Urban Onion
4026 SE Hawthorne Blvd, 233-5521

Nothing epitomizes the confused identity of Hawthorne as well as the Urban Onion. Located in the waning center of hippie life, the Onion serves tasty, vegan eats to a dedicated few, while Starbucks and big brother pizza joints pack in the wandering hordes. Inside, one can conscientiously consume animal product-free foods on paper plates with plastic utensils; save the cow, build the landfill. In the age of irony, why not embrace the paradox that is Hawthorne, and if you can, remember to pack a metal fork.

As with any cheap-eat establishment, some dishes are better than others, and some are just plain off, but eating here is a necessary Portland act--just pretend you're in the mess hall of the Animal Liberation Front, gearing up for the next great (cruelty-free) battle. The Urban Onion serves made-to-order sandwiches, cold prepared salads, and hot cafeteria-style dishes, priced by the pound.

While the sandwiches and salad bar deserve the eater's attention, the hot foods are the best choice for diners. Get scoops of artichoke hearts with polenta and creamy tomato sauce, frazzled brussels sprouts, red beans and rice, and/or Thai peanut noodles slopped on your plate. Flavors tend to blend together anyway, but leave you with a warm, home-cooked meal kind of feeling. Create your own medley of vegan flavors from the rotating stock of bulk-crafted dishes.

The cafeteria style that allows for quick feeding and low prices also means that your pasta may be overcooked or your roasted potatoes dry as cardboard. There is no escaping the cruel hand of time, and this holds especially true when a steam table enters the picture. Then again, if you truly hate things past their prime, there is no reason for you to be spending time on Hawthorne anyway.