A full-service Korean restaurant hidden inside an Asian food court
When people think of food courts, there’s a good chance that they think of the sections off to the side within malls that feature mostly generic versions of a variety of foods and that always seem to have people circling around over and over again to make a meal out of free food samples (which a food writer would never, ever do, of course, right?). Some food courts are better than others, of course, and in the case of Asian food courts such as those at Hong Kong Supermarket/Super 88 in Allston and H Mart in Burlington and Cambridge, they can be a lot better than most. And then there are food courts that could even be considered destination spots for dining, such as the one at the Porter Exchange in Cambridge. This narrow little food hall might not have a dud in the lot. It is mainly home to Japanese eateries—with the exception of one restaurant called Cho Cho’s, which is different from its neighbors in a couple of ways: It has a bit of elbow room, which is at a premium in this food court, and it focuses on Korean food, including food options that can’t be found at any of the other dining spots here.
The food court at the Porter Exchange sits off to the left of the main Mass Ave entrance in a little hallway that has a sushi bar at the head, a spacious sit-down restaurant in the back, and several closet-sized Japanese eateries along the left side of the hall. Cho Cho’s is the sole restaurant along the right side of the hall, though a bubble tea and dessert place called Yotopia (which is under the same ownership as Cho Cho’s) is just around the back corner from it, and it seems that because people tend to focus on Cafe Mami, Sapporo, Tampopo, and Ittyo across the way, Cho Cho’s gets a bit lost in the shuffle. Unlike the four spots across from it, Cho Cho’s feels more like a true restaurant because of its additional room (and its lack of neighbors to the left and right), and it has a slightly more leisurely feel to it, so it is a good option for those not looking to do a hurry-up meal on the way to somewhere else.
While not exclusively a Korean restaurant, Cho Cho’s puts the focus mainly on Korean fare, including great takes on maandu gook (a delicious dumpling soup); bibimbap, with the okdol bibimbap being the way to go because it is served in a traditional stone bowl that keeps it sizzling as you eat it; bulgoki, which comes with marinated beef and a fried egg over rice and has a bit of a kick from a spicy sauce; and japchae, a relatively mild option with sweet potato noodles and vegetables stir-fried in sesame oil. One lesser-known Korean item found here is the yuk gae jang, which has a delightful mix of shredded beef and potato noodles in a broth that seems to get more and more spicy as you eat it, while a classic Korean dish—the soft tofu stew—has a broth that gets almost screaming hot. But it’s also a savory option, with lots of tofu soaking up the flavors of the ingredients while an egg served on the side gets dropped into the bowl at the start and cooks in the broth. One non-Korean option at Cho Cho’s is an excellent take on pad Thai; it includes cashews rather than peanuts, which gives it some extra sweetness. Like its neighbors, Cho Cho’s does not offer alcohol, but unlike some of its neighbors, the restaurant does take credit cards—and the prices are downright cheap with most dishes being somewhere around the $10 mark.
Cho Cho’s, much like the food court at the Porter Exchange itself, is a real hidden gem that flies well under the radar, so it isn’t all that difficult to get a seat there. This, plus the fact that it actually has a parking lot out back (a rarity in Cambridge) and is right next to a T station, makes it an easily accessible dining option for those who like Asian street food and cheap eats in general. It definitely isn’t a household name, but Cho Cho’s is a place that certainly deserves a lot more recognition than it gets.
CHO CHO’S. 1815 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE.