Nectar

You know that culturally claustrophobic feeling you get in some hippie-ish restaurants?

No? Just me?

Maybe I lived in Eugene too long. Is it a particular smell from the grease of undercooked home fries or something? That sinister feeling that maybe it’s not a good thing when someone hasn’t renegotiated their mindset since 1973?

Nectar isn’t like that.

To be even more clear: Nectar is good.

On first blush, it might have that hippie-adjacent feel, from the bare wooden furnishings to the homemade vegan pastries in the case. The menu is smoothie-heavy, and you can grab Tapatio from a big labeled squeeze bottle. Bagel sandwich with hummus? Absolutely.

Division Scramble at Nectar

Division Scramble — Photo courtesy of Nectar

But this is a Portland joint.

Nectar is a small vegan cafe tucked into a Hollywood strip mall between a couple of boutiques, a children’s resale store, and a kids’ indoor playground called The Wiggle Room.

That indoor playground is what got me to finally stop into Nectar, after years of walking by and thinking “gosh, I should try that place someday.” I stopped with the kids on a very hot summer morning, knowing that The Wiggle Room allows outside food. (Sweet, by the way.)

We ordered a Briana from Nectar — strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, banana,  and coconut milk — and asked them to put in the stainless steel cups I’d brought because I am occasionally ON TOP OF IT for short periods of time. They were happy to do it, my kids were happy to enjoy their smoothie, I was happy not to have added any plastic to the garbage heap our world is becoming, and it was an all-around happy good time.

I went back again recently for a very satisfactory bagel sandwich, with the chance to hang out with my laptop for a bit. Decent wi-fi, quiet music, staff wearing tie-dyed t-shirts that hang down to their knees, chill vibe but still a modern one. You’re definitely in Portland, not a college town a couple hours south.

House-roasted coffee, waffles, wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, beer and kombucha on tap. All vegan. Convenient location.

Don’t wait a couple of years on this one.

Nectar Coffee Bar

 

Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ

Get your smoked fake meats and vegan southern comfort food at Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ.

Many moons ago, they had a cart across from my office at PSU, and that’s where I started an affair with Macnocheeto with soy curls — “Mac no cheese,” beans, peppers & onions, and smoked soy curls, all wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla. With BBQ sauce.

Yes. Saucy, smoky, savory, satisfying — this is the kind of meal that makes me laugh at meat-eaters who think vegetarians and vegans are “missing out” on something. The macnocheeto may or may not make you feel smug about your choices, but it’s huge so save it for when you’re very hungry or can save half for the next day/dinner/second lunch.

To be honest, I haven’t been to Homegrown Smoker since I left that job at PSU, and they’ve since moved to St. John’s, which is a bit of a trek from my homebase of Parkrose. But when you’re headed out to that part of town, or to Sauvie Island, remember that they’ll announce specials on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. Something might strike you that you just HAVE to have.

It’s definitely worth a trip at some point, and all y’all vegan tourists should plan half a day in the area to try some smoked vegan proteins.

Gluten-free items noted on menu. 100% vegan, as Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ would suggest.

homegrownsmoker.com

Little T Baker

Little T Baker has yet to break my heart.

S0me bakeries get a following and start to skate on their reputation. Which, hey, I get it, skating is fun, but it tends to be a bummer for me when that famed [fill in the blank pastry] comes out dry and stingy with the fillings.

Not our Little T Baker.

Little T Baker rhubarb pastry

They make some of the best bread in town, supplying many restaurants, and their pastries don’t disappoint. Like many bakeries, they tend to run out of popular items on weekends, so go early if you want one of their baguettes — short skinny or long skinny, they’re all good. I like to take home one of their diminutive loaves of  pretzel bread to eat with whole-grain mustard and cheddar cheese.

Simple breakfasts include bread and butter with preserves, croissant sandwiches, and granola with yogurt. Lunch means sandwiches, with a couple of vegetarian options available daily. Ask about daily specials and soups.

Find the original Little T Baker on 26th and Division, and a small outpost for breads and pastries in Providore Fine Foods on Sandy.

You know something you could do? You could to to Providore and grab some fresh pasta and a half a slab of Little T’s olive focaccia. That’s a possibility in this world.

Let’s do it.

littletbaker

Little T Baker snowflake cookie

13 Very Portland Activities to Keep Holiday Guests Busy

Have friends and/or family in town for the holidays? Need something to do with them?

This time of year, you can’t always chuck them outside and tell them to enjoy the natural wonders that abound in our fair city. Where else do you take your guests when the house starts feeling too claustrophobic and everyone needs to get away from the seven-layer bars for their own health and safety?

