Veggie Grill on SW Cedar Hills Blvd. in Beaverton
Portland, OR Restaurant Review: Veggie Grill in SW Portland, Lunch
Plotted along some kind of mathematical equation, I’m sure the chart that documents the flavor development and overall availability of vegan cuisine from the 70s to now is a slow-building, upward-trending line that begins in the lower left and rises to the upper right hand corner of the graph. And deservedly so. These days, in many major cities, you can throw a rock (they’re vegan) and hit a vegan or vegetarian establishment; or at the very least, you can find specifically noted menu items that are vegetarian and not just a side of “steamed veggies” on a steakhouse menu.
Once upon a time, there were tiny little health food stores full of somewhat nasty-tasting or flavorless products that were supposed to be healthy for you. You could get regular produce in the market, and whatever else you managed to find in a restaurant. Now, there are entire establishments that are not only dedicated to creating healthy vegan or vegetarian dishes, but they’re also really, really good at it. Enter The Veggie Grill, who after several successful additions to the healthy fast-casual L.A. restaurant landscape, have just opened the doors to their first (of a planned few) Portland-area locations.
Let it be known that we are not vegans here at Portland Restaurant Review, however, we are considerate, thoughtful people who value carefully made cuisine of all stripes. So maybe that makes us the perfect judges of a vegan restaurant that does not push its vegan-ness on anyone, by virtue of their menu or the interior spaces. In fact, you’ll hear plenty of stories like this one, from die-hard Veggie Grill fans and the owners alike: “A vegetarian woman came in to the restaurant with her non-vegetarian boyfriend. He had the ‘burger,’ and commented that he was able to have a great piece of meat while his girlfriend had her salad. And the joke is on him — there’s no meat on the menu!” I’m a big fan of stories like this, because in my opinion, vegan and healthy food options have to go beyond merely mimicking similar dishes on non-vegan menus. As in, a vegan cheeseburger might just as well have been a totally new sandwich, so that consumers don’t go into the experience thinking of a meaty burger and inevitably leveling their comparison at how the vegan version falls short or otherwise fails to approximate the “original.” Of course, besides calling the sandwich something entirely new, restaurants and vegan chefs could always just make something vegan that tastes amazing. Wouldn’t that be enough to convince non-vegans that eating in this healthy way can be just as satisfying as any other? Guess what? That’s the position that The Veggie Grill takes on vegan dining. They’re not going to push the food politics or lifestyle/diet combo down your throats. They believe what they believe, and they want to run a successful restaurant that provides diners with a healthy option. So they make it easy on diners and privilege quality, tasty food above all else. So simple and yet I can’t think of very many versions of vegan cuisine that are so wonderfully prepared and delivered under such terms.
Veggie Grill on SW Cedar Hills Blvd.: Breaking Down the Lunch Menu and Ambiance
So what am I saying then? While I’m not exactly a convert to the vegan diet, I will tell you that I am a newly minted, loyal fan of Veggie Grill. As is always the case when I come to this point with a restaurant, I will often think of things on their menu for which I have a fondness, and from that little memory will come a craving. When the craving gets too large to control, I will go to Veggie Grill and satisfy my urges for a great meal. And yes, it just so happens to be a vegan craving. But that may well me beside the point, and that’s perhaps the best thing I could say about Veggie Grill — you’ll go because the food is excellent, no matter what they do or do not put into each dish. Now let’s talk about the new restaurant.
Stylish, well-conceived and clean interior space. New window adverts that are digitally controlled, alleviating the need for printing new displays each week or month. Friendly to a fault style service from multiple layers of staff. A robust menu that is pared down enough for you to tell that much thought has been put into what lives on the menu, and what was likely removed. Just cozy enough inside the place to feel good about getting in from the rain for a lunch or dinner. Seems like The Veggie Grill has done their homework.
Santa Fe Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($8.95 – Fried chickin’, lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, spicy vegan mayo). I think this one is my favorite of the sandwiches. No, it’s not actually chicken, but between the flavor and the texture even, you’re gonna’ be just about fooled. Crispy, fresh produce, spicy sauce and the perfect sized bun all complement a great sandwich. On the side, a bowlful of Steamin’ Kale ($3.25 – Steamed until just tender, ginger-miso dressing, roasted sesame seeds). Personally, I love kale and have for a long time. I found this particular side to also be among my favorites at the Veggie Grill, with perfectly steamed leaves broken down just enough to be soft without sacrificing any hint of freshness. The miso dressing is awesome, with that little bit of chalky miso flavor adding just enough of a kick to the greens.
