Indulgent Portland Bar Food for Every Alt-Diet

Vegan, gluten-free, and omnivorous pals can eat and drink together in harmony with a new wave of Portland pub grub.

By Tuck Woodstock April 30, 2015

A vegan, a Paleo-diet devotee, and a gluten-free vegetarian walk into a bar…

Sure, that sounds like a joke set-up, but it’s also the increasing reality of our Friday nights. With more and more Portlanders going gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, meat-free, or some combination thereof, it can be nearly impossible to find a space where friends with diverse diets can chow down on happy hour plates after a long workweek. 

Or can it? Portland’s new wave of inclusive watering holes makes it easy to share a nacho platter without anyone breaking out in hives or floating away on brain fog. From chickpea cutlets to chili cashew cheese fries, these four bars’ progressive pub grub is sure to satisfy audiences of any alcohol-fueled appetites. 


Vegan crab cakes and banh mi at Jackknife.

When locals learned that John Janulis—mastermind behind twin vegan bars Bye & Bye and Sweet Hereafter—had partnered with Dig a Pony’s Jake Carey to open Jackknife, many assumed that this new spot would also offer a totally meat-free menu. They were wrong; the hotel bar caters to its downtown audience with a diverse lineup of soy “crab” cakes, chicken liver mousse, and (gluten-free) new potatoes with blue cheese and bacon. 

These dishes are the thoughtful creations of Executive Chef Russell Van der Genugten, who joined Jackknife last March. The omnivorous chef borrows from his experience as head of Blossoming Lotus’s plant-based kitchen in dishes like the Banh Mi, which features the same pink marinated tofu that graced BloLo’s menu last year. Gluten-free and dairy-free folk gather around a cashew cheese ball studded with port-soaked cherries, while carnivores dig into the bar’s signature Rainier beef burger. Keep an eye out for “Six Piece,” Van der Genugten’s handmade vegan chick’n nuggets, due to reappear on the menu any day now.  


Clockwise from top left: Black Water's chicken sandwich, southern grilled cheese, cheese steak, cheese burger, mozzarella sticks, "Bougie" burger and mac & cheese. All, believe or not, 100% vegan.

Breaded tofu cutlets that taste like a KFC Zinger. Charred cashew cheese black bean burgers reminiscent of In-N-Out. Gooey mozzarella sticks, sans dairy. It’s all possible thanks to the greasy wizardry of Black Water’s chef Cole Robinson. This combination brewery and punk music venue maintains a plant-based menu because, as co-owner Alex Carroccio says, “Nobody has a problem eating vegan; lots of people have a problem eating [animal products].”

Ingredients are lovingly prepared in-house, from shaved seitan beef to seaweed-spiked tofu bleu cheese. The gluten-averse are happily accommodated with tempeh patties, wheat-free buns, and a buttery, pimento grilled cheese that will blow any lactose-intolerant mind. The Broadway bar hopes to start serving brunch (and brewing beer on-site) in the coming months, but currently opens at 6 pm—we recommend fasting for an alt-fast food feast. 


White Owl's vegan burger features a beet, wakame and hazelnut patty, pea shoots, carrot ribbons, Heidi Ho Monterey Jack and Misonaise.

White Owl Social Club is all about choice. Pulled pork or jackfruit? Ground beef or TVP? Tillamook cheese or Heidi Ho? Why not both?! Even when multiple options are off the table, the menu at this hip biker bar tends to err on the side of inclusivity: the chili, cheesy Brussels, BBQ tofu bowl, and even the bacon bit-sprinkled mashed potatoes all omit gluten and animal products. If you must have meat, there’s a marinated steak with your name on it. 


Clockwise from left: pakora, poori, and root vegetable happy hour plates at the Sudra.

We’ve written many an ode to this microbar’s masala-spiced magic, but it bears repeating; the Sudra’s Indian-inspired feasts are some of the most universally crowd-pleasing plates in the city. Even Willamette Week admits that “of all vegan places in Portland, the Sudra is the one most likely to lure those whose diets range as free as a Portland chicken: One simply doesn’t miss the meat or milk.” 

Order up a handful of $5 happy hour plates and dig into mounds of warm potato masala, creamy black eyed pea korma, sweet root vegetables and fragrant basmati rice, safe in the knowledge that not only are dishes largely allergen free, they’re also healthy—for bar food, almost freakishly so. The lacy, green, gluten-free dosa is infused with kale, and the crunchy pakora comprises cruciferous veggies fried in chickpea flour. Even the cocktails are centered on fresh juices from beet to cucumber. And don’t get us started on that Peacock Salad—you’ll never look at kale the same way again. 

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