Gumba-Portland, Oregon

Opening a restaurant in the Bay Area can be very costly and this could be why Off the Grid and Moveable Feast events have become so popular on the West Coast.

Off the Grid currently operates over 50 different events across the Bay Area featuring multiple food trucks.

Cost is one of the highest determining factors that restaurant owners take into account when opening a restaurant as well as the determining factor for customers looking for delicious foods. I ventured to Portland, Oregon to see what the food culture was like. Let me tell you, it sure did not disappoint! 

“The easiest answer would be money, I’ve been a line cook since I was 20, I’m 32 now, but no matter your ability as a line cook, you’re never gonna make more than enough money to pay your rent, cover a few bar tabs and put away a few bucks for a rainy day,” said Jesus Martinez, owner of Gumba.

Food trucks are a place to get quality food at a decent price without paying for the overhead that traditional brick and mortar restaurants add to their prices.

I think most people open a food truck because is inexpensive, you work when you want, there’s no cost of hiring bus boys, waiters, etc. you have the freedom to cook however you want, you also have the freedom to target certain customers you’re seeking for,” said Julie Nguyen, 25, restaurant owner and business major at De Anza College.

The term “roach coach” is what used to come to mind when someone mentioned food trucks. Now since different chefs are moving over to food trucks or food families are getting into it, the quality of the foods at these trucks is getting better and better.

“A lot of it is better than restaurants,” Nguyen said. “Plus I think because food trucks that are owned by a specific chef, they have the freedom to express their culinary skills with their dishes.”

Food trucks are not only beneficial for consumers looking for quality food at an affordable price, but it is also beneficial for the owners.

I love being in a food cart though, if I were to win the lottery tomorrow I’d stay in the cart, I really would. It’s a fun pace to cook at, for the most part it’s people strolling up and me being able to have a conversation with them, which is something that rarely happens in a restaurant kitchen,” Martinez said. “Then I get to cook my food for them, I get to take my time and cook the dish with the attention that is not always provided in a busy restaurant setting. Food carts are a low risk, high reward way to dine out, and I love being a part of it.”

Gumba is a high end food cart in Portland, Oregon that offers high quality Italian pasta dishes that are affordable.

“When we opened up Gumba, what excited me most was being able to offer high end food, but at a price that allows everyone to experience it,” Martinez said. “Lately there’s been a lot of carts opening blurring the line between restaurants and carts, I can’t believe the quality of food at some of carts I’ve been going to lately. We’re all pushing each other to be better, it’s a pretty special community to be a part of.”

Food truck communities can be found from Los Angeles to Seattle. Each community offers something different. With each city having its own melting pot of cultures, the combination of food at these events are endless. Portland’s food cart culture will feature several carts on one plot of land which is different from the Bay Area’s food truck events. 


“Well Portland, up until about 10 years or so ago, was more of a large town than a city. Vacated lots, containing nothing but weeds splitting the cracks in the pavement, is not an uncommon sight,” Martinez said. “Food carts are a great way to make use of these spaces. Sadly as the city grows, it seems as though those cul de sacs are now being appraised, and it’s coming back dolla signs. Lots are now being developed and food carts, which have become such a huge part of this city’s identity, are being forced out.”

With Portland moving towards more gentrification, you may see the food cart scene change into more of a Bay Area food truck scene since the land the carts are currently on, may end up getting sold to the highest bidder. And since I normally write about food, Here is my review of Gumba.

When I visited Gumba, I ordered the Manila clams pasta. The manila clams pasta featured manila clams, guancialle, green garlic, white wine, pickled soy beans and chiles for $14. This manila clam pasta was so good. You can taste the freshness of the dish. There was spicy taste to it with the clams. The spice almost resembled Chinese XO sauce. Excellent dish.

I also ordered the Pappardelle off of the handmade pasta section. Pappardelle had braised short rib sugo, olives, pecorino cheese and bread crumbs all for $12. This dish was my favorite of the two. It had a little crunch along with some meat. The dish was very aesthetic. It was like fine dining quality pasta at a food cart in Portland.

Honestly the best past I have ever had.

