Best Restaurants 2021

Portland’s Best New Vegan Restaurants, Food Carts, and Pop-Ups

Where to eat Detroit-style pizza, barbecue ribs, banh mi, and spicy fried chicken sandwiches without any animal products involved.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton and Karen Brooks

Portland has always been a hotspot for vegan food, but in the past year, our vegan options have exploded—and they’re better than ever. Far beyond tempeh and veggie burgers, you can now find vegan versions of Detroit-style pizza, fried catfish, porkless bao buns, Cuban sandwiches, signature sushi rolls, and spicy fried chicken sandwiches. Whether you’re a lifelong vegan or just looking for a meatless meal, check out these options.


Boxcar Pizza

This sister pizzeria to food cart Baby Blue Woodfired Pizza opened last year in the Zipper, with a selection of classic and not-so-classic pies made in the thick crust, square-shaped Detroit style that’s been popping up all over Portland recently. Our pick for a more unusual ’za is the cheeseburger pizza, which combines beefy crumbles, gooey mozzarella and cheddar, sliced pickles, cherry tomatoes, red onion slivers, and a zig-zag of burger sauce, all atop an airy dough with the requisite Detroit-style crispy cheese edges. It tastes just like In-N-Out in flatbread form.  2701 NE Sandy Blvd –Katherine Chew Hamilton


Image: Thomas Teal

Mama Dút

Last winter, with Portland’s food scene on the ropes, pink-haired Thuy Pham entered the atmosphere as an unlikely, taste bud–provoking shooting star. Almost overnight, behind the allure of her vegan pork belly (shocking in its rich, crisp-edged pleasures), her tiny shop Mama Dút captivated the hearts and minds of an audience willing to stand in the rain for a taste.

Consider this: Before launching this Vietnamese street food deli and dessertery, Pham had never cooked professionally. Now, she’s a magnetic spark plug in multiple Portland food conversations—veganism, chef activism, and the dynamic emergence of next-gen Vietnamese American chefs blending tradition and play. Here, ever-changing bao and banh mi are stuffed with the likes of “Peking duck” in sweet hoisin or soy ribs tasting like some wild-child meat loaf. Her creamy scallops ingeniously imagine the real thing with king mushrooms, which are smartly cubed, marinated, roasted, hard-seared, and mingled with spicy mayo in a crusty baguette.

When she isn’t delivering free meals to AAPI seniors or considering her next business moves, Pham charms us with her badass-meets-My Little Pony vibe that runs through purple pea flower lemonade shimmering with edible glitter to a staff dressed like punk-rock fashionistas. As Pham puts it: “There’s a new era of Vietnamese American food in Portland.” 1414 SE Morrison St –Karen Brooks


Dirty Lettuce

Seitan is king at Dirty Lettuce, the vegan soul food spot from Mississippi-born Alkebulan Moroski that moved from a cart at the Shady Pines pod to a brick-and-mortar on NE Fremont. It’s the base for fluffy fried chicken, beautifully charred ribs, and cornmeal-breaded catfish that Moroski makes from scratch, each with distinct seasonings and textures, ready to be dipped in comeback sauce, remoulade, or tartar. Accompany any of the above with gooey, bell pepper-laden mac and cheese, a dish of collard greens, or a piping hot Nachitoches meat pie. 4727 NE Fremont St –KCH 


Image: Thomas Teal

Miami Nice

Valerie Espinoza grew up in Miami, where pan con bistec, croquetas, and Cuban sandwiches were part of her daily diet. Based on those taste memories, she replicates that Miami flavor with made-from-scratch vegan meats. She started by selling empanadas at farmers markets; now, she’s running a restaurant out of Culmination Brewing. It’s not only one of Portland’s best vegan restaurants, but a top Cuban eatery. The OG Empanada is bursting with tomatoey soy picadillo inside a crackly fried shell. The Cubanito combines crispy ham reminiscent of fried Spam, jackfruit pulled pork, melty cheese, and crunchy pickles on buttery pressed bread. Espinoza’s favorite is the El Jefe, a pan con bistec made with seitan steak and served with tostones. And the Miami Chop is a flavor-packed salad with shredded iceberg, tomato, yellow rice, grilled soy curls, and a spiderweb-like drizzle of creamy mustard-mayo-curry dressing that’ll make you lick the plate clean. 2117 NE Oregon St –KCH



Portland’s only Sri Lankan restaurant—and one of the city’s few cooperatively-owned restaurants—got its own brick-and-mortar space on SE Belmont in 2020 after moving from a weekends-only pop-up in Northeast. Now you can get vegan versions of Sri Lankan street foods five days a week, like kottu roti (pieces of flatbread stir-fried with Just Egg and your choice of curry), string hoppers (round patties of noodles) with dal and potato curry, and parippu vade (pigeon pea fritters). But the special curry plate is reserved for weekends only, a constantly changing selection of dal, curries, and sambols ringed around rice and papadam. 2420 SE Belmont St–KCH


Image: Nino Ortiz


This former pop-up moved into a cart at the CORE pod on 82nd, easily launching the whole pod to one of our favorites in the city. You can’t go wrong with any of the signature rolls, like the Meadow, in which artichoke hearts, cucumbers, and apples combine to create textures and flavors reminiscent of a California roll, or the spicy tuna-inspired Oasis, where roasted squash and shishito peppers mingle. The nigiri, on the other hand, makes individual ingredients sing, like avocado with truffle salt, whiskey barrel-aged pepper, and Arbequina olive oil. 3612 SE 82nd Ave–KCH



From farmers market stand to food hall, Obon now has its own brick-and-mortar space at the former Kachinka on SE Grand (though its weekly farmers market pop-ups continue). Stop by for combo plates with your choice of two onigiri (think buddha’s hand citron with blue hominy miso, or ginger pistachio miso), plus korokke (kabocha fritters), kakiage (veggie fritters), and giant tater tots. Other must-haves include handmade udon noodles, served zaru-style during the summer, or in curry udon or kenchinjiru (a miso-veggie stew) during colder months. 720 SE Grand Ave–KCH


Plant-Based Papi

Jewan Manuel’s Plant-Based Papi is a frequently sold-out vegan sensation, and right now he’s running two residencies at the same time—one out of Fortune in Old Town, and one out of Bit House Saloon on SE Grand. Look for the uber-trendy red birria tacos made vegan by substituting jackfruit for beef and cashew cheese for shredded cheese, jackfruit chicken nuggets with ranch dipping sauce, pesto linguine with mushroom scallops, and fast food-inspired dishes like a spicy fried chicken sandwich made with oyster mushrooms and an Impossible smash burger. 1412 SE Morrison St–KCH


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