For us, the trick to planning a vacation is to strike a balance between vegan food options and interesting things to do and see. This year we decided to visit Portland, since it is not only surrounded on all sides by beautiful and day-trip accessible scenery, but it is also a very vegan-friendly city. There were far more places to eat than we have time for, but we tried to make it to as many as possible. Our newly expanded waistlines prove it.
Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of what we did manage to tackle, in three parts.
One of the most unique aspects of Portland dining is the plethora of food carts. Think state fair food trailers, but without the cotton candy; or mall food court, but without the mall. Food carts are all over town – in major groupings of 10 – 15, or in stand-alone spots with just one or two carts. Most were in parking lots or on sidewalks, and few had dedicated parking. They are clearly designed for the mixed-use urban lifestyle (which doesn’t really exist in Phoenix, so it was a very foreign concept to me). The cuisines available via cart are predominantly ethnic (Thai, Vietnamese, Afro-Caribbean, Pho, Lebanese, Indian, Mexican, etc.) but you could also find soup, barbeque, crepes, fried pies and even waffles. I think the only thing I didn’t see was burgers and fries but maybe I was too blinded by the variety to notice.
Our favorite cart spot was nicknamed “Cartopia” on SE 12th St. and Hawthorne, which is on the east side of the river. It’s a nice self-contained spot with the carts in essentially a circle, and picnic tables for diners. Parking options weren’t great, but we could usually park on the street a block or so away. We visited this spot a couple of times and tried these carts:
Pyro Pizza (vegan friendly)
This was our first stop once we got into town, and I’m not sure we ever topped it. We ordered a vegan version of the traditional margarita pizza with vegan sausage. The pizza was perfect.
They have a big wood-fired pizza oven right in the cart, and they knew how to use it. The crust was light and slightly sweet, the sauce was as good as Pizzeria Bianco’s (in Phoenix) and I’m not sure if it was Daiya cheese or not, but it melted well and tasted great. We had quite a bit of vegan sausage on this trip, but Pyro’s was appropriately seasoned for Italian food (a bit of fennel and spice). It was really hard for me to not want to just keep going back there for more pizza every day.
Whiffies (vegan friendly)
My constant desire for anything fried drew me to Whiffies. I got lucky and visited on a day when they featured a vegan empanada, which was stuffed with a picadillo-like mixture, but they used vegan sausage instead of ground “beef”. Given my love of Cuban food, this was an exciting treat for me!
Perierra Crêperie (vegan friendly)
While I was devouring my Whiffie’s fried pie, my husband went for the less greasy vegan mole crepe at Perierra Crêperie. I didn’t try it, but he said it was the best thing he had during our vacation. It was light, gluten free, the mole wasn’t overpowering so he could taste the mushrooms, spinach and pumpkin seeds.
Other Portland Food Cart Highlights for Vegans
Homegrown Smoker (vegan)
Homegrown Smoker is a totally vegan barbeque food cart. It’s one of many carts at SW 4th St. and College. They styled up the cart with a cute metal roof. While they actually had a (paid) parking lot here for cart visitors, there wasn’t any dedicated seating for diners. Everyone sat across the street in a cement courtyard in front of a college building.
The menu offers Carolina-style southern food that verged on the “I can’t go there” – like the Macnocheeto, which stuffed MacNoCheese into a burrito along with beans, other stuff and vegan sausage or soy curls. Texture nightmare!
My husband was feeling more ambitious than me, and tried the SloSmoMoFo.
The SloSmoMoFo was a smoked soy curls sandwich with cold slaw and BBQ sauce, plus a side of sweet potato fries. The sandwich was pretty heavy, but the fantastic BBQ sauce more than made up for it. He’s since gone scrambling looking for a recipe to replicate it. The fries were below average – soggy and tasteless.
I went to the comfort food zone and had the HGS Nachos and a side of MacNoCheese.
The chips for the nachos seemed to be fresh cooked. They held up well under the tons of beans and gooey NoCheese sauce. The MacNoCheese wasn’t as good as my husband’s Daiya-based vegan mac and cheese, but was tasty in its own right. The portion was huge, so I barely cracked the surface of it!
FlavourSpot (vegan friendly)
What’s there to like about eating a waffle sandwich from a cart on the side of a road in downtown Portland? Everything! Waffle vendor FlavourSpot has three locations in Portland. We went to the “Old Town” location on SW 3rd and Ash. It was a walking/street car day so I didn’t check out the parking situation, and there were two benches for diners.
The vegan options on the menu were limited, but no worries. Two vegan waffles with sausage please!
The waffle was perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, firm enough to hold the sausage. The most exciting part was the maple butter. I always put maple syrup on my sausage (pre-vegan and vegan) so having sweet buttery maple flavored goo all over it was beyond awesome. Best of all, even though the syrup dripped to the bottom of the sandwich, it stayed tidy so there was no need for wet-naps!
The Grilled Cheese Grill (vegan friendly)
The vegan grilled cheese at The Grilled Cheese Grill, at 1027 NE Alberta Ave., was a properly prepared grilled cheese with perfectly browned bread that wasn’t too greasy.
I would have liked more “stringy melty goodness” quality in the vegan cheese. Like all vegan cheese dependant food, it would have would have been far better if it was made with Daiya cheese (c’mon Portland, get with Daiya).
In line with the “remember your childhood” theme of the food cart, they offered dining tables inside an old school bus.
It reminded me of my favorite (now gone) bar in Orlando, The Go Lounge. It also had a bus in the back where we could have our own mini party.