It’s no secret that Portland is a vegan mecca. It’s renowned as one of our country’s prime destinations for plant-loving persons young and old. The reputation is well-deserved — with offerings ranging from local mix-your-own salad bars, to late-night dives dedicated solely to vegan comfort food, to four-star rated vegetarian establishments that you’ll need to call ahead for a month in advance (seriously), Portland has it all.
I’ve lived in Portland for nearly three years, and when I first moved here from the D.C. metro area, I was overwhelmed with choice. “Choice” — that’s a word that can be pretty foreign to vegans. We’re usually pretty happy if one item on the menu is certified vegan, and resign ourselves to whatever it is, even if we really wanted a pasta dish instead of more roasted vegetables. I’m all for simplicity, but I really enjoy the luxury of poring over a menu rife with plant-based options before I pick a winner. This is why Portland is such a hotspot! Yes, the food is stellar. The people are friendly. The vibe is laid-back. But what Americans really love is choice, and Portland offers something for everyone.
I can’t dream of covering all of Portland’s vegan offerings — it seems like every time I take a walk around my neighborhood something new has popped up. But over the past three years I’ve honed in on a few of my favorite spots, so I’ll give you something to lick your lips over — that is, until you come to visit and give the wild and wacky world of vegan food a spin!
1. Blossoming Lotus / Prasad / Harlow
1713 NE 15th Ave. / 925 NW Davis St. / 3632 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Each of these spots fall under the same overarching management, and serve some of the best raw, whole food I’ve ever had. Let’s just say their Vitamixes are on…ahem…constant rotation. The offerings aren’t cheap, but who can resist their “Bumblebee Shake” — a mouth-watering mixture of pb, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, coffee, and banana — after a yoga class?
Prasad is more of a light-lunch post-workout joint, whereas Blossoming Lotus and Harlow are more established sit-down restaurants. Their filigreed menus promise decadent and unique vegan treats, including Butternut Squash & Sage Penne, Raw Golden Beet Ravioli, and Pumpkin Empanadas. Blossoming Lotus is excellent at satisfying gluten-free requirements, and Harlow offers some absolutely decadent granola breakfast bowls. Call ahead for a reservation at Blossoming Lotus.
2. Vita Cafe
3023 NE Alberta St.
This is one of my favorite brunch spots. Complete with local artwork (last time I was there, the most detailed mandalas I’d ever seen fully occupied my attention until my food arrived) and attentive servers committed to making sure your coffee cup is never less than half full, this is vegan comfort food at its finest. Biscuits and almond gravy? Check. Hash browns, grits, and corn cakes? Absolutely. Some of Vita’s finest selections include Chicken Fried Steak, Sloppy Joes, Thai Corn Cakes, and the Comfort Breakfast (my personal favorite). Breakfast is served until 3 pm — what more could you want?!
“The Vita Cafe is not your standard raw beet and rabbit food kind of vegetarian place. We specialize in huge servings…come hungry.” You may have to brave a bit of a line on a weekend, but Vita Cafe is well worth the wait.
3. The Bye & Bye / Sweet Hereafter
1011 NE Alberta St. / 3326 SE Belmont St.
These are two sister bars, one located in NE and one in SE, because Portland is convenient like that. I live within walking distance of The Bye & Bye, and find myself there a little too often! The Bye & Bye is an unassuming all-vegan bar — most of its patrons don’t even realize every food product served is completely plant-based. The best part? It serves vegan grilled cheese, meatball subs, and pretzel knots until 2 am. If a vegan meatball sub isn’t part of your late night plans, what are you doing with your life?
4. The Waypost
3120 N Williams Ave.
This unassuming bar is one of my neighborhood favorites. This is the place I was served the best Old Fashioned of my life, so it holds a special place in my heart! The Waypost serves an array of vegan items, including plantain and mango tacos, taco salads, and vegan chili (are you sensing a theme?). You’ll probably run into a trivia night or a local band performance if you come by on a weekend. It shares a space with a community garden, so post up at a picnic table outside if you can!
5. Homegrown Smoker BBQ (food cart)
4237 N Mississippi Ave. (The Mississippi Marketplace)
I won’t lie to you: I have a punch card for this place. I first discovered it at the Mississippi Street Fair back in 2012 (now one of my favorite yearly events, and also one I featured on this blog). As food carts go, Portland doesn’t have much to want for — there are pods all over the city, and no lack of patrons for each cart. The Smoker BBQ offers some of the most intense meals I’ve ever laid eyes on — the “Macnocheeto Burrito” combines soy curls, vegan mac ‘n cheese, beans, and maple-bourbon BBQ sauce into a burrito bigger than my head.
703 SW Ankeny St.
You won’t find this place by wandering around. Santería is tucked away behind the esteemed Mary’s Club, and shares a bathroom with this iconic Portland strip club. Go here for the Plato Vegan Tinga and bring your friends because the portion sizes are hefty.
7. Tin Shed
1438 NE Alberta St.
You better get to Tin Shed early, and not just on the weekend. This place fills up fast and waits are at least 45 minutes. Luckily, you can leave your cell number at the counter and go shopping on Alberta while you wait! And if you don’t want to mosey, pour yourself a mug of coffee from the bar inside and start waking up. Tin Shed serves some delectable vegan breakfast options, and you’ll definitely walk away satisfied. Furry friends are welcome so bring them along (just don’t forget to sneak them some treats!).
