Emma Tresemer
412 SW 4th

Traditionally, I hate vegan food. I don't like vegan soup or vegan casseroles or vegan fake meat or vegan desserts. Vegan to me means flavorless, and more importantly, wussy. (Cue Portland's vegan community getting their vegan panties in a bunch.)

That said, I find myself eating Veganopolis at least once a week. This new, cafeteria-style downtown diner not only serves vegan food exclusively, but also makes one of the best and most affordable lunch trays in the city.

Veganopolis' owners David Stowell and George Black first introduced their fabulous cooking to Portland with a food cart in the park blocks called Chef to Go. Now they have even more to offer with a big, two-story restaurant space and a significantly expanded menu.

For breakfast try their daily buffet loaded with scrambled tofu, seasoned potatoes, moist biscuits and gravy, vegan sausages and bacon, crepes, French toast and pancakes. You'll note that, refreshingly, at Veganopolis they don't have a menu full of low-calorie "healthy" vegan food. Instead they make the regular, delicious foods people crave--only veganized.

On a recent visit I tried their signature Rueben ($6) made with corned seitan, sauerkraut, vegan cheese, and 1000 Island dressing on rye. A supremely satisfying sandwich experience. The dressing was as delicious as the original mayo/ketchup/relish variety, the bread was perfectly toasted, and the seitan was refreshingly salty because of the brining (or corning). Of course the sum of a Rueben is its parts, and this sandwich succeeded flawlessly, creating the ultimate combination of salty, sour, and just a hint of sweet. Along with your sandwich comes a tart, screamingly fresh homemade slaw, or one of Veganopolis' rotating varieties of roasted potatoes for a buck-75 more.

Equally mind-blowing are Veganopolis' homemade soups, which are as rich as anything Caprial can whip up. I've tried both their potato leek and wild mushroom--the first was thick, hot, and unrecognizably vegan, and the mushroom--made with several varieties of organic, Oregon-grown mushrooms--was richly flavorful and complex, almost tasting of red wine.

The kitchen also makes a Caesar salad ($5 or $6 with vegan chicken) with croutons and "rawmesan" rather than parmesan. The differences from the original are noticeable--the dressing is a tad grainy and the rawmesan tastes a bit floury--but regardless, the end result is crisp and creamy, served with grilled slices of baguette.

Everything Veganopolis puts on a plate is an achievement, but some of their biggest accomplishments come from the bakery. Their chocolate chip cookies are immensely buttery and melt in your mouth, and their chocolate chip brownies are dense, as dark as potting soil, and seductively bittersweet--what I'd consider an adult's dessert. They also make an assortment of muffins daily, perfect if you happen to be passing by on your way to work.

Veganopolis succeeds most profoundly because they make utterly delicious food--vegan or not--and by doing so are creating huge fans out of nay-saying carnivores like myself. If any restaurant can get me going out of my way for a vegan Rueben with a vegan cup of soup and a vegan brownie--well, then that's a victory for vegans everywhere.