Chen with a spread of food from one of his favorite carts, Chochu Local

Whenever I’ve gone to visit a pop-up lately, from Luna Contreras’s Chelo to the collab with Lobo and American Gothic at Cafe Olli, one other guest has been a constant—Ehow Chen. Chen, who was born in Taiwan, grew up in Bend from age five and has lived in Portland for over a decade. A former Yelp Elite reviewer for several years, he’s since turned his attention toward uplifting small food businesses on his Instagram page @ehow.eats

Aside from being an omnipresent pop-up guest, Chen has also been responsible for putting several places on my radar, including the newly reopened Thai restaurant Yui, Rose City Food Park espresso cart J Vein Caffe and its Chamorro food neighbor Chochu Local, and Sellwood Thai cart Chick & Pig (which serves up a mean fried chicken in panang curry). Like me, Chen shares an affinity for spreading the word about small businesses, especially food carts. I talked with him about his favorite carts right now, plus a few special occasion spots, and what he’s learned about the industry by meeting people through his page.

What’s your day job? What do you love to do outside of looking for good food? 

I’m a data analyst for a mobile games company. I’m also a gamer—all kinds of games, video games, board games. My favorite board game right now is called Isle of Cats. It’s a game where you and your friends are competing to rescue the most cats from an island, and you have to do this kind of Tetris puzzle where you squeeze them in while keeping them with their families. I also have two cats, Ragnar and Xena.

Where did you really develop your love of food? Was it here in Portland, or somewhere else?

I was very excited to go visit Portland when I was in college, because there were dishes and specific restaurants that excited me. But it was when I went to Chicago for grad school that I had, like, this widening of my perspective, because the food scene there is just really expansive and really impressive. I made a bunch of new friends from different cultures. It just expanded me in so many different ways that it really was what I would consider my food renaissance of sorts. I got to really explore and try a lot of different foods. There was a Peruvian restaurant that was really impressive. The German food scene is actually pretty impressive there. There was a Greek diner that I went to that served burgers, and the owner saw me order my burger over-medium there, and he’s like, no, no, you should try medium today. He slowly worked me down to medium rare, and now every time I get a charburger, I get it medium rare. That’s part of my personal evolution, in a way—stepping outside my comfort zone and my family and being able to explore it on my own. When I visited my family in Taipei, we went to a filet mignon house and everyone except me ordered it well-done, and everyone at the table was like, are you sure? I haven’t managed to convince any of them to try it yet. 

When and why did you start your Instagram page? 

It wasn't until about a year ago, in 2021. I made a decision after many sessions of therapy to kind of start doing things again, even if it's not like, doing things with people. But I wanted to turn something that I do into a positive force in the world, and not necessarily just for myself. At the time, the restaurant industry was kind of faltering, having tough times with COVID. And I had been a food enthusiast for a while. I used to be Yelp Elite, and people like my recommendations, so I might as well turn this into a thing. I really wanted it to be very intentional. I really wanted to support small businesses, ultimately, and make sure they get the shine wherever I go.

What are some of your favorite food carts lately? 

I really want to go back to Chick & Pig, because their fried chicken and panang curry blew my mind. I’m always gonna recommend Matta and Baon Kainan, especially since they’ve moved next to Concourse Coffee, so you can always get coffee while you’re there. That’s a no-brainer for me. For soul food, you’ve got Erica’s, which I highly recommend, and there’s JaDa’s Soulful Eatz. They do have a brick and mortar, too. I usually get the shrimp and grits or the mac ‘n’ cheese. The Montage food cart on Hawthorne is always so tempting, because I love getting their SPOLD—Spicy Old Mac ‘n’ Cheese (a blend of the Old style mac ‘n’ cheese with heavy cream and garlic and the spicy Cajun style). The CORE food pod is just an excellent array of choices. You’ve got Mitate, Sou’s, Gnarly's, which is a vegan burger place. Hawker Station is really good for rice and chicken or variations thereof. It’s furthered by having indoor space and the Breakside cart. All it’s missing is HeyDay at this point, which will basically make it impossible not to go there.

Are there any other cart pods that you love?

A lot of the downtown ones have been demolished, which is sad, but the PSU ones are pretty solid. The only one I really go to is Dosirak. It’s owned by this lovely Korean couple. They do teriyaki chicken, fried gyoza or mandu, or rice. They’re consistent, solid, it’s delicious. It’s one of those cases when you do one thing really well, and it works for them. And the people are sweethearts, too. That’s another reason I’ll promote a business too, if they give off good vibes. Mike from Chochu Local is so cool, too. My go-to there is the barbecue chicken, because I usually go there for lunch and the pork belly would probably weigh me down by the end of the day. I think I’ve tried all their kelaguens, too, and they’re all good.

And then what are your favorite more casual sit-down restaurants?

At Pine Street Market in downtown, Shanghai’s Best is so good for their pan-fried pork dumplings. Completely underrated. It used to be a food cart. I would consider Gumba kind of casual, even though their price point has gone up a bit—you can meet there with friends and have a good time there. I’d say Khao Moo Dang, the sister restaurant to Thai Peacock. They do lots of pork-focused dishes, won ton soup. They’re so consistent and that’s one thing I appreciate. I haven’t had a bad dish there. I’m always like, I would order that again. I would eat a million of these won tons and not get sick of it.

Where would you go for a special occasion dinner?

Last year, I did a very small birthday party at Gumba, when people were still ramping up getting vaccinated. I had a really good time hanging out in a more normal setting, so I’d probably want to do something there. One of my more recent finds, Lulu Bar, they do birthday parties there, and I would go there for date nights, or if I wanted to celebrate something and would like a drink with it. I love the ceviche, the empanadas at the Jarana pop-up at Lulu. I would also consider something like the Paa Dee space. Dame Restaurant, I’ve only been there once, but they have a back space for a party—that’d be a nice place to have some great food and delicious wine.

What pop-ups have you liked lately?

Chelo. I’m a huge fan. Luna Contreras and Michelle Ruocco are a force to be reckoned with. The cocktails and the vegetable-forward dishes, the duck. Anything they make, I’ll eat it. It’s so different.

What’s one thing you’ve been hearing from a lot of people in the food industry lately?

People are leaving poor reviews for not getting everything exactly as they want. I think, with COVID, the dynamic has shifted from “the customer's always right” to “please be respectful to one another.” And people have not adjusted accordingly. A lot of people feel they deserve an exceedingly high level of service. It’s like, “I didn’t get what I wanted and I’m gonna be a jerk about it.” A lot of break-ins have been really unfortunate, doors getting broken and things getting stolen. The hope is that it’ll get better as the pandemic gets a bit better, but it’s not an easy situation, for sure.

What’s one thing you’d want your followers to know?

I always say, rain or shine, make the effort to visit a food cart, because if it's even drizzling outside right now, they're probably not getting as much business as they should be, and they need as much help as we can get at this point in time. And you know, really all the time, whether it's a pandemic or not, you know, it's good to support the people that you really enjoy getting your food from. 

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