Maple Garden Restaurant
1275 Alder St
Eugene, OR 97401
Yes, to the naked eye, this place looks like a dive. Guess what? It is.
Unfortunately, it’s not one of those dives that people love to discover and tell their friends about. You know what I mean…a little out-of-the-way place that looks very grungy from the outside, but inside it’s ok, plus the food is really good. Maple Garden is not one of those. Instead, it’s just a plain ol’ dive dive, i.e. it’s a dive place with dive food as well.
To put it bluntly (so out of character for me), Maple Garden is the second worst Chinese restaurant I have ever eaten at. (Tom’s Tea House, strangely also in Eugene, is the worst. Trust me when I say I have eaten some terrible Chinese food over the years, both in the USA and all over mainland China). The food here is truly an abomination. Absolutely wrong in terms of ingredients and execution. And don’t get me started about the service. It’s either really bad or non-existent.
Is this place family-owned as some other people have mentioned on the internet? It did not seem to be when I visited. The staff consisted of two fresh immigrants from the countryside of mainland China plus one UO college student. Between the three of them, cooking knowledge could just barely fill a thimble.
Example: I ordered a bowl of beef noodle soup. Now, if you know anything about Chinese food, you will know what I was expecting: a nice beef broth soup with hints of star anise, orange peel, peppers, spicy black bean sauce, etc. Plus some nice Chinese noodles with just the right amount of chewiness (a.k.a. “Q”…impress your Taiwanese friends with this insider term for something like “al dente” in Italian).
Instead, what I received was a hastily wok-fried oily mess of sticky flour-dipped-then-deep-fried-beef and onions. Generous amounts of starch were added to the oil to thicken it into a glutinous snot-like appearance, and then, for the coup de gras, this mess was dumped on top of a bowl of hot water (not a single dust-particle of spice was used to season the hot water soup) and overcooked mushnoodles. I took two bites and ran out the door as if my hair was on fire.
The only reason this place survives is because of their good location near the university, and because there is almost no other choice (I’ll review that China Blue place sometime in the near future) for poor starving college kids from Taiwan and China. There also are a smattering of white kids who eat here because their rosy-eyed view of all things “mysterious”, “ancient”, and “Chinese” overcomes the bland glop-food taste of Craple Garden.