2816 SE Stark St.
I wrote about this spot when I first started this blog, but it hasn’t lost its spot in my heart. If possible, Canteen has more Vitamix action going on than Prasad, Harlow, and Blossoming Lotus combined. They love their smoothies, and it shows! Canteen also makes a kimchi to die for, which is great news for those of us bolstering up our gut flora.
1125 SE Division St.
Pro tip: take a date here. In addition to the absolutely decadent food, service, and drink selection (who doesn’t love a good wine pairing suggestion, or a specialty Italian liqueur to pair with dessert?), this is the only place in town I’ve found that serves vegan tiramisu. Enough. Said. And if you want the noms without the ambiance, you can get take-out pizza.
10. Natural Selection
3033 NE Alberta St.
Confession: even though this is on my list of favorites, I haven’t actually eaten here. I put it on the list because this is the gourmet, four-star restaurant perfect for celebrating your birthday, or a new job or house. You’ll want to make reservations well in advance for this gourmet hub. The chefs opt for seasonal produce for their meals, and will happily make vegan options. A prix fixe meal is $45 and wine pairing another $25, but I could see this being a fantastic special outing. (Any takers?)
11. Hungry Tiger Too
207 SE 12th Ave.
If you know me at all, you know I love dive bars. I personally think that the dive bar is becoming a lost art, as we make way for the classier things in life. But I especially love dive bars that offer good vegan late night options. HTT is one of these — choose from nachos, “Tiger Fries” (garlic, rosemary, and cheeze tossed hand-cut fries), “Vings,” corn dogs, and mac & cheeze to nosh on while you play some pool.
12. Fire on the Mountain
1708 E Burnside St. / 4225 N Interstate Ave. / 3443 NE 57th Ave.
Say it with me now: Vegan. Wings.
No matter how mild of sauce I specify, halfway through a six-piece plate of “drumsticks” I always feel like I mistook Cholula for mouthwash. Make sure you order a beer (or non-alcoholic refreshment) with these babies cause you will need it! This is also a great spot to watch a basketball, soccer, or football game with friends.
13. Blue Star
1237 SW Washington St. / 3549 SE Hawthorne Blvd. / 3753 N Mississippi
Blue Star is Voodoo Doughnut for the locals. They only stay open until all of the fresh doughnuts are sold, so you better get there early in the day! I’ve sampled the Vegan Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Hibiscus glaze doughnut many a time (I mean, even the name is dripping in sugar) and always been transported to a magical, sugary land full of happiness.
14. A N D Cafe
5420 E Burnside St.
This is one of my favorite brunch spots in Portland, hands down. And yet every time I visit, I’m faced with the quintessential conundrum….sweet or savory? A N D offers an assortment of Belgian waffles (Pumpkin Cheesecake Waffle, anyone?), breakfast scrambles, biscuits and gravy, and always has something special on the menu, which tends to change weekly. GF friendly. It’s a tiny spot, so expect intimate service from your server and quick coffee refills.
15. Dove Vivi
2727 NE Glisan St.
A lot of people think that pizza for vegans means grabbing a frozen Daiya on the way home from work. No offense to Daiya, but this local cornmeal crust pizza place blows those frozen pies out of the water. My favorite is the Corn Cashew: a roasted tomato, corn and caramelized onion delicacy swimming in cashew cheese. I wrote about the science behind our “umami” taste sensation, and Dove Vivi exemplifies it perfectly. I suggest you grab a pie to go and bring it to one of our many parks for a summer movie screening.
16. Black Sheep Bakery
PSU Farmer’s Market
Black Sheep is a vegan-only bakery that sadly closed its storefront doors in 2012. Luckily for you, it still operates as a wholesale bakery and provides muffins, cookies, and other pastries to vendors around the area. If you’re at the PSU Farmer’s Market, I would recommend a cranberry coffeecake to pair with a latte as you peruse the vendors’ stalls. You can also find Black Sheep goods at New Seasons, a local grocery store chain in town.
17. Junior’s Cafe
1742 SE 12th Ave.
I hesitate to even include this on my list of best vegan spots in Portland, because it’s my secret, cradled and dearly loved breakfast place. It is here that I tasted the most delectable, caramelized, crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside vegan French toast of my life. It is here that I see the same two waitresses every time, who kindly and quickly refill my coffee and call me “honey” or “babe” (or both). I don’t want to give this little-known spot away, but — alas — you would probably find it anyway.
Other quintessential Portland spots serve vegan options — Salt & Straw recently started offering a coconut ice cream delicacy which is perfect for hot summer days. Like I said, I can’t cover all of the wonderful plant-based choices we have here in Portland. I certainly hope our offerings continue to grow and that other cities in the country — and the world — see how easy it can be to make vegan choices when you’re out and about, at a restaurant, or sitting down for an afternoon coffee break. If you have a favorite vegan spot in Portland that I didn’t mention, feel free to give it some love in the comments! Now, are you hungry or what?