Uptown Nachos ($4.95 Starter – Tortilla chips, chili, VG-cheese, corn salsa, avocado, soy cream, jalapenos). Is there a vegan bar food menu anywhere in Portland? If there is, take note. Not that nachos presents the dilemma of the century when it comes to making a tasty vegetarian or vegan snack, but really — this is a PERFECT version of the dish. Crispy chips that are just salty enough, fresh corn salsa, creamy avocados and spicy peppers. That little drizzle of soy cream makes all the difference, too, especially if you’re a fan of sour cream on traditional, non-vegan nachos. Plenty of food to share as a snack if you’re dining with a friend.
VG-Cheeseburger ($9.95 – The V-Burger topped with VG-Cheese El Dorado Style upon request with jalapenos, caramelized onions, ketchup). Worth literally any and every penny that you will spend. At nearly ten dollars, you’ll likely be expecting one hell of a burger, and you won’t be disappointed either, as this is likely the sandwich that generates the most stories like the one about the vegan girlfriend illustrated in the intro. Eat it while it’s hot for sure, as the VG-Cheese is best when first served. The “meat” will again fool some fairly savvy meat-eaters, as texture and flavor are both very solid. Shaved lettuce, slightly sweet caramelized onions and a little kick from the jalapenos. I believe they serve Annie’s organic ketchup, so a little dollop of that will only add to the healthy quota of the meal. Highly recommended.
All-American Stack ($8.95 – Grilled Veggie Steak, thousand island dressing, pickles, lettuce, tomato, crispy onion rings). It’s going to be staring you in the face when you walk in to the restaurant, beyond life-sized and gorgeous-looking enough to make you consider not even bothering with the menu. It tastes just about as good as it looks in the picture, and it’s ready to fall apart in your hands. I don’t say this as a criticism, either. Nothing dry here. All tasty, moist and very flavorful indeed. After about half, you may find yourself cutting it with a knife and fork. The dressing and pickles go a long way towards making this one of the standout menu items. And you will LOVE the onion ring addition. While not the healthiest thing in the world, what it brings to the flavor overload is well worth the price.
All Hail Kale ($8.45 – Marinated kale and red cabbage, corn salsa, agave-roasted walnuts, ginger-papaya vinaigrette; Add blackened chickin’ or tempeh for $2.50). Once again, I love kale. Nothing more to say on the matter. This is a huge meal of a salad, or a great dish to be split among friends dining together. Marinated kale does just enough to break down the overly crispy green into something your mouth will love having in it. Corn salsa, walnuts, shaved carrots: all go a long way to creating a wide variety of textures, flavors, spices and colors, making this salad as pleasing to look at as it is to eat.
Carne Asada Sandwich ($8.95 – Grilled veggie-steak, Mexican spices, spicy vegan mayo, red onion, lettuce, tomato). This is not my favorite Veggie Grill sandwich, but it is still quite good in the way of a lunch meal. Here, the “carne asada” is probably the farthest away from its meat-based cousin, but still long on flavor.
Sweetheart Fries ($4.25 – Sides – Scrumptious sweet potatos with chipotle ranch). This ended up being a pretty good picture. If you like sweet potato fries that won’t weigh you down with oil or grease, and ones that are crispy on the outside yet slightly soft on the inside, then you’re all over this bowl. Sooooo good. My favorite extra, besides the nachos.
Bayou Chickin’ Sandwich ($8.95 – Blackened chickin’, lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, spicy vegan mayo). Once again, the chickin’ will fool you quite easily, as the texture is fairly spot on and the flavor is complete. The blackened version of the chickin’ is especially nice as there is a whole other flavor profile going on, which is accented by the spice of the red onion and the mayo. All in all, very filling and one that you should eventually make sure to try.
Buffalo Wings ($6.75 – Sides: Crispy chickin’, tossed in spicy buffalo sauce with celery sticks and ranch dressing). This is where some of the amazing happens. They taste like chicken. They feel like real chicken in your hands. The buffalo sauce is authentic. The dipping sauce, while soy-based, will fool you that it’s really ranch dressing. For less than $7, you pretty much can’t go wrong. A plate of “wings” and another plate of nachos could go a long way towards mending a broken heart.
We can’t thank the fine people involved with this restaurant enough for their hospitality and for everything they are doing to bring healthy food that tastes great to the fast-casual restaurant space. Take our word, get over the vegan aspect and get down there to do some sampling for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
Portland, OR Restaurant Details: Veggie Grill Portland on SW Cedar Hills Blvd.
Veggie Grill in Beaverton, OR and soon to be downtown SW Portland (SW 5th and Taylor)
3435 SW Cedar Hills Blvd. (west side of the street in the shopping center)
Beaverton, OR 97005
Southwest / Beaverton
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:00 am to 9:00 pm; Friday – Saturday 11:00 am to 10:00 pm