We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to eating vegan in Portland. Just about any type or region of cuisine is likely to have its own plant-based restaurant here, and you’ll normally find at least one or two animal-free options at omnivorous places.
From a deeply rich soup with umami to spare, a worker-owned Sri Lankan feast to share, and a dairyless ice cream that frankly outshines most of its cow’s competitors milk, it’s easy to stuff yourself silly in one day. Below are some favorites to try; we chose dishes from just vegan restaurants so no matter what you end up ordering, you’ll know it’s Lisa Simpson-approved.
Banana Pancakes at Vertical Diner
8124 SW Barbur Blvd., 503-206-6150, verticaldiner.com/portland. Noon-8 pm Monday-Friday, 10 am-8 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Opened in 2019, Vertical Diner survived the pandemic with panache, churning out an all meat-free menu from the heart of a 1969 diner in Capitol Hill. It’s a retro diner that says, “Sunny-side up eggs and sizzling bacon, who?” Instead, you’re all about that tofu scramble heaped alongside biscuits with gravy, or chewy, hearty slices of tempeh bacon with your hashbrowns. Breakfast is served all day, which means you can do everyone a solid and order banana pancakes for the table at any time. Moist, dense, packed with caramelized slices of banana and still crispy at the edges, they arrive with melted vegan butter and maple syrup on the side. Perfect, no notes.
Tempura Udon at Obon Shokudo
720 SE Grand Ave., 503-206-7967, obonpdx.com. 11:30 am-9 pm Wednesday-Monday.
Lunch time is soup time at Obon Shokudo. The only vegan homestyle Japanese restaurant in town, this former farmers market staple opened up on Southeast Grand in the former Kachinka space last year and expanded its menu gloriously. There’s so much to love, from the white miso and garlic-packed onigiri, made with sprouted brown rice, to a homey curry accompanied by crispy breaded-and-fried local Ota tofu. I don’t have enough stomachs to eat everything I want each time I walk through the noren curtains that owners Humiko Hozumi and Jason Duffany hung in the doorway.
Despite this, more times than not, I return to the tempura udon—thick handmade noodles that contain the right amount of satisfying spring, in an umami-packed, soy-mushroom broth. On top is fried tofu, scallions and a raft of kakiage, a deep-fried fritter and traditional udon topping with onions and cabbage that softens in the broth while still offering some surprise crunch down to the bottom of the bowl. It’s soup season, so now’s your call to service.
Bianca Pizza at Boxcar Pizza
2701 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-954-2836, boxcarpizzapdx.com. 4-9 pm Monday-Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday-Sunday.
I’m gonna come out and say it: A lot of vegan pizza just ain’t great. But Boxcar Pizza? It’s very good. Located inside The Zipper on Northeast Sandy, Boxcar specializes in Detroit-style square pies, many of which can be made gluten free. Split an 8-by-10-inch pizza for an afternoon pick-me-up. Any option is great, but the Bianca, made with vegan mozzarella, ricotta and sausage, is a white pie rounded out with sliced garlic, fresh basil, grated Parmesan, and red pepper flakes for a little kick. The dough stands up nicely to the creamy toppings, and somehow, there’s even a bit of that classic Detroit crispy cheese baked on the edges. Order marinara sauce on the side and dollop it over the top to truly level up your pizza game.
Rice and Curry Platter at Mirisata
2420 SE Belmont St., 503-233-4675, mirisata.com. Noon-9 pm Monday-Saturday, 10 am-9 pm Sunday.
Before dinner, pick through some of the great shops on Southeast Belmont: Planet X and Mix Tape Vintage, Belmont Books, the snack aisle at H Mart. Just make sure to end your walk at the door of Mirisata. The 2-year-old vegan Sri Lankan restaurant is worker-owned, and offers abundant outdoor covered seating. Sri Lankan cuisine isn’t well represented in Portland, and the best way to immerse yourself is to commit to the rice and curry platter, the traditional way of eating in the Indian Ocean island nation.
Offered as a meal for one or two, or scaled up to serve four or five, several different combinations are served on a platter with yellow savory saffron rice and rice flour papadam. The offerings rotate, but a recent visit included bright shredded beetroot stir-fried in coconut oil with onions, green chiles, mustard seeds, curry leaves, rampe, and coconut milk; masoor dal tempered with onion, curry leaves, cumin, and mustard seed; and deviled potatoes stir-fried in coconut oil with onions, curry leaves, garlic, green chiles, mustard seeds, and cumin. Add a flaky roti flatbread or two to help sop things up, and you’ll leave satisfied.
A Scoop of Kate’s Ice Cream
3713 N Mississippi Ave., 503-249-9640, katesicecream.com. Noon-10pm daily.
It’s time for dessert, and there’s no better choice than a big ol’ scoop of triple chocolate brownie ice cream on a gluten-free waffle cone. It’s unclear to me how owner Katelyn Williams manages to get her vegan ice cream so dengue creamy, and also so unadulterated by its nut milk bases. Many dairy-free ice creams wind up having a strong hit of whatever is used to make it—walnut, coconut, almond—but here, you get nothing but the pure flavors of marionberry cobbler with Oregon berries or smooth cafe au lait. Somehow, the menu is also all gluten free along with being vegan, so this cute-as-a-button shop on Mississippi is a sure hit for most with dietary restrictions. And if you’re nearby around Christmas, just buy multiple pints of the chocolate peppermint seasonal release and hoard them through to July.
BBQ Brussels Bowl at Bye and Bye
1011 NE Alberta St., thebyeandbye.com. Noon-midnight Monday-Thursday, noon-2:30 am Friday, 10 am-2:30 am Saturday, 10 am-midnight Sunday.
This is a sentimental pick. It is perhaps the first vegan dish that made an imprint on me when I moved to Portland so very many years ago. Get it late at night with drinks (last call is at 2 am on weekends here) and feel nourished for sleep. I’ve spent many a night and dollar trying to re-create the simple blend of barbecue tofu and Brussels sprouts over brown rice, but there’s something Bye and Bye nails when it comes to the firm, crispy texture of the tofu that I’ve never been able to quite replicate. Fortunately, it’s the perfect healthy counterpoint to the Mason jar of peach vodka and bourbon, luckily with cranberry I’m sure to suck down on the side. Lots of vegan food tries to replicate meats and bar food; this bowl at Bye and Bye just lets its elements sing, while still being hearty enough to stand up to whatever shots you chase it with.