Salt Lake City

(801) 328-8889

Monday–Thursday 12-8 p.m.

Friday–Saturday 12-9 p.m.

Evergreen House Cafe takes the current wisdom of eating real food, not much of it and mostly vegetables, to heart. This is a good thing, on paper at least, but in practice it creates a somewhat limited menu. My experience with this bohemian diner has been nothing if not dynamic, which I suppose is at odds with what seems a small, even humble, ambition. As for me, I hated it, later I liked it, and in between I was changed.

The Evergreen Cafe is a totally vegetarian restaurant, which is fine. I don’t need to savor delicious, flavorful meat to be happy. The fine folks at this little eatery do a spiffy job cooking well-sourced tofu and vegetable gluten into satisfyingly chewy and/or soft bites of satisfaction and comfort. This, combined with a few often-repeated vegetables and a small variety of sauces, makes for a humble, but satisfying dine.

Any restaurant is the creation of its owner, and it has intentions and results. The difference between these two is how we might measure its success. Restaurants also change over time. An accretion of its owner’s and the customer’s expectations and comforts, like a pearl, forms as an eatery grows into an institution. What is the intent of the Evergreen? At first it seems a mystery.

The business makes money, there are lots of locals of all stripes enthusiastically eating here whenever I go in. But money doesn’t seem to be the intent, because the food is, on first impression, bland, too healthy, sweet and hugely uninteresting. But it is of a single imagination, using a very consistent hand. The customers, and I know more than a few, love the food for its uncompromising, but utterly humble, approach.

The Curry Potato Mushroom Stem or Soybean, (6.95 combo, 8.95 a la carte)—the most popular dish on the smallish menu, as I was told by several servers and by friends who eat here often––is the first one I tried and that which I found surprising in its banality and perversely healthy sweetness. They only serve brown rice, which smells like oatmeal and has all the finger wagging prudery for which brown rice is famous.

I don’t know why it’s such a big deal, I don’t get bent out of shape if there is only white rice. I guess I just have my comfort zone, and an assumption about brown rice. This is hippy food, plain and simple, which is a virtue if you want a healthy meal, and delicious, once you give yourself permission to think so. Really, it’s sort of the same leap of faith that makes one like McDonald’s, only our parents haven’t trained us to love brown rice, as they have Big Macs.

After that first outing, I took my leftovers home, which included the Yan Su Chi Combo (8.95) and the Curry Potato dish, and I ate them after a long recalibration of my expectations, and I really really enjoyed them. I ravenously devoured them and wished for more. The next day, and several times during that week, when I couldn’t make it happen, I wanted to go eat Evergreen again.

I hate eating out alone. I always try to bring along a compatriot to my review meals, so I can sample more food, and hear more opinions. But after our second exploratory meal, my normal food partner just couldn’t make herself go back. In isolation, I felt pleasantly well fed, and not able to share my pleasure, I numbered the virtues of this most unusual food to myself.

I’m not talking about the kind of conversation where you tell yourself your bad relationship is good enough, or your crappy job is satisfying. I actually like the food here. Though, I am not at all sure I could share it—in a positive light—with any of my normal foodies and not lose some credibility.

The people who like it all seem to read from a script, and I am inclined to repeat it here, as I heard it from three different people on different occasions—almost verbatim. And it goes: Eat the number seven (6.95 combo, 8.95 a la carte), it’s the most popular dish, but the number 14, Sesame Mushroom Stem or Tofu (6.95 combo, 8.95 a la carte), is excellent, too. The 18, So Good Seaweed Roll (8.95) is so good and particularly unique, and one of my personal favorites.

The Kung Pow-Wow Tofu, 16 (6.95 combo, 8.95 a la carte) is another of my personal favorites. And I continue here, not verbatim: The 9, 22 and 23 are all noodles in variosly thin or thick sauces or soups, and people like these dishes, but not me. Bland and watery just doesn’t tune in on my happy meal radio. Everyone mentions the Vegetable Udon Chow Mein, 21 (8.95) and I don’t understand this either, though the Tofu Bao (4.95) and the Red Bean Bao (3.95) are both respectable and tasty.

The Evergreen Cafe is proud of its limitations—it lists them as virtues. If the occasion presents itself to eat here, don’t hesitate, don’t forget to bring your groovy sensibility and leave your expectations at the door.

*Editor’s Note: Evergreen will be closing its doors for good at the end of September, as the owners are retiring. Go enjoy the food while you can!