When traveling around New York, it’s sometimes best to follow your nose. Each neighborhood boasts its own battalion of restaurants, each ready to impress newbies and draw in regulars. For Emily Chen, these beloved New York institutions offer more than just good eats — they also strum up some creative inspiration.

The longtime New York-based artist crafts colorful illustrations, static love letters to favorite restaurants visited. She documents her travels and posts her drawings on Instagram, and we’re fortunate to say she has now moved to the nabe! Greenpoint’s food scene is one of its most treasured entities, so we were thrilled to get to speak with Emily, hear about her work, and show off some of her amazing illustrations and greeting cards.

Greenpointers: Welcome to Greenpoint! How have you been enjoying the tip of Brooklyn?

Emily Chen: Thank you! I’m really loving it. 

Having lived in Manhattan for the past 10 years, I’m happy to finally be a resident in the cooler borough. I used to come to Greenpoint for solo-dates to seek inspiration or go on food and bar adventures with friends since it always had such a magical vibe. Now that I live here, I realize it’s the community that makes it so wonderful. I’ve never gotten to know my neighbors outside of my building or had local go-tos until Greenpoint . I always tell people who aren’t as familiar with Greenpoint that it feels like the (semi-spoiler alert) post-apocalyptic island in A Quiet Place 2 where everyone is always looking out for each other (like all the lost and found posts in Greenpointers!). 

Emily Chen, a food illustrator who just moved to Greenpoint

We saw and loved the Pueblo Querido drawing — any other drawings of neighborhood establishments to come? Once you settle in, of course! We just love ’em so much.

Yes, definitely more Greenpoint posts to come. After the height of the pandemic and seeing how hard local businesses were hit, I feel like art and social media are a great way to bring awareness to all the amazing spots that make this community so vibrant. One of my college friends just opened up Fulgurances Laundromat, which has one of the best somms/natty wine programs, in my opinion. I’ve already done the famous pancakes from Chez Ma Tante a couple of years ago when I was just a Greenpoint tourist and I’m dying to try Taqueria Ramirez and Xilonen. I’m also looking at changing my style as well so I can crank out more of these! 

Emily Chen’s drawing of pan de bono from Greenpoint’s Pueblo Querido

How long have you been illustrating professionally? How has it treated you?

I’ve been drawing since I was little but it was only in 2014, when it became more official. My former manager at an advertising agency I used to work at, encouraged me to start a website (emcocards.com) in 2014 to sell greeting cards, which spun out to commissioned work and eventually @emco_recos, which is an Instagram account that recommends some of my favorite foods and restaurants. It’s still a side-hustle while I’m a Design Program Manager at a tech company. Since starting my Instagram account, I’ve done illustrations for Resy, Goop, Merch Aid, and other various restaurants. It’s also pretty cool that some pretty notable NYC chefs have some of my prints in their restaurants/homes. I think there’s a lot of hype in the food world and it takes a lot of time to do these illustrations so I only draw the ones that I think are truly worth trying. 

One of Emily Chen’s homemade greeting cards

How did your work pause or shift during the pandemic?

Currently, this is still just a side hustle so I was fortunate to still have my main job during the pandemic. I was honored to be able to design a piece for Merchaid, which started by supporting businesses affected by the pandemic and then later on, the Black and AAPI communities. I designed a t-shirt and print for Wu’s Wonton King in Chinatown and helped raise money for the impacted staff while they were closed. During the pandemic, I didn’t feel as inspired and it felt strange to be drawing foods with everything that was going on. At the same time illustrating gave me a form of escapism and emco recos allows me to support my favorite local businesses at a very slight scale.

Anything else you’d like to add? Thank you!

I’m always looking for new spots to try and my Google Maps looks crazy because of all the saved pins. If there are any places you think I should try, let me know! 

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