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Pappardelle- Photo by Terry Pon
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Manila Clam Pasta- Photo by Terry Pon
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Chef Jesse Martinez- Photo by Terry Pon
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Gumba Sign- Photo by Terry Pon

Off The Grid- San Francisco

So I went to the first Off The Grid this year in San Francisco. I also went the following week for Saint Patrick’s Day. This place has been getting more and more packed. The foot traffic at this place is insane.

I had guava-habanero lechón sliders from the Cubs Kitchen tent. The sliders are basically lechón (pork) smothered in bbq sauce, pickles, and sweet and spicy habenero peppers.

The sliders were steaming hot when I got them. There was excess meat on it that was falling off. Sooooo good that I plan on visiting their restaurant in Millbrae.

Jinya Ramen v. Slurp Ramen

Jinya Ramen San Jose

Jinya Ramen just opened up at San Jose’s Oakridge. This place usually has a long line out the door and for good reason. Their ramen is pretty darn good. I normally don’t like to get on the hype train for these restaurants that come up from LA. I decided that my love for ramen was greater than my need to go against the grain.

I ordered the Jinya Tonkotsu Black with a side of curry rice. The Jinya Tonkotsu balck has Pork broth: Pork chashu, kikurage, green onion, nori dried seaweed, seasoned egg, garlic chips, garlic oil, fried onion, served with thin noodles. I am a sucker for broth I often get into the debate of whether its about the noodles or the broth. For me its both. The broth here was really different from what I have had at other ramen restaurants. The rice and curry was just okay. Kind of a waste if you do not notice the noodle refill sign on the placards at each table like I did. Jinya does something I have not seen before. They will give you a free refill of noodles if you still have broth. If you are a broth sucker like me, you will notice this nice little perk after you have an empty bowl looking you in the face.

 

Slurp Ramen San Francisco China Town

So I came to Slurp Ramen with my cousin. He lives in China Town and told me about this cool Ramen place in one of China Town’s alleys. I ordered the tonkotsu black in order to compare it against the Jinya Tonkotsu black. Also because I prefer tonkotsu broth. The atmosphere at Slurp is a little more open than Jinya. Jinya is a bit cramped. Slurp is on the outskirts of China Town in an alley near the financial district side.

Slurp’s Tonkotsu black has Chashu, 1/2 egg, bamboo, wood ear mushrooms, scallions, seaweed with burnt garlic oil. I added additional chashu and added pork belly. The pork belly was really moist and flavorful. I have been to some restaurants where they don’t know how to cook pork belly and it ends up dried out and tasteless.

Comparison

I really liked Slurp’s tonkotsu better because of the portioning. The bowl is bigger and the broth was served at a hotter temperature than Jinya’s. Slurp’s tonkotsu black also had a stronger garlic taste which is a big win for me. If you like the lighter garlic flavor then Jinya is probably more your alley. Jinya’s Tonkotsu black is priced at $13.80 with a free refill of noodles whereas Slurp’s Tonkotsu Black is priced at $12.50 plus the additional price for extra chashu and pork belly. An additional order of noodles would cost $2.00 at Slurp. When it comes to price and convenience, I would choose Jinya. When it comes to flavor and atmosphere, I would pick Slurp. Both have their qualities and more importantly both have excellent ramen.

 

 

BonChon- San Jose

So I went to BonChon over the weekend. After hearing so much about this place I decided to finally check it out. They are known for fried chicken wings. They are like the Korean Wing Stop.

I tried the soy garlic strips. The flavor is stronger in the strips than the drums, but the drums are crunchier. Its a trade off. I also ordered the pork belly buns. The pork belly buns come in threes. The buns are steamed and there is pork belly, coleslaw, cucumbers, and katsu sauce. The pork belly was very dry.

Luckily the bibimbap saved the day. Bibimbap has white rice, vegetables, red pepper paste, egg, and bulgogi. It is served in a sizzling stone bowl that makes the rice around the bottom crispy.

Overall I was not impressed with BonChon. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I felt like the food was too overpriced for the quality that we had. I don’t think I will go back to BonChon.

