蔥油餅. The stand has Hello Kitty on the sign. These scallion pancakes are world famous (or at least famous throughout Yilan). They're indeed quite tasty, and different from the scallion pancakes in Taipei (thicker and fried in more oil). Once I came here with a friend visiting from Taipei who ate three of them - he thought they were absolutely wonderful. (Nevertheless, I think that one is sufficient.)
On a weekend there will be 20 or 30 people patiently
standing in line, but the line goes fast.
The other thing you should try is on the right hand side of the entrance to the night market. A stand here sells a retro beverage called yaoyaobing 搖搖冰. I'm told that this used to be extremely common all over Taiwan, but it's now almost extinct in the cities. I've never seen it in Taipei. Here in Yilan, this old fashioned drink is alive and well. It's common to see people selling yaoyaobing by the side of the road in remote areas. This drink is basically just a mixture of slushy ice and fruit juice or some other flavor. If it's a hot night, I recommend the green bean. According to Chinese medicine, this has a cooling effect on the body, and I swear it really works. Yaoyaobing makes the perfect end to an oily night market meal, and gives you a chance to see what Taiwanese drank back when the island was still a dictatorship.
If you want to recouperate from the crowds and grease, you can walk down the street to the park across from the train station. This is a quiet refuge, and there is usually a cool breeze in the evening. The structure on top of the park, which represents a forest, has become the symbol of Yilan.
The night market is right in the middle of Yilan City and easy to find. If you exit from the train station, turn right. The night market is underneath the overpass just one block away.