By Charles Lam
One of the vacant properties in UTC is finally filled as Salad Republic opened last Friday, after teasing us for the last few months. The restaurant, which tries to fill the healthy, fresh and made with meat niche left open by Veggie Grill, serves bistro-style salads and sandwiches as well as Greek yogurt.
Now, let me preface this by saying I normally hate salads. My ex once apologized for making me eat a salad after seeing the look on my face after the first bite. This place? It wasn’t so bad.
Though the restaurant is located in one of the smaller areas in UTC, it’s surprisingly spacious. The doorway opens into a narrow dining area, wider at the front of the restaurant. As compact as it is, the high ceiling, natural lighting and cucumber walls make Salad Republic feel airy and open. The use of wood and brushed metal is very warm and welcoming. The music piped into the restaurant fades to the background easily (expect a lot of indie pop and rock), but is welcome there. The design resembles a muted Sushiliscious, with very similar seating, though monochromatic. Though the decor doesn’t make you hungry, per se, it does make you calm.
The service is still rough, but with good intentions. The staff is friendly, attentive and, though they are still obviously new, very eager to answer questions.
The menu is made up of salads, sandwiches, soups and sides with chicken and ahi tuna showing up a fair amount.
The flavor profiles range from classical, with the standard chicken cobb and side salads to the genuinely interesting, with the dipping sauce reminiscent of chili garlic sauce and curry.
The pesto chicken sandwich I ordered was well-proportioned and came with a side salad. The bread was wonderfully crusty, with a very airy crumb that held together perfectly. Though the pesto wasn’t as strongly flavored as I was used to, it worked well with the rest of the sandwich. The side salad was a mix of arugula with a light vinaigrette; nothing amazing but very solid.
The ahi salad was brightly flavored and very refreshing. The fish was good quality, almost buttery in texture and was a joy to eat.
The chicken cobb, unfortunately, was not as wonderful. Though the greens were done just as well, the chicken — whether from an unexpected rush or an overly healthy cooking approach — was overcooked and dry. It was nothing drastic, but still enough to take a little bit away from the meal.
The focus on health made a re-appearance with the french fries. Because they are baked, not fried, they lose the crispiness that is almost mandatory to make a good fry. Though dense, potato-y and served with a nice dipping sauce, the lack of any appreciable texture difference renders the fries below average.
The drink selection is very good, with an eclectic choice of teas, lemonades and craft sodas available. Make sure to try their strawberry lemonade, it’s very refreshing with just the right balance of sweetness and tart.
Finally, the Greek yogurt, while novel, is not super impressive. Topped with fruit or granola, it is good for an occasional snack but it’s not the sort of thing I would be compelled to get every time I walk past.
The portions are generous though the pricing tends to cater more toward the people working in University Tower than those of us across Watson Bridge. Expect a lunch here to run around $12 and expect to be full afterward.
Salad Republic is not a spectacular restaurant. It is not what UCI cuisine will be remembered as. What it is, however, is a very solid and comfortable place to have lunch. What tiny pieces it is missing from being extra healthy is easily made up in the personality of the restaurant, the friendliness of the staff and the sense of calm you can’t help but feel when you sit there. I hope this place stays open for a long, long time.