JIA is Where the Heart Is | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

JIA is Where the Heart Is

Asian street food elevated to the moon

When you find that restaurant combining a comfortable atmosphere with kind service, incredible food and reasonable prices, it's like you've found a unicorn. The Bend restaurant scene is so busy and fluid that a unicorn is more tempting to keep to yourself. I've blown up more than one spot writing for this paper over the years and the comments I receive from readers range from gratitude for sharing a great new place (or hidden gem) with the community to anger that I ruined a nice and quiet locals' spot.

click to enlarge JIA is Where the Heart Is
Jennifer Galler
Thai Red Curry with Chicken (center)

Well, sorry, not sorry, because JIA Asian Street Kitchen deserves to be packed all the time. Being on Brookswood (in the old Meadowlark location) it's a little off the beaten path for places that pick up the instant trendy customer traffic, but is absolutely worth a special trip to the south side of Bend. From the instantly iconic décor, the thoughtful service to the genuinely astonishing food, JIA is an absolute gem and hits a specific niche the Bend food scene was lacking.

Owner/operator Cynthia Linh launched JIA with such confidence that it feels like it has been part of the food ecosystem here for years.

"I've always been passionate about food's ability to connect people from different backgrounds and all walks of life," says Linh. "My career in the restaurant industry spans several years, focusing on social media, marketing and branding in the food space. I've had the opportunity to work with some of the world's top restaurants, learning from esteemed chefs and gaining invaluable experience. Here, I've found a place to call home, start a family, and pursue my dream of bringing the best of Asian cuisine to this wonderful community."

click to enlarge JIA is Where the Heart Is
Jennifer Galler
Japanese Tuna Boat.

Starting with the cocktail menu, everything has such varied and diverse selection of flavors and spirits that it was hard not to want to try one of everything. I started with an Old Town Road, which expertly fuses a traditional Thai tea with an Old Fashioned, featuring orange bitters, Angostura bitters, Carpano Antica Formula, Zucca Rabarbaro and house-dehydrated orange. The breadth of flavor, from the sharpness of the bitters to the floral bouquet of the vermouth gives the Old Town Road a complexity that got me smitten.

click to enlarge JIA is Where the Heart Is
Jennifer Galler
Far East Chx (wings).

The Old Town Road paired perfectly with the mountain of starters we went with — each offering a reinvention of traditional Asian dishes combining astonishing presentation and plating with a deep bench of flavor. From the massive General Garlic Prawns (served with an intoxicating pepper and garlic sauce), to the Japanese Tuna Boat with raw cubed tuna soaked in a delectable spicy miso on a crispy Vietnamese cracker, to the Far East Chx, an incredible remix of fried chicken wings but with one of the most complex glazes I've ever tasted (a mix of honey soy, ginger, garlic and sesame) and then finally to the Pork Belly Baos with tender five spice pork belly, cucumber, purple cabbage, pickled carrot and cilantro topped with crispy garlic, onion and house chili oil... JIA has curated a starters menu deep with complex Asian flavor but aimed perfectly at a Northwest audience.

click to enlarge JIA is Where the Heart Is
Jennifer Galler
Bone-In Beef Noodle Soup.

"We wanted to elevate traditional street food favorites and showcase the vibrant flavors of Asia," Linh said. "We pulled inspiration from our cultural backgrounds. I am Chinese, but my parents were born and raised in Vietnam. After escaping the Vietnam War, they landed in San Francisco's Chinatown and eventually in San Jose, which is home to some of the best Chinese and Vietnamese food in the county. My business partner is originally from Thailand and has owned and operated many Asian restaurants in the Bay Area. Our menu was designed to reflect our diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences, incorporating influences from China, Vietnam, Thailand and more. It features dishes that we cherished growing up, enhanced with sophisticated twists."

Next, I went with the Fire and Smoke cocktail with Union Mezcal, Aperol, lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit, agave and shaken with jalapeno. This is smoked tableside, enhancing those classic Mezcal campfire notes without sacrificing the refreshing citrus tang. There's always the danger that Mezcal can overpower your palate with smoke, but this worked perfectly with the remainder of the meal.

The Thai Red Curry with a quarter chicken leg marinated in lemongrass and served with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips and broccoli was the perfect spice level. I could imagine this becoming one of Central Oregon's favorite red curries. By this point I had tried so many different dishes, but the freshness of the chicken combined with the insanely savory red curry flavors made me keep going.

click to enlarge JIA is Where the Heart Is
Jennifer Galler
At JIA, puffy white clouds, indoor foliage and day-glo neon enhance the fusion of flavors from China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The absolute show-stopper, brought to us last, was the Bone-In Beef Noodle Soup with a giant bone-in beef short rib in a spicy broth with thick udon noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, green onions, cilantro and basil. When this came out to the table, everyone in the restaurant dropped what they were doing to look. On one of the largest rib bones I've ever seen, this thick and massive slice of meat was so tender it was impossible not to luxuriate in letting it melt in your mouth. This dish isn't just a highlight for JIA, but for the entire Central Oregon culinary scene.

Having dinner at JIA was a special experience. Something comfortable and peaceful and unpretentious, which is so refreshing in a town that sometimes prioritizes the location more than the experience. Linh explains the philosophy of the vibe: "JIA, meaning 'home' in Mandarin, represents more than just a restaurant to us. It's a place where we can share a piece of our culture with the Bend community." Welcome home.

JIA Asian Street Kitchen
19570 Amber Meadow Dr., Bend

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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