For nearly 14 years, downtown Portland’s Chit-Chat Café was a haunt among Portland State University students for a quick bagel, boba, or bento. When COVID-19 drove away the majority of his business, owner Alex Cheng was forced to make the difficult decision to shut down. Across town, Cheng’s brother-in-law, David Chow, who owns the karaoke lounge Chopsticks (and whose face famously appears on the sign), faced a similar fate; its barstools are empty and its speakers have remained silent since March 16.
On August 14, Cheng and Chow teamed up to reinvent Chit-Chat Café, which quietly reappeared as a pop-up takeout window on Chopsticks’ former smoking patio. Although the boba signage is everywhere, tucked away to the left of the takeout window is a small, focused menu of house-made Taiwanese classics.
The window’s menu includes prefab crowd-pleasers like dumplings and spring rolls, but the real draw is Chit-Chat Café’s array of house-made Taiwanese dishes. For instance, the lunch of a million Taiwanese train rides is the classic “braised pork belly,” lǔ ròu fàn: minced pork over rice, garnished with the essential pickled mustard greens (suāncài), a halved tea-cooked egg, and steamed broccoli. Other options include the pan-fried pork chop cutlet, páigǔ fàn, or chicken cutlet, jī pái fàn. The pan-fried, sesame seed-dotted hot and spicy beef, chǎo là niúròu, rounds out the entrees.
In the appetizers section is the ubiquitous night market stalwart, Taiwanese popcorn chicken, yán sū jī, fried in an aromatic white pepper dredge and intermixed with crispy-fried whole basil leaves. The salt & pepper squid, zhà yóuyú, comes in a similar dredge with basil leaves; it goes well with the crispy, flaky pan-fried green onion pancake, cōng yóubǐng.
The increasingly popular Taiwanese folded steamed bun, gua bao — stuffed with tender, sweet-and-savory, braised pork belly and then topped with peanut powder, sweet bean sauce, and cilantro — is not yet on the menu but will be available soon. Buns will be baked fresh by an unnamed Jade District bakery. A version of gua bao stacked with bacon is in the works, as well.
As for drinks, a large assortment of Taiwanese milk teas, iced teas, smoothies and freshly squeezed lemonade are all available, including the featured “tiger stripe boba” in which streaks of brown sugar syrup contrast against the light colored milk tea. Chit-Chat Café claims to be one of the first shops in Portland to serve boba milk tea, which originated in Taiwan.
Chit-Chat Cafe at Chopsticks is located at 3390 NE Sandy. Orders are available to go, and delivery is provided via Ubereats, Grubhub, Postmates and DoorDash.