 

Hong Kong Clay Pot- China Town SF

Hong Kong Claypot is one of my favorite restaurants in China Town. It has a mysterious romantic vibe about it. If that makes sense. It’s tucked away in plain sight. This narrow staircase on Grant avenue leads up to the restaurant. I like the seats near the window because you get a nice view of the streets of China Town. One of the many things I love about this place is that it is family owned. The owner works the floor all the time and her employees are so nice and dedicated. I always see the same people working all the time which gives me this welcoming authenticity. I have talked to the owner a couple of times and she is from Toisan China. Hong Kong Clay Pot is not exclusive for the Chinese like some China Town restaurants can be. The demographic of people that eat here are very diverse. I have eaten here when it is packed with Chinese people and the only language I hear is Cantonese. I have also been there when there are people speaking German, English, French, etc. I love this place and the food is really good as well. It takes me back to when I was a kid eating family style at a round table with a lazy susan.

We ordered corn soup which was pretty good. I never know what the soup of the day is. This was the first time I had it. We also ordered gai lan with beef. Gai lan is like a Chinese broccoli. One of my favorite vegetables. We also ordered cauliflower with squid, fried rice, and a beef clay pot. The cauliflower is a Chinese version that tastes really good. I have never had this type of cauliflower before. It is definitely something I would order again. The beef clay pot has beef, tofu, and mushroom. This was the first time I ever ordered the beef clay pot. Note that the yellow curry clay pots are also very good. Not sure what it is about this place’s fried rice, but I LOVE the fried rice here. So basic. I know.

 

 

Wenzhou Fish Noodles & More- San Jose

I ventured into San Jose’s Japan Town last week. While wandering around looking for a place to eat, I remembered an article I read sometime last year about San Jose’s China Town. The article stated that there was only one remaining restaurant from San Jose’s China Town and that the owner’s renovated at some point last year. So that led me to check out Wenzhou Fish Noodles & More since it is the last business remaining of China Town San Jose. It is on the edge of San Jose’s Japan town on North 6th. It is easy to miss if you go to Japan town, but worth checking out if you are in town.

I went by myself so I only tried one item. I ordered the Wenzhou silky knocked fish noodle soup. It is a fish soup with various veggies, noodles, and fish. The fish however, was not the winner of the dish. The fish did not have much flavor, but the broth was very good. They give you complimentary salad, which is very small. They also give you a cup of jasmine tea. They give you a secret sauce with your soup. I was not sure what type of sauce it was, but it was spicy. Maybe a spicy peanut sauce, but again not sure. If it was peanut sauce, it would be nice to warn people in case they have

peanut allergies.

Hot Pot Garden- Millbrae

So I had Hot Pot Garden last night. Got there right when they opened at 5:30pm. Best time to get there because the parking after they open is horrendous. You could find yourself circling the block a few times. Hot Pot Garden is Cantonese hot pot. When you walk in the door they have this wall to the left with tons of beers on tap with a nice bar counter. They have a small glass viewing above the taps that allows you to see the kegs in the back. Very aesthetic. So we got the all you can eat hot pot which will run you about thirty bucks a person with a 90 minute limit. Note that they also have an all you can drink option, which we didn’t do because we were sick :[.

We ordered two broths, spicy miso and tamarind. The spicy miso was perfect broth for a flu bug although I liked the tamarind more. I love meat so I ordered several orders of American Wagyu beef, beef rib eye, lamb and pork belly. All the meats are thinly sliced so that they cook quickly in the broth. We only ordered one round of vegetables which were enoki mushrooms, baby bok choy, lotus root, spinach, and potato. I followed up with some delicious calamari. The calamari comes with tentacle and body. I found that the ramen noodles paired well with tamarind broth. The Chinese Doughnut paired pretty well too. They gave us complimentary tea in a nice white pot with lines around the sides.

On our second round of meat we noticed out broth was not steaming anymore. We asked the server is our grill had gone out. After several attempts to revive the grill they decided to move us to another table. They helped us move everything, but did not turn our grill on. We did it ourselves. We asked for water two to three times and had no such luck. Bad service, but great food. Would maybe recommend it if you live in the city and don’t feel like driving to Irving. Eating in San Francisco is a nightmare if you have a car because of the parking. That’s why driving to Millbrae may be a better alternative for food.

 

Tai Wu- Millbrae

In honor of Chinese New Year, one of the places we ate at was Tai Wu. This place is a traditional Cantonese restaurant. When yo u walk in you see these chandeliers on the ceiling. They have a massive painting about 10-15 feet tall with a large lotus flower on it. Below the painting is a statue of Guan Yu and Zhang Fei with fruits. The tables are large and round with white table clothes for a large family gathering. The waiters wear a white dress shirt and a black bow tie.

