THE PODSKI

Food: () Creative Thai, Polish, Korean and down-home American cuisine.

Service: () Efficient food-cart owners don’t turn their backs on good conversation.

Atmosphere: () Intimate seating area invites new friendships among diners.

More Info

Location: 536 NW Arizona Ave., Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day

Cuisine: Eclectic

Price range: Most meals are in the $8 to $12 scope

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Many dishes appeal to young palates

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Each food cart has something for everyone

Alcoholic beverages: Beer, cider, wine

Outdoor seating: Open-air picnic tables

Reservations: No

Contact: www.thepodski.com.

As a boy growing up in Connecticut, Rich Wisniarski looked forward every year to Wigilia, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner prepared by his Polish immigrant father’s family. Grandma Janina specialized in pierogis, traditional Eastern European dumplings filled with meat, potatoes, cheese or other ingredients, typically served with grilled onions and sour cream.

Maliwan Hansen was born and raised in a small village in northeastern Thailand, where she learned to cook traditional foods from an early age.

Kathryn Rocheleau is a native of Austin, Texas, the Hill Country capital where Tex-Mex cuisine is a way of life.

Indeed, each of the resident food-cart owners at The Podski has a unique story, whether it’s about Southern fried chicken or Korean street waffles. The five mobile kitchens surround an Arizona Avenue alcove next to Tokyo Starfish, facing the north side of the Box Factory.

Their carts share a half-dozen picnic tables with The Podski Beer Cart and its excellent selection of craft brews and ciders. It was here, in 2016, that local musicians Mikel Lomsky and Caleb Trowbridge launched the dining cluster on the site of a former garage-studio combo. After improvements and civic approvals, it opened in May 2018.

Big Ski’s Pierogis

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Wisniarski’s first career was that of a New England prison guard. He devoted 20 years to the corrections system, emerging with the nickname Ski and a thank-you check that encouraged him and his family to relocate to Central Oregon.

New friends were impressed by Wisniarski’s first Wigilia celebration in the Pacific Northwest. They helped convince him that his pan-fried pierogis would be a big hit in Bend, where ethnic selections were limited. So, Big Ski launched his food cart on Century Drive. That was a few years ago; the cart still on the west side of town, is in the GoodLife Brewing beer garden at Century Center.

In 2018, Big Ski and The Podski were a perfect match. Wisniarski’s second pierogi cart anchors the back side of the foodie venue. His ever-changing menu sampler includes pierogis like the Bob Father (pepperoni and mozzarella with an Italian red sauce), the Happy Hawaiian (ham, pineapple and jalapeños) and the Pollo del Fuego (chicken, cheese, tomato and serrano chili). Hot off the grill, they tend to be a little greasy, which is why they may be better enjoyed with a fork than with fingers.

Our favorites were the B.C.B. (applewood-smoked bacon, cheese and beef), the Green Monstah (chicken, nut-based pesto and mozzarella) and the Popeye (spinach, sun-dried tomato, feta and garlic). They are priced at four for $8, six for $11, and all are served with grilled onions and sour cream. To make a full meal, consider the Big Ski, a half-dozen pierogis with two golumpki (stuffed cabbage leaves), all for $18.

Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Contact: bigskispierogi.com, 541-706-0050

Thailandia

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Thailandia has been a part of the Bend food scene since 2012. Originally in The Lot (reviewed on May 16), it moved to The Podski, co-owner Ron Hansen told The Bulletin, in part because it was allowed flexibility of open hours.

The driving force behind Thailandia is Maliwan Hansen, Ron’s wife. She grew up cooking for family and friends, and as a teenager operated a food stand in urban Bangkok, cooking street food with her sister, before moving to the United States in 2004.

Today, her sister and daughter operate the cart when Maliwan is at home with her youngest child. And perhaps because this kitchen is “all in the family,” it doesn’t miss a beat.

It would be impossible for me to try everything on the Thailandia menu — stir-fry plates, noodles, fried rice and curries, all priced at $12 and prepared as vegetarian meals or with chicken, beef, pork or shrimp — without making several visits. I’m sure that will come, but for review purposes, I chose just one: a green curry with chicken and bamboo shoots.

The coconut milk-based curry was the best I’ve had in Bend, even more than at my favorite sit-down Thai restaurants. Served with jasmine rice, it incorporated basil, broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, onions and garlic. Authentic ingredients and spices, including imported chilies, left me craving more.

Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday to Monday. Contact: thailandia-bend.com, 541-390-0230

The Tin Pig

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Already a decorated chef in Arizona, Jack Tate left Tucson in 2016 and came to Bend to open Immersion Brewing. Fewer than two years later, he and his wife, Yvonne, who also had more than two decades in the restaurant business, took the quantum leap to owning their own restaurant business.

The Tates’ Tin Pig offers more than Southwest cuisine, however. Jack grew up in Tennessee, Yvonne in Alabama with a touch of Virginia, so the couple is all about down-home Southern cooking. The menu highlights burgers and chicken sandwiches, but you don’t have to look far to find hush puppies, cracklin’ pork rinds or fried green tomatoes.

I was introduced to Tennessee hot chicken in Nashville a couple of years back, and the Tates serve the real thing. Deep-fried with tongue-tingling spices, the chicken is served as a sandwich ($8.50) on a Sparrow Bakery bun with pickles and mayonnaise. I don’t know that I’ve had a better chicken sandwich in Bend. I’m sure their burgers, such as the original Tin Pig ($12) with pork belly and green tomatoes, are equally good.

Open noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Contact: thetinpigfoodcart.com, 541-237-8200.

EMW Fusion

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EMW stands for East Meets West. Raised in Seoul, South Korea, Yoonmee Chang grew up enjoying jeon, a South Korean street food that could be described as filled pancakes. In 2015, she and her California-born husband, Brandon Walsh, moved to Bend after 25-year careers as apparel designers. A year later, they launched EMW Fusion with their own take on those Korean pancakes.

Like small fish-shaped pastries (think “Finding Dory”), cooked in a waffle press, pando is a cross-literation of the words pancake and sando (sandwich). Fillings are savory (pepperoni pizza, tuna melt), vegetarian savory (avocado grilled cheese, meatless bibimbap) and sweet (apple pie, mixed berry crunch). They run $4 apiece or three for $10.

Of those I tried, my favorite was pesto chicken, its sauce made from spinach, walnuts, avocado and Parmesan cheese. The spinach artichoke dip, with added mayonnaise, was less appealing. The sweet hotteok, with sliced bananas, brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon, was delicious, perfect for satisfying a sweet tooth.

Crispy when they are hot off the grill, the pando turn soggy as they cool. My advice is to eat them quickly.

The couple’s background in apparel (a graphic designer by trade, Walsh was a supervisor at Nike) has not been forgotten. Brandon’s apparel, including T-shirts and art work, are for sale at the food truck and at other locations around Central Oregon.

Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday to Monday. Contact: emwfusion.com, 503-853-4482.

Austin Street Tacos

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Once a Texan, always a Texan. Although Kathryn Rocheleau has lived in Bend since the early 1990s, working mainly in the software industry as a business analyst, the University of Texas graduate never stopped craving street tacos like those she enjoyed in her native state.

Two months after an unexpected layoff, the part-time food blogger was up and running with her tiny Austin Street Tacos cart in May of 2017.

Rocheleau starts with fresh, locally made corn tortillas, char-grilled and double-stacked. Four varieties of tacos ($3 to $4) are served, including the vegetarian bean-and-cheese selection. Others are Shiner Bock carne asada, sliced skirt steak in a 12-spice rub with a marinade of a classic Texas beer; chicken tinga in a chipotle adobo sauce with tomatoes and onions; and traditional pork carnitas, slow-cooked with onion, oregano, cinnamon, orange and lime.

My companion and I found the chicken and pork a little dry for our taste. Next time, I would take fuller advantage of the cart’s free selection of house-made salsas, including a fire-roasted red, a smooth jalapeño green, and a fresh pico de gallo with chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeños and lime wedges.

Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Contact: austinstreettacos.com, 541-280-6795.

Northwest Wing Shop

Immediately behind The Podski, the Northwest Wing Shop specializes in chicken wings, serving individual orders ($13 and under) and party-size orders of wings in nine styles, from mild to scorching hot. Also available are chicken salads, fried okra and crispy cauliflower. The owner plans to move into an adjacent brick-and-mortar house in the fall.

Contact: 525 NW Colorado Ave., Bend; northwestwingshop.com.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached janderson@bendbulletin.com

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