Evergreen (Minneapolis, MN)
It's hard to just wander into Evergreen, given that it's in the basement of a small, nondescript office building. But it's scrupulously clean, brightly lit and filled with people. They know something you're going to learn: Evergreen is the perfect Chinese restaurant for the budget-conscious vegetarian.
The spectrum of vegetarian practice runs from casual avoidance of some animal-based foods to the strictest veganism, but everyone can enjoy the Taiwanese cooking at Evergreen. They keep a separate wok for cooking vegan dishes. Heck, they even serve meat dishes.
Evergreen doesn't just serve mock duck. They serve mock chicken, mock beef, mock pork, mock shrimp and mock squid. And it's all good. We're omnivores, and yet we often choose the vegan alternatives at Evergreen because the mock meats are just as good.
The list of dishes we love would overflow this column, so we're just going to hit the highlights. Three-cup tofu comes with garlic, basil and ginger, and should be a part of any meal, vegetarian or not. The Beijing-style pork (mock or real), with shredded onions in a soy paste, is delicious. The five-spice tofu with bell peppers is just as good.
Pepper fried pork. Orange beef. House style eggplant with basil. We can go on and on. Even Chinese restaurant basics, like sweet and sour pork or chicken in garlic sauce are very good. Order the real thing or the vegetarian substitute.
The only two clunkers we've found were the Singapore curry rice noodles, which was uneven, and the satay sauce chicken. The noodle dishes are generally a little bland.
On one visit, we ordered the only truly expensive thing on the menu, the sea bass with crispy soybean topping. Some people liked it, but others didn't care for the crunchy topping on their fish.
Regardless, it's not worth twice as much as the other dishes.
Evergreen also has a variety of dinner soups. These are good, but the stir-fried entrées are better.
Cold appetizers are in the refrigerated case at the back of the dining room. It's a help-yourself setup, so walk up and take what you want for your table. We think the spicy garlic cucumbers and the garlic-ginger seaweed knots are good ways to pass the time while you're waiting for your entrées.
The hot appetizers are OK, but not great. Don't bother ordering the chicken wings. If you want something to start, order off the small dim sum menu.
Evergreen is not only good and fast, it's also cheap. Almost all the entrées are under $10, and five will do for a table of six. Add in some appetizers, not that you need them, and maybe some drinks, and that delicious Chinese banquet you just had was well under $15 per person.
Evergreen is a family operation. Frank Hwang runs the dining room, and his wife Connie rules in the kitchen. Together, they've given the vegetarians and the omnivores a table to enjoy together. If only world peace could be this easy.