Evanston has long been a great place to sample dishes from around the world, but its dining scene got even more diverse with the opening of 527 Cafe last year. The Taiwanese spot is a novel treat, serving up huge portions of dishes you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
The counter service at 527 Davis St. is cheerfully decorated with bright orange chairs and large windows overlooking the street. A mosaic of mirrors hangs above the half-booths in the back of the restaurant and hanging lights provide a mellow glow. A TV screen displays a slide show, showcasing many of the dishes offered at the restaurant. This is very helpful for diners unfamiliar with the cuisine. The cafe had a decent crowd around lunchtime Saturday, mostly patronized by Northwestern students and young families.
Service & Food
A very friendly server quickly greeted us during my visit. She was happy to go over the menu and tell us what dishes are popular. She also explained their selection of Taiwanese drinks.
We ordered a glass of sweet soybean milk ($1.95) and a can of honey white gourd juice, one of the many imported beverages they offer. The soy milk was served warm, which was a little odd for our tastes, but pouring it over a glass of ice made it much more refreshing. The gourd juice was delicious, a sweet and slightly nutty drink.
There were a few orders before us, but food was still brought to our table quickly. We started by sharing a Korean taco ($2.75), which is a misnomer since it’s served on a bed of crispy seaweed rather than a taco shell, meaning its best eaten with a fork. It was our favorite dish, featuring a bed of sticky rice topped with savory bites of beef and strips of perfectly cooked kimchi, fermented spicy cabbage. It made a great starter, but a few would work for a full meal.
For entrees we went with our server’s recommendations and ordered the Taiwan beef noodle soup and kimchi beef fried rice (both $8.99). The soup was great, with a spicy broth flavored by plenty of fresh cilantro and big chunks of fatty beef. The soup includes large strips of tender bok choy and soft vermicelli noodles best eaten with chopsticks. The only problem is that the pieces of beef are so big they’re very difficult to eat.
The fried rice was more disappointing. While I appreciated that it wasn’t greasy at all, it lacked much flavor unless you got a bite of kimchi, even though we’d ordered it because we were told it was spicy. Instead it was mostly a pile of rice with peas, chunks of carrots and very thin pieces of fried beef.
Both dishes were huge, easily enough for two meals, which made their prices very affordable. 527 Cafe offers a unique quick-serve dining experience and I plan to be back soon to try more of their large menu.