Here are some very Portland activities and places to go to keep everyone busy and happy.

Powell’s
That one’s a gimme. If you like books, you’ll like Powell’s City of Books. It is huge and lovingly filled with lots of good books. If you have a misanthropic book hater in your group, sit them in the coffee shop with their phone for an hour or two while everyone else enjoys browsing.

Go see a movie

Go see a star war
All right, this is what everyone does when they’re tired of talking to their families, as I understand it. (I never tire of mine. Hi everyone!) But seriously: When you’re in Portland, there are plenty of places to have beer and pizza with your movie without paying $20 to get in. This may be a novelty to your guests; if not, it’s probably still welcome.

Get some coffee
You can’t go to Portland without getting a good cup of coffee, right? What kind of experience do you think they would like? Pour over at Extracto? People-watching at Stumptown? Advanced toasts with your coffee at Upper Left?

If you must get doughnuts…
I’ve got nothing against Voodoo Doughnut, I really don’t. But if you take them to the easier-to-access and less-touristy Eastside location, they’ll never know, right? “This is Voodoo,” you’ll say, and they’ll ooh and aah over the case and you can all go on with your lives. But wouldn’t they rather get a Mexican chocolate donut at Blue Star or a chai flight at Pip’s?  For the “I just want a NORMAL doughnut that doesn’t cost $3, damnit,” crowd, try Annie’s or Sesame.

Head up the mountain
There is one way to escape the rain: escape to the snow. Spend a day tubing at Skibowl, or snowshoeing around Frog Lake, or skiing at Timberline if you’re fancy like that.

Food carts
You can’t go to Portland without eating at a food cart, can you? Order to go, or you can all grab whatever you like at a market with indoor seating or covered areas with heaters. Check out hours on Facebook and/or Twitter and/or call ahead before you get your hopes up or drive across town, though. Food carts have small staffs and storage, so often close for days at a time for vacation or odd hours when they run out of food.

ZooLights

Manatee at ZooLights

I LOVE MANATEES

Word to the wise: we went after Christmas last year, right when they opened for the night, and it wasn’t a complete nightmare getting there and parking.

Whale Watching Week
Let’s go! I have no one in town to entertain. I just really like whales.

Multnomah Falls
Might as well, right? If it starts pouring and everyone’s grumpy, at least you can see the falls from the road/parking lot.

Chocolate crawl
Missionary Chocolates for vegan truffles, Cacao for drinking chocolate, The Meadow for all your chocolate, salt, and bitters needs, Pitch Dark (head to Bakeshop or Case Study on that trip), Creo, Alma, Ranger, Woodblock… that should be a good start.

Tea Crawl
Smith’s fancy tasting room, Townshend’s cozy one, work your Instagram game at Tea Bar, or check out the old guard (since 1997) The Tao of Tea on Belmont.

TREAT YO SELVES
Have any money left after holiday shopping? How a spa day? Or mani/pedis, anyone? There’s always Fingerbang for that “kinda edgy but not, like, that edgy” Portland experience that you can giggle about over texts.

Shanghai Tunnels
I’ve never done one of these tours because I’m from here. Only part of the tour is underground, so bring your umbrella. YES, Portlanders use umbrellas, just not when it’s sprinkling. Or drizzling. Or any kind of light-to-moderate rain.

Get active
How about my personal favorite: roller skating at Oaks Park? Oaks Park has been around since 1905, it’s kinda cool to walk around an amusement park when it’s all closed up, and it’s right by the river. If roller skating isn’t your jam, check out indoor skate parks and The Lumberyard Indoor Bike Park.

Beer, wine, and booze
For the adults in your life who might partake, a guided tour of Portland breweries, distilleries, or wineries, with designated driver or other safe transportation plans, would be just the thing. If you’re doing beer, go for the smaller breweries that don’t have wide distribution. And enjoy!

 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Portland when the weather is lousy?

Luc Lac

When you need somewhere not-super-expensive to meet a friend for a bite downtown, Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen is one of those places that’s going to come up — especially if you’re in the south end of downtown near PSU, which can be a little skimpy on the fashionable options.

Luc Lac’s popular happy hour is usually hopping with young people enjoying $3 salads and small plates along with their cocktails. Vegetarians don’t have a ton of choices on the limited happy hour menu, so you might have to branch out to the regular menu banh mi or vermicelli bowls when you need a full meal.

Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen

Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen by charlieontravel.com

Luc Lac offers counter service with limited seating, but they won’t hang you out to dry on finding a seat. You’ll just have to wait in line until they can guide you to a place to sit. Big group? It’s going to be a long wait after 5:30 or so, and they only seat full parties. Have a snack first if your friends are flaky.

A gluten-free friend eats here very happily — get the rice-based dishes.

Ever tried the vegan pho?

Luc Lac

 

Bollywood Theater

The first time we went to the Bollywood Theater on SE Division, we knew it was popular. And as soon as we got there, we saw the evidence in the form of a line snaking to the door and for maybe fifteen feet outside. In late December.

Bollywood Theater, an Indian street food casual restaurant in Portland with two locations

Eventually, we made it in. The line moves slowly by design, because they’re not going to take your order and then expect you to fight for a seat or hover. They’ll make sure there’s a space for you. That’s a relief. As a denizen of the Passive Northwest, I’ll take that over cutthroat seat hovering every time.

Bollywood Theater table sign

We liked Bollywood Theater a lot the first time, especially the kati roll with paneer, but didn’t get back for a while. Last weekend, we decided to head back and try a couple of new things.

Plus the kati roll.

(It’s really good.)

Kati Roll with paneer at Bollywood Theater in Portland

This time, we went at a toddler-friendly 11:15 a.m. There were just a few families there when we arrived so soon after opening. By the time we left, though, it was closer to half full.

Bollywood Theater promises “Indian street food” in a casual and colorful atmosphere. Vegetarian meals are a natural part of this Indian menu: traditional pastries, chaat, a sandwich, small plates with house-made paneer. If you’d rather not pick and choose, get a vegetarian thali meal that includes paneer, egg curry, saffron rice, sambar, dal, raita, paratha, and green chutney.

We ordered Kati Rolls (paneer, egg, pickled onion and green chutney rolled in paratha), Gobi Manchurian (Indo-Chinese fried cauliflower with lemon, curry leaves, and a sweet and sour sauce), and Aloo Tiki (pan-fried spiced potato patties served with chickpea chole and green chutney). All of these dishes were off the “Street Food” portion of the menu. There are also small plates, like house-made paneer in tomato and cashew curry served with saffron rice, or coconut curry. And sides, too. I hear good things about the okra.

Vegetarians can eat very well here, just as you might expect at an Indian restaurant. Just double-check on your order, as vegetarian items weren’t marked on the menu.

The fried cauliflower was freaking fantastic. Between that and sharing the Kati Roll, we didn’t finish the potato patties, which weren’t quite as thrilling. However, I did use the leftovers to make some pretty kicking veggie patties the next day.

fried cauliflower with lemon

Nothing we ordered was aggressively spiced or especially hot. It’s flavorful, freshly prepared, and if you pick around the hot sauce, it’s mild enough to share with kids/grownups who can’t handle the heat. That’s not bad in my book. If you want hot spicy, chutneys with spice warnings are waiting for you on the condiment bar.

Speaking of which: This is a counter-service restaurant, with plates, water, and silverware all self-serve. It doesn’t bother me—I’d rather grab my extra plate rather than flag someone down for one when they’re busy—but this is a casual place.

“You’re drinking out of a steel cup and eating off a steel plate just like you would if you were in Mumbai. I want people to have that experience, as if they have gone some place,” says the owner.

Since I originally wrote this post, I’ve gone back a few times a year, and to be honest, I always just get Kati Rolls and Gobi Manchurian. It’s just become one of my go-to Portland meals, and I’ve never been sorry to order it. For lunch, I like to bring a date and share one order. For dinner, the full Kati Roll will mean you’ll need to take a long stroll before you think about getting in line for Salt and Straw.

Black cardamom

Vegan items aren’t marked, so ask about ghee. You’re probably looking at those potato patties, papadums, sambal, and some of the veggie sides. Check the specials board, too.

The Division location also houses a market, where you can buy Indian staples (rice, lentils) as well as paneer and an array of their house spice blends.

Spices for sale

Bollywood Theater

bollywoodtheaterpdx.com

Have you been to Bollywood Theater? What’s your favorite vegetarian item to order?

 

*Originally posted 12/02/2015. Updated 7/17/2019.

Veggie Grill

Vegan fast food is not built for me, personally, but I do appreciate having it around when I’m bopping around downtown and need a salad and a place to use the bathroom. It’ll get the job done. It won’t blow your mind, but sometimes mind-preservation is all you’re going for.

Veggie Grill is an LA-based chain now in Portland, serving up vegan comfort food. Stuff yourselves, vegans. You deserve it. Gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free menus.

I hear good things about the fake chicken burgers.

