It’d been years since I’d been to Vita Cafe.
So many years, in fact, I remember it being in a different place. Was it? It’s on Alberta now, on the same veggie-friendly block as Natural Selection and The Big Egg (RIP Sugar Cube). It’s also just down the street from a a coffee shop called Caffe Vita.
Don’t be confused! The Vita Cafe is a very veggie restaurant that’s been a stalwart of the Portland scene, serving vegetarian comfort food since 1999.
It’s almost all vegetarian and vegan, meaning that it’s one of those places that does a meaty burger alongside the veggie burgers. You know, just in case your Uncle Steve comes in from out of town at the same time as your hippie Cousin Diana, and Uncle Steve is being a real stickler about not eating any namby-pamby vegetarian food, while Cousin Diana is vegan and gluten-free. At the Vita Cafe, this imaginary family can sit down together in relative (pun not initially intended, but I’ll allow it) peace and harmony, enjoying their chosen meals.
Well, these days, there are a lot more options for places to eat out in Portland, though Uncle Steve certainly isn’t going to fork out $45 for the vegetarian prix fixe menu at Natural Selection any time soon.
We went for an early because we have that toddler, and the room had a few people who looked to be taking advantage of happy hour deals (until 6pm on weekdays, get on that), and a couple of families with kids. Kids eat cheap here: $1 from 5-7pm every damn day. That means I didn’t even worry about ordering the veggie burger for my two-year-old. He ate about two-thirds of it and we took the rest home; not a bad deal. It also meant that I didn’t have to order something that I think he would like to share. Score.
Our meal wasn’t exactly a steal, with a total for a veggie burger with fries, beer, salad, and $1 kid meal adding up to about $28 before tip–but not terrible for a casual meal for three. I was needing a serious salad on this particular day, but next time if we came early again, I’d choose from the happy hour menu.
Why did I need salad? Well, I’ll tell you what I’d had that day to eat up until dinner time: One and a half leftover waffles, and a handful of Triscuits. Waffles and Triscuits are delicious, but they certainly don’t comprise the full range of a balanced and healthy diet. I needed vegetables. I needed protein. So I got the Super Grain Salad: greens with black & white quinoa, tempeh fakin crumbles, red peppers, currants, pumpkin seeds and guacamoles with carrot ginger or lemon tahini dressing. It hit the spot nutritionally, and with the help of a decent portion of my husband’s fries, I was plenty full. I wished it packed a bit more of a punch with the flavor, though–currants are so teensy that you need a lot to contribute that concentrated flavor. When I got a piece of tempeh bacon, it was a hearty savory bite, but those bites were few and far between. (I can’t recommend the tempeh bacon by itself, either, and probably wouldn’t eat a strip on a sandwich. It’s hard to get tempeh that has flavor without going all the way over to the soy sauce side, I know, ain’t no tempeh perfect. Except maybe Beau Thai. That’s some good tempeh.)
Follow Vita Cafe on Facebook and drool over their vegetarian comfort food specials. Dang, look at that one today: eggs or tofu scrambled with spinach, kale, red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, and hollandaise. Served with potatoes or rice and toast. I could be convinced to eat that.
Vita Cafe is a workhorse restaurant for the vegetarian-friendly crowds on Alberta. Check out breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the tasty pastry case. There’s a full drink menu, and a kids’ menu, and a happy hour menu, and wow, that’s a lot of vegetarian food. Maybe you could even convince Uncle Steve to try a bite of yours.
3023 NE Alberta St.