First Impressions

Three Things to Devour at Division’s New Vegan Mediterranean Spot Aviv

A plant-based menu charms all eaters with soy curl shawarma fries and tamarind margaritas.

By Kelly Clarke May 10, 2017

Aviv vegan shawarma fries xb3nlv

Aviv's vegan shawarma fries come packed with Portland's vegan gateway drug: crisp-edged, curry-spiced soy curls.

Image: Kelly Clarke

Aviv, the new plant-based Mediterranean restaurant on SE Division Street, feels delightfully inevitable. What else ought to live in the space that was for years home to vegan Italian stalwart Portobello (and, briefly, Heart Bar) than a project from Gonzo food truck's Tal Caspi and the Sudra's Sanjay Chandrasekaran? That's a pair of cooks that have been making bright, texturally pleasing vegan grub that most any eater would be happy to chow on for years now.

Along with Suzanne Prinsen (Little Bird, Biwa), they've created a chill, good-natured lunch and dinner spot that plucks inspiration from Tel Aviv, with a menu of standout meatless Israeli dishes once featured at Caspi's roving truck and pop-ups—often spiced with vivid green parsley-cilantro tsug and puckery mango and mustard seed amba. The menu, which adds herby shakshuka with “tofu” eggs and laffa-falafel sandwiches to the party, is still shaking out (skip the pastry bourekas, which taste like sad samosas) but there’s already go-to dishes aplenty.  

Aviv cocktail salads combined swjclb

Aviv’s thirst-quenching Neve Tzedek cocktail, smoky Mama’s eggplant salad, and Israeli salad with tofu feta.

Image: Kelly Clarke

SHAWARMA FRIES ARE STILL KING Gonzo chef/owner Tal Caspi’s signature dish—a mountain of thick cut fries tossed with crisp-edged, curry-spiced soy curls served atop a slick of hummus and adorned with tahini, spicy tsug, and amba ($8/$12)—is as addictive as ever. It’s a carb and spice bomb that omni- and plant-based gluttons can share without a shred of lingering resentment on either side. (You can essentially order the same dish stuffed inside a pita or laffa bread sandwich with tomato and cukes, too for $10-12.) The hummus itself is a bit snoozy, but that’s not a big problem, since the menu also includes versions of the humble chickpea paste perked up with lemon and jalapeño or Hatch chiles ($6/$8). 

GET A DRINK The breezy space, one wall adorned with flocked wallpaper and another clad in scrap lumber, is fronted by a roll-up garage door overlooking busy Division. Celebrate the fact that you’re not stuck in traffic with the rest of the suckers with a respectable cocktail, from a refreshing cachaça sip imbued with cucumber and lime to a gin and absinthe numbers. The spice salt-rimmed Neve Tzedek ($9), basically a margarita tarted up with tamarind and bitter Aperol, is dangerously easy to suck down.   

FEEL FREE TO MIX AND MATCH The menu is loaded with salads and schmears—basic tomato and cucumber with springy tofu feta to baba ganouj—most served in small and large portions for sharing. The vegan labneh ($6) is terrible if you wanted real labneh (a tart yogurt sauce); but the rich, sweet cashew spread is great by any other name. Pair it with a puff of flatbread ($2) and the house’s excellent roasted eggplant salad ($4/$6), essentially a super-chunky zacuscă spread rife with peppers and tomato. It’s a creamy, smoky love match.

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