During a long weekend downtown working a conference, I ate at Veggie Grill twice, getting salad both times. Let’s be real: getting at least one nutritious meal with protein and an array of vegetables probably saved me from falling apart on my last day of going from 7:30 am to midnight. I closed that last party DOWN, thank you very much.

 

http://www.veggiegrill.com/

Grand Central Bakery

Grand Central Bakery is a great go-to, with seven Portland-area locations, and bread made from local flour.

If you’re like me, you like to have something a little special when entertaining, without making a huge mess in your kitchen or spending too much time. That’s where their pizza dough, pre-made pie crust, and puff pastry comes in. You make your desserts yourself — mostly.

In addition to breads and pastries, Grand Central Bakery locations offer breakfast and lunch – the usual sandwiches, salads, quiches and soups. Options change seasonally, with spring sandwich options of this writing such as beet and chevre, and “hot provolone and greens” with “garlicky raab.”

I recently took my six-year-old to Grand Central’s Fremont location, and it was so buzzing on a Friday morning that we barely got two seats together. He got a brioche cinnamon roll — I’d rather not have SUCH an enriched dough, but they had more traditional cinnamon buns as well — and I got a simple breakfast sandwich with egg and Havarti on a potato roll. Earlier in the week I’d gotten a really bad breakfast sandwich from another place that will go unnamed. Really bad. Like overloaded on bad sauce AND undercooked white, could not eat the whole thing bad. Well, lucky for all of us, Grand Central delivered a beautiful, perfect breakfast sandwich, a lovely over-medium egg on a perfectly toasty soft potato bun.

No, they’re not fancy. They’re not the new and hot spot, but they do good work and make excellent food. They source local ingredients and serve neighborhoods. There are always thoughtful and seasonal vegetarian sandwich choices.

Go eat happily.

grandcentralbakery.com

 

 

Robo Taco

Let’s start this conversation with complete honesty — I’ve been to Robo Taco maaany times, and I’ve only gotten one thing: the veggie al pastor/faux pork burrito. It’s a soy curl burrito cooked al pastor style, with pineapple. Though there are plenty of other vegetarian options, both in meat substitutes and dishes to put them in, it’s just my go-to standby burrito.

This isn’t traditional Mexican food here. This is casual Portland Mexican fare. You don’t have to be a hipster, but it helps, as a large portion of the clientele drifts in from nearby bars in the evenings and late into the night.

Vegetarian options include:

  • Faux pork – Soy Curls, marinated with Al Pastor marinade, served with fresh pineapple slices
  • Spicy veg sausage – Ground Soy Curls, spiced to taste like chorizo. Finished with  fried potatoes.
  • Mushrooms – Sauteed button and crimini mushrooms with garlic and herbs. Topped with queso fresco and crema. Vegan by request.
  • Chile relleno. Damn, this used to be my go-to burrito in my 20’s. I am no longer in my 20’s.

Not too shabby for selection there. Top your torta, your breakfast (served all day), tacos, nachos, or fill your burritos.

Speaking of breakfast, eggs are cage-free.

It’s a bit rock and roll down there on lower Morrison, with plenty of foot traffic, but it can be hard to find parking to run in for a burrito these days. (Imagine a rant here about New Portland keeping me from my soy curls.)

Robo Taco

Cheese Bar

At Cheese Bar, you can choose your cheeseventure.

Want to take some cheese to take home with you? An experienced cheesemonger will be happy to help you decide, with generous samples. Nothing classes up a trip to Mt. Tabor like selecting the perfect Gruyere on the way home.

Would you care for a nibble with a glass of wine after work? Sit at the bar and wait for your date to meet you. Or chat with the proprietor. Chat with whoever else happens to to feel like chatting.

Fancy a casual dinner? Order a sandwich, or a salad, or a cheese board, or  a mix of whatever feels right at the time. Macaroni and cheese with a kale salad is my idea of a balanced meal.


On Wednesdays, Cheese Bar often has a special theme night — raclette in the colder, rainier months, and pizza in the warmer months. As of this writing, one veggie pie is available each week. Follow their social media for the skinny.

Cheese selections change regularly, and the cheese counter is open as late as the bar. Yep, stop in for cheese until 11pm.

We went here for dinner once while I was pregnant, and the owner made sure the cheese on our cheese board was vegetarian and safe for pregnant ladies. He seems to be happy to bounce around the building, asking if you need extra crostini, handing out samples of beer, and generally making sure everyone’s happy and satisfied.

Feel classy, eat local, and you don’t (necessarily) have to spend one million dollars in order to have a great experience.

cheese-bar.com