I HAVE NO PATIENCE for people who say Portland has crappy Chinese food. Sure, we're no New York or San Fran, but there are a few mighty fine Szechuan joints, some very decent dim sum, and chewy handmade noodles in each quadrant.
And now, rolling straight out of the Bay Area, we have Mama Chow's Kitchen, with some seriously soulful wonton soup and wings with a hard punch of umami. Mama Chow's is one of those gems that you can tell is going to make it, good press or not. But there are a few items from this tiny four-item menu that are too good not to share.
Find owner Jeff Chow's cute-as-hell cart, all cedar siding with a forest green roof, at SW 2nd and Stark, and then order the wonton soup ($7). Chow told Food Carts Portland the dumplings are a tribute to those made by his mother (presumably this Mama Chow we hear so much about). I'm sure mama is proud: ground pork and shrimp or chicken (go with the pork and shrimp) are tucked into wonton skins and dropped into a housemade broth and served with still crisp baby bok choy. Customize with the condiments. Add fried garlic and chili sauce, as Chow—who may be the most amiable chef of all time—chats about his love for the Oakland A's and favorite Portland restaurants while his hands fly, preparing the next order.
The lollipop wings ($8) are just as good as the soup. Marinated in honey, soy, garlic, and vinegar, Chow said he purposefully avoided a fish sauce glaze to stay off Pok Pok's turf; either way, their savory-sweet profile makes them almost as craveable. The sauce is reduced to a glaze before being dished up five to an order over rice with baby bok choy. Party bonus: The wings are drumettes with the meat pushed up the bone, creating an ideal handle for eating outside and not getting totally goopy.
Also on the menu are fresh, locally made garlic noodles with chayote ($6), a small green squash favored in Asian and Latin American markets. Chayote's cool crunch, similar to cucumber, counterbalances the warm pan-seared noodles. Sriracha and an onion relish do a lot to kick things up. You can add kalua pork to the noodles for $3 more, but it's the most expensive thing on the menu and it needs some serious doctoring.
It may not be the most traditional, but there are some well-balanced flavors coming out of Mama Chow's Kitchen—only adding to an ever-growing club of truly good Chinese restaurants in the area. So, haters, put that in your chopsticks and chew on it.
Mon-Fri 11 am-3 pm, Sat noon-5 pm