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Ask me about my favorite restaurant in Eugene, Oregon, perhaps the entire world, and I just might get all nostalgic and tell you about The LocoMotive, which closed its doors on December 31, 2004. They'd been open nine years, and I was an ardent fan for their last year and a half of business. I originally wrote about The LocoMotive on E2 only two days after our first visit there (Jongleur and I had dinner there with my parents on April 3, 2003, and it was absolutely wonderful) and aside from a few changes into the past tense I have changed very little in this writeup. Later meals there only confirmed my high opinion and adding too much more to my original rave review would first of all probably sound too much like exaggeration, too over-the-top, and secondly would only make me miss them more.

That said, eating at The LocoMotive Restaurant, just north of Eugene's 5th Street Public Market, was a celebration and affirmation of good food --- vegetarian if not vegan, organic if not locally grown whenever possible, internationally-inspired, creative, gourmet good food. Everything they served practically dripped with passionate love of good food (not to mention creativity, knowledge, and mad crazy cooking skill).

Here's a quick rundown of what we ate on our first visit there:

  • fab: Four-onion tart with a sliced tomato and fresh basil salad on the side as my main course, mushroom-barley soup as my appetizer.

  • fab's Mom: Roasted winter vegetables and chickpeas with mushroom-barley soup (she gave in and ordered an appetizer when she saw how good mine was)

  • fab's Dad: Pasta alla vodka (i.e. with tomato-vodka-Asiago cheese sauce) and mixed baby greens with vinaigrette as an appetizer.

  • Jongleur: Pasta alla vodka and Caesar salad (vegetarian-style, without anchovies) as an appetizer.

My tart was light and fluffy and delicious, and the tomato and basil salad that accompanied it was a refreshing complement to its savory goodness. I can't speak for anybody else's food except to say that afterwards, we all argued over who'd gotten the best meal. For dessert, we ordered vanilla ice cream with butterscotch ripple, coconut-lime sorbet, a chocolate-cream roulade playfully named "La grand-mère du Ho-Ho" and an almond tart. Ostensibly these were mine, Mom's, Dad's, and Jongleur's, respectively, but it devolved into a free-for-all pretty quickly. Yum. We had a carafe of the house Merlot with dinner, which was yummy, and espresso and cappucino with (ok, slightly after) dessert (there was no way all those delicious sweets could have lasted long enough for the coffee to make it to the table).

The LocoMotive Restaurant was located at 291 E. 5th St. in Eugene, Oregon, just north of the 5th Street Public Market, just south of the railroad tracks, the noise from which gave the restaurant its name. Their website is still at

The owners, Lee and Eitan Zucker, who call themselves Hubris, Inc. on their business card, opened a restaurant in Eugene, Oregon as a retirement project with one of their daughters, who dropped out after only a year. Youth and enthusiasm are still no match for old age and experience, and I have no words to describe my respect for the experience and skill expressed in The LocoMotive's cookery, which reflects and expands upon recipes collected during Lee and Eitan's years of traveling around the world. You can read their final menu on their website, as well as recipes for some of their food. Lee and Eitan also used to write "The Vegetarian Kitchen" food column for The Register-Guard, Eugene's daily newspaper, and their next retirement project may be a collection of recipes from The LocoMotive and their travels (I've already offered to edit, proofread, test recipes, and generally do whatever I can to help such a book reach publication). Before they closed, Eitan would share recipes on request via email, which was just great.

The menu at the LocoMotive changed weekly, but their signature dish --- portobello mushrooms in red wine sauce with garlic mashed potatoes --- was always featured. Eitan joked that if they took it off the menu, there would be "a mini-revolution" among the restaurant's regular customers. Although The LocoMotive was a little too pricey for us to patronize regularly, Jongleur and I made a point of eating there once a week after they announced their closing date in November 2004.

Finally, a little anecdote from Eitan about a wall hanging in the restaurant (which was decorated for the most part sparely, with wine bottles, photographs of good food and train-themed art). It's a wool carpet/tapestry of white birds --- storks, he told us, which migrate from Europe to southern Africa via Egypt. He bought the tapestry from a 9-year-old girl during a slow time at a market in Egypt. Her father was taking a nap, not really paying attention, but the little girl was really with it, eager to make a sale. You know how to test if a carpet is real wool, right? asked Eitan. Sure, I said --- with fire. Plastics, synthetics, they melt, shrivel up at the touch of a flame. Right, he said, wool stops burning very quickly, only singes a little bit. So the little girl lit a match and showed Eitan that the rug he liked was real wool. He was impressed, but the fire got the father's attention, and he started to come forward, only to be rebuffed by Eitan, who refused to let the man interfere. I finished the deal with his daughter, he said, "to show him a girl could sell." The father probably forgot it two minutes later, he added somewhat ruefully, but he did the deal with the girl, and it makes a good story. I like to think that somewhere in Egypt, there's a grown woman who's still proud she made that sale. Anyway...

The LocoMotive Restaurant was classy without being stuffy, and their food was wonderful, magical, and just plain good. When I first ate them, I wrote: "I haven't felt this inspired by a meal in a long, long time." and it's true. The LocoMotive played an important role in my decision to look for work cooking, and in turn find the best job I've ever had. For that, I can never thank them enough.

The LocoMotive Restaurant
291 E. 5th St, Eugene, OR 97401