We are brought a silver tea pot with jasmine tea and some salted baked peanuts. We ordered crab meat fish maw soup, Dungeness crab with minced garlic and vermicelli, deep fried salted egg yolk Dungeness crab, pork tongue dried oysters and fat chow, yu choy, honey walnut prawns, fried rice, a whole chicken, and fish. Our family says it is important that we order a whole fish and a whole chicken. The chicken symbolizes unity and family whereas the fish symbolizes abundance. We also ordered my favorite dish; Peking duck with steamed buns and hoisin sauce. We finished up our meal with a mango pudding dish with condensed milk. One of my favorite desserts to order at Chinese restaurants (If they have it).

I would recommend Tai Wu to anyone who loves traditional Chinese food. Not Panda Express… This place is family owned and speak Cantonese and Mandarin. Places like this get bad Yelp ratings by Yelpers who come here with one or two people and expect some extravagant experience. You go to Cantonese restaurants for the food. Not the service. Our service was excellent.The best dish we ordered was the Peking Duck. I am biased. I love Peking Duck. I like to take the crunchy skin with some meat, smear hoisin sauce on the steamed bun and eat it like a little taco.

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Crab meat fish maw soup
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Mango Pudding with condensed milk
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Dungeness Crab with garlic and vermicelli
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deep fried salted egg yolk Dungeness Crab
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Steamed buns
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Peking Duck
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Fried Rice
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Pork tongue with oysters and fat choy
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Honey walnut prawns
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Yu Choy

 

What The Cup- San Jose

I went to What The Cup over the weekend. I am a fan of Korean food and Japanese. What The Cup is a Japanese Korean fusion restaurant that focuses on ramen noodles. They offer tonkatsu and miso broth. The also off udon.

I had the Tonkatsu Niku Ramen- choice of meat(Spicy pork, shoyu pork, premium chicken, and Japanese beef) Chasu 2 pieces, memma, mushroom, green onions, choice of spice level 1-5. Plus extra Chasu 3 pieces for $2 extra. It was very good quality ramen. I like how you get to choose the spice level which gives it the Korean tofu house experience. I have eaten here before and level 1 spice melted my face off. I can normally handle spicy food, but there is something about Korean spices that are very potent.

I also ordered the W.T.C. Fries- Japanese beef, pan fried kimchi, cheese, green onions, mango and spicy sauce. The W.T.C. fries were actually pretty good. I did not think that kimchi and cheese would be a good combination. I was wrong. The real winner of this dish is the mango and spicy sauce with the Japanese beef. They also offer this dish with sweet potato fries. Note that the fries are waffle cut.

I would recommend What The Cup to ramen lovers. This place offers a great Asian fusion with a nice modern atmosphere. The music that they play is for the younger crowd. The owners must be anime fans as well since they have some awesome figurines on the shelves.

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Tonkatsu Niku Ramen
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W.T.C. Fries

 

Homeroom-Oakland

Last night I ate at Homeroom in Oakland. Once arrived, Homeroom gives you a sign in sheet with a preference of inside, outside, and community seating preference. Now, if you are there to eat and do not mind privacy, then I suggest checking the community seating preference. It will allow you to be seated faster, but you will not have any privacy. It was raining last night, yet their outside seating area is heated by ceiling heaters and covered by a canopy.

Homeroom offers American traditional baked mac and cheese. For starters I ordered the Brussels sprouts with bacon. It was served in a little dish with a side of balsamic vinegar. Note that the balsamic vinegar was requested. As an entree, I ordered the Macximus mac and added bread crumbs and chicken. The Macximus Mac is a Greek style mac with feta, spinach, shallots, and artichoke hearts. The addition of bread crumbs and chicken really blends well together with this dish.

I like Homeroom because the atmosphere is very hipster and lively. The staff was extremely friendly and the food came out quickly. They have an add on menu where you can pay a little extra for items like chicken, bacon, bread crumbs, caramelized onions, and much much more. The food was very hot when it came out and filling. I was unable to try any of their desserts. I would recommend Homeroom to anyone who enjoys macaroni. It is a great place to bring the family. Homeroom also has vegetarian and vegan alternatives.

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Brussels Sprouts with bacon
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Macximus Mac with bread crumbs and chicken