6 Best Plant-Based Portland Eats

New England cuisine isn't exactly the most veggie-friendly. Or the most healthy: Fried fish and chips, lobster rolls slathered in butter, and heaps of starchy white potatoes baked, boiled, roasted, or fried come to mind.

In the "other Portland" –my favorite Portland, the one in Maine – you'll find lobster and other seafood staples almost everywhere and for dirt cheap thanks to the glut on the market. But you'll also find a ton of vegan and vegetarian-friendly food.

On my most recent trip to Portland I was amazed at the variety of great food options, and pleased to note multiple plant-based picks that showcased culinary creativity and flavor. So often plant-based eaters are left with a ho-hum salad sections, but that wasn’t the case in Portland. Here's what I ate and loved in Maine.

Bao Bao Dumpling House

This Chinese dumpling house offers a rotating array of dumplings and other small plates with tap takeovers from one of Portland's awesome breweries – when I visited it was the hop-heavy Lone Pine Brewing. Their signature Pale Ale was a nice brew that had some hop flavor but was neutral enough to keep the focus on the food.

Bao Bao Dumpling House usually has one veggie dumpling, which changes with the season. The dumplings are pan-fried with a lovely crunch crust on the bottom and no grease. If you like it hot, ask for the housemade hot sauce. They've got six fiery varieties including ghost pepper.

Side dishes such as the popular smashed cucumber, seasoned with chili oil and garlic, help round out a meal. I opted for the somen noodles, spiced with ginger, chili, cucumber, scallion, black sesame, and fried shallots.

Somen noodles with fried shallots

Somen noodles with fried shallots

Cheevitdee

Once I saw this Old Port Thai place offered pathongko (Thai donuts) with pandan dipping sauce, I knew we were going.

Thai donuts from Cheevitdee in Portland

Thai donuts from Cheevitdee in Portland

My wife is obsessed with pandan, the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla. The green leaf is light and sweet, and usually found in custards and jellies. We started off our meal with these doughnuts, which came with Thai tea and pandan dipping sauces.

For my meal, I opted for the vegetarian jok or congee (vegans can omit the fried egg). The rice-based stew came with noodles, ginger threads, scallions, and cilantro. My bowl of jok was big enough to share, and the savory breakfast porridge took me back to the incredible breakfast soups I had in Vietnam.

Mushroom jok from Cheevitdee

Mushroom jok from Cheevitdee

The fresh spring rolls looked lovely, too, with a rainbow of veggies–beets, carrots, basil, and lettuce. Other plant-based picks include mushroom tom yum soup and a steamed custard bun. Cheevitdee's dinner menu includes the usual Thai staples–noodles and curries–and there's usually a tofu or mushroom option to satisfy plant-based eaters.

Izakaya Minato

Japanese food usually isn't the most welcoming for veggie eaters. You'll typically find a handful of snoozy sushi rolls: fine enough, but not that exciting. On a Japanese pub food menu, you won't even find those basic avocado and cucumber rolls.

So when I pored over the menu at Izakaya Minato, a buzzy Japanese pub near Munjoy Hill, I was psyched to see multiple meatless offerings.

Veggie food wasn't an afterthought here, as the kitchen put some love into coming up with a mushroom okonomikyi which tasted like a puffy cloud. It was the first time I tried okonomiyaki (finding it hard to get excited over a cabbage pancake) but the texture was so soft and luscious–a happy surprise that made me sad for all the food experiences I missed out on. Omit the bonito flakes to keep this veggie-friendly.

My favorite dish was fried eggplant and mushrooms in umami-rich veggie dashi. I'm generally a sucker for anything eggplant, but the delicate balance of flavors and textures kept us slurping up every drop. We washed it down with a Japanese whiskey, but they've got a large sake menu (and sake flights) too.

Ameera Bread

The minute I walked into this Iraqi-owned bakery and saw the owner pulling bread out of a clay oven, I knew we were in for a treat.

We grabbed a sandwich–they offer two kinds of falafel, which is amazing–and picked out veggie dips to take home. Along with hummus, we opted for tart pickled baby eggplants stuffed with walnuts and sundried tomatoes, muhamarra (a creamy Syrian walnut dip sweetened with pomegranate molasses), and a fire-roasted baba ghanoush.

They humblebrag about offering the best knafe in town and I don't doubt that's true–somerthing to look forward to for another trip. This Middle Eastern spot has a location in the Portland Public Market, but we headed to the main location on Forest Ave on our way out of town, and I’d go there again just to watch the owner work that clay oven.

Holy Donut

I was skeptical about the idea of a potato donut, but Holy Donut blew me away with its chocolate toasted coconut doughnut. I kept stealing nibbles of doughnut, paying more attention to the sweet breakfast treat than to the conference keynote.

Biting into the pillowy fried dough, you'd never guess there were mashed potatoes inside. That’s what kept the cake doughnuts so fluffy.

To keep it simple, stick with original, chocolate sea salt, or sweet potato. Or if you're feeling adventurous, try one of the seasonal flavors, such as triple berry or honey lavender, all dripping with candy-colored glazes made from natural ingredients, like fresh lavender buds or berry puree.

While the chocolate coconut doughnut was my favorite, I also loved the ginger cannoli for its lightly spicy cream filling.

portland-potato-donut

Dobra Tea

I visited Portland during seaweed week–an adorable concept that popped up in the form of seaweed cocktails, kelp goses, and more. Dobra tea house had a honeyed goat cheese topped with dulse flakes and cayenne that tempted when we needed a quick pick-me-up. The flaked dulse was mild...a nice way to ramp up the health benefits of dips without adding too much ocean flavor.

Dobra has a lot of light small plates that are perfect for plant-based eaters–zaatar pitas, veggie soups, and more. Of course the real draw here is the tea, which is all carefully sourced from small tea farmers throughout Asia.

On this visit, we tried a malty Korean black tea with a great backtory. It was discovered on a tea sourcing trip as a "community tea," fully hand-processed by locals. The tea was rich and strong, with a lot of malt notes that made me think of keeping warm on a chilly winter evening in the rural mountains.

Bissel Brothers

I may have had This food on the brain after lunch at Chevitdee, but I swear the signature IPA from local favorite Bissel Brothers tastes exactly like Thai food. In between the dank hop notes, you can pick out some citrus lightness similar to kaffir lime.

I loved their signature brew, but also enjoyed the Reciprocal IPA, loaded with Australian hops. Go now, before the summer concert series makes the area impassable.

Austin Street Brewing

This place is super Instagrammable with its soft Scandi wood and plants everywhere. I'll admit I was skeptical about it for that reason, but Austin Street Brewing turned out to be my favorite of all the breweries we visited in Portland.

I loved that their beer menu had tasting notes you might see at a tea shop or winery and I loved the clean simplicity of their brews.

I’m heading to Pittsburgh soon, so add me on Instagram to follow my next food adventures in realtime.