Out of the five or so Chinese places in South Bend, JW Chen's consistently ranks the top in both "word-of-mouth" recommendations and online research. The restaurant is located on an unassuming strip mall (it's not really a strip mall, but it's the closest thing to it, I suppose, really it's a parking lot with some storefronts linked together in an odd configuration), in between a Papa John's and a large tobacco store. It's hard to miss if you aren't looking for it, and the restaurant itself is quaint and homey. It can maybe at capacity seat less than 40. However, the moment you walk in, you're greeted by this lovely grandmotherly owner named Jean. She seats you and then proceeds to take a seat with you and discuss what you're eating.
Now, I'm decently familiar with what I like in Chinese food, and I can read Chinese/know what to order. Yet, even before I had a chance to really read the menu, she has taken a chair, and proceeds to help me decide what I want for lunch. We settle on 豆瓣魚 (fried fish in chili sauce) and 高麗菜 (Taiwanese cabbage stir-fried with garlic) and some rice. Within ten minutes, my food had arrived and I was taken aback. The first thing that hits you is the garlic from the cabbage. It's a smell that reminds you of any random stall in a wet market in Taipei, where the owners are yelling in the background and banging of spatulas in woks. That first bite solidifies the image. The crisp and crunchy cabbage mixed in with extremely fragrant garlic is the best bite of vegetables ever. I would eat a bowl of rice and cabbage every day if it was made like that. Then with the fish, lightly breaded and fried then combined with a spicy red sauce that has a hint of sweetness is just divine. Extremely flaky and surprisingly fresh, each morsel of fish is exploding with flavor. The spice is hot, enough to make you sweat and replace every other bite with rice or cabbage, but not overwhelmingly so. As I dine on food that takes me home, I have brief conversations with the owner, other wait staff, and I find myself having a sigh of relief and joy with every pause in the meal.