Thursday, April 1, 2010


' unfortunately was pretty sad.'

I've always been fascinated with the exterior of the Pagoda restaurant in the Avenues. The beautiful Pagoda like structure and the exquisitely kept landscaping out front has always caught my eye. I'm a sucker for aesthetics, so every time I drive by the Pagoda I feel like the restaurant is calling my name - and I always have the urge to drop in to try it. This has been going on for the past 10 years. Why, then have I never stepped foot into this restaurant if I've been so curious? How did I withstand the urge to ever have a meal there? Well the answer is simple: everyone I ever talked to about the place has told me it sucks. "Sucks ass" - I think that's an exact quote. Recently though, the original owners of Pagoda have sublet the restaurant out to someone else. When I heard that Marlene Noda, formerly a manager at Ginza, took over the reigns at Pagoda - I seized the opportunity to finally eat at this classic Utah establishment.

I wish I could say the aesthetics inside of the place match the fun exterior. The interior in fact was much the opposite of fun - it unfortunately was pretty sad. Upon finally entering the restaurant, I was surprised to see what must be the original furniture (which was probably purchased in the late 50s/early 60s?) still occupying the dining room. The dining room itself is very, very dark. Somewhat odd, generic-looking Asian-type screens are scattered sporadically around the tables to break the room up but the mix of this more chic decor alongside old, beat up vinyl black chairs is a little unsettling. In fact, it gives off a little bit of a convalescent home-trying to be hip-kind of feel. Not at all appetizing.

A friend and I had lunch at the Pagoda and began by sharing the self-proclaimed house specialty sushi roll - "The Pagoda Roll". Big mistake. The roll consisted of either tuna or salmon (I couldn't even tell what fish was in it) rolled in traditional Maki style with rice and seaweed (I think there might have been cream cheese or avocado in it as well, who knows?) that was then battered and tempura fried and topped with a flavored mayo (aioli) and soy.  Ack.  The flavors were so muddled. It could have been chicken in there for all that mattered. A few hours later, both my friend and I felt a little sick in the stomach. We both think it was thanks to this house specialty.

To try a variety of things for lunch, I decided on getting the "Daniel-San" which was a Bento box consisting of the famous Pagoda BBQ ribs, gyoza, a California roll, tempura onions and white rice. This is a lot of food, but for $14.95 it seemed a bit steep to me for lunch. This priced seemed even more steep after I actually tried the food. To be fair, the ribs were the best out of the bunch - soft and tender with a sticky and slightly sweet sauce. Nothing totally superb, but they were good. The gyoza, little Japanese potstickers which I normally love, were a little off tasting to me - a bit too gingery, the texture of which was a little mushy. The tempura onions were unmemorable, crispy yet pretty bland; I've definitely had way better. To top it off the California roll was uninspired; krab with a k is just crab with a p. Overall the Bento box was limp, definitely lacking some major personality. I think I would have been happier with just a plate of the ribs and rice. My friend who got the "Noda-san" (vegetable tempura with chicken teriyaki, a tuna roll, and rice) also commented how unimpressive it was. In fact he mentioned that the teriyaki at the Smith's grocery store at 8th and 9th is a lot better...and cheaper. Too bad they can't just stick a big ol' pagoda inside of there to attract more customers.

To top it off, we wanted to talk a little with Marlene about her move from Ginza to Pagoda, as well as to see if there were any major changes coming to the restaurant under her supervision. We asked the waiter several times if she were available and although he insisted she was coming out to speak with us, she never showed. The restaurant wasn't busy at all, so it would have been nice to get a hello at the very least.

It seems this new Pagoda has got some problems - problems that the beautiful exterior unfortunately can't help. I guess it's true what they's what's on the inside that really counts. For their sake I hope Pagoda has a major overhaul coming up. The place has so much potential with such a great exterior; it's got curb appeal as they say. Finally eating at this Utah classic was essentially anti-climatic for me. Like their Bento box, the restaurant was poorly executed, limp, and seemingly soul-less. I drove past Pagoda the other day on my way to the chocolate shop in the Avenues and, not surprisingly, I no longer had any desire to drop in.

Pagoda  ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
26 N. E Street ~ The Avenues
Owner: Marlene Noda

Pagoda on Urbanspoon


  1. Hello there fellow eater, I read your critique and was very surprised at how unimpressed you were. Pagoda has been the favorite in my family for over 60 years. We go there for special occasions, family events, some of us even drive 4 hours just to eat there! I think it's important that you should know, the reason you didn't like the food coined to be a "Salt Lake Classic", is because you got the most generic items on the menu. Every Japanese place offers gyoza, California rolls, and tempura vegetables. These dishes are not what make Pagoda unique. The best way to enjoy what Pagoda has to offer is through their family style dishes. Take at least 6 people and share everything. If you choose to give Pagoda one more chance, which I strongly advise, here are the dishes that we are so addicted to that we order every single time we go there:

    BBQ spare ribs
    Plain egg foo young
    Tempura shrimp
    Chicken tatsutaage
    Chicken chow mein
    Egg drop soup
    Plenty of white rice (be sure to ask for sweet and sour sauce to put on it!)

    Try these, and I'm positive that Pagoda will become a family favorite for you as well!

  2. Hi fellow eater - thanks for your comment. To address some things you brought up:

    1. You say that I didn't enjoy my experience because I got the most generic items on the menu. However, we did try the BBQ spare ribs (which is on your list of things you are addicted too). My synopsis was that those were good but not great. Re-read my blog above for details.
    2. A restaurant should be able to execute any dish flawlessly whether it's a house specialty or if it's a (as you call it) generic dish. Case in point: we tried the self-proclaimed "HOUSE SPECIALTY" roll - the Pagoda Roll. It was disgusting. Plain and simple. Re-read my review for details.
    3. Service was also a big part of my poor experience. And that's something that makes a big difference to me as well. if service was at least decent, it might give me a reason to come back to try it again...but I have a feeling the servers hated being there as much as I hated the food.

    I know how it feels to hear that someone doesn't agree with your tastes and food preferences...and many people feel like they have to vehemently defend their favorite places. But I stand behind my review and my experience. It was my experience and not yours - and that's okay. Pagoda is not my favorite. I won't be back. Readers of my blog can try it and make up there own mind. -CD