As Rachel has mentioned in previous posts about trip planning, we (mainly she does) typically search sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, and TripAdvisor for different restaurants that are popular “must go to” places. As we drove to South Bend in the snow storm, for some reason, we had not picked a place to eat upon our arrival mainly because we were not sure what time we would get there and what we would want to eat. So as Rachel drove trying to keep us alive on the snow covered roads, I was focusing on food. I know, different priorities! As I looked at Yelp for restaurants, I was expecting to see an Irish food restaurant or a bar/pub that caters to the university students near the top of the list. I was surprised to see that one of the most popular and highest rated restaurants was a place called J.W. Chen’s.
Not wanting to spend too much money and needing a fairly quick lunch so that we could get on with our activities, we decided to give this Asian bistro a try. I will spare you the suspense, it is without a doubt one of the best hidden gems we’ve ever found.. Upon arriving, the owner greets you and talks with you about what type of food you like and typically order. She gives you several recommendations or tells you that she will make you something special. I was not expecting this at all because VERY FEW restaurants have such generous hospitality. We looked over the menu and found a couple of options that sounded good, and the next thing we know, a plate is put before us. I am wondering what is this, this must be someone else’s food. Next thing I know, here comes the owner telling us to try it and if we don’t like it, we can order something else. In the conversation we had, I told her that I like sweet and spicy. Either Rachel or myself mentioned something about chicken. So the dish that was set before us was this wonderfully sweet and spicy crispy chicken that was phenomenal! So I loved it but still wanted to try something else to see what they had to offer.
Rachel ordered the chicken & broccoli and I went for a traditional sesame chicken. The portions were fantastic and honestly the prices were pretty good as well for Asian restaurants. We went for lunch and ordered the lunch specials which includes soup, egg roll, and fried or steamed rice.The egg rolls were nice and crispy with a good amount of filling and a nice dipping sauce that heightened the flavors of the vegetables. Rachel’s meal was flavorful and she was happy to find that the broccoli wasn’t overcooked (this is a big point for her when we go to restaurants where the vegetables are overcooked)! My sesame chicken was very good. It had a nice crispiness and the amount of batter wasn’t overwhelming. The sauce had a nice sweet flavor to it, but also a slight hint of spice that amplified the dish overall. The rice was wonderful. A funny thing though, even though I really enjoyed the sesame chicken, the crispy chicken that was specially made for us was by far our favorite part of the meal.
Everything tasted so good and while there are several Americanized dishes, there are a number of legit authentic Asian dishes that are worth trying. They do offer options that fill different dietary restrictions as well which is always a plus; just inform the owner or check their menu. .
Overall, the food was well done and very good and worth visiting. But, the service is what makes J.W. Chen’s a one-of-a-kind restaurant. The person taking your order is willing to talk and help . Your drink glass never gets empty. The prices are really reasonable and the portions are a good size as well. If you are in the area, this is a must try!