Owned by restaurateur Robert Thomas, whose portfolio also includes Swift Lounge and the now shuttered Blackbird Pizza, the concept started out as a delivery-only ghost kitchen in North Portland. The fast casual spot now resides in an old school diner space once home to Diane’s Restaurant, near the convergence of Foster Road and Powell Boulevard.
Thomas, who began his career in New York City’s fine dining scene and isn’t vegan himself, had been toying with entering the vegan market for a while. The idea got off the ground as part of his personal bid to try and eat healthier.
“I thought it’d be fun to do stuff that was just the same garbage that I want to eat at two in the morning when I’m drunk… vegans want that,” he said.
Along with business partner Jay Vance (formerly of Stanford’s), Thomas is putting the junk back in junk food; embracing it so fully that their logo is a raccoon wielding a corn dog and soft drink, while customers are affectionately referred to as "trash pandas."
Developing the menu came with a learning curve, with Thomas and his team teaching themselves techniques along the way. “We would buy vegenaise in the beginning. One day [our supplier] ran out of vegenaise… My friend BJ Smith was like ‘You’re a chef. Use your skills and make one.’ I was like ‘Oh okay, I guess I can do that.’ And I went and read a bunch and was like it’s the most simple thing to do—more simple than making regular mayonnaise,” said Thomas.
Folks who find themselves missing a certain iconic fast food item can find the Crunchywrap Superior in the “tortilla” section menu, which also includes birria tacos, a Mexican dish which has gained popularity in the States in recent years.
The two fauxteins on the menu I was most curious about were the Rebellyous Foods chicken nuggets and Before the Butcher “hamburger”; both were brands I was unfamiliar with.
The chicky nuggies were very convincing, lookin’ darn near identical to their animal counterpart, and satisfying to this omnivore’s palate. The curly fries that accompanied it were pitch perfect, but the real revelation was the vegan ranch.
I tried the Before the Butcher patty as part of the “Moko Loko,” and found it less successful in its attempt at replicating meat. With a crumbly texture, it skewed more towards an Impossible patty than a Beyond Meat one. The menu describes it being served with a “scoop” of mac salad and a “scoop” of sushi rice, but these scoops were super sized—this one dish easily stretched out to two or three meals.
The only thing not giant from my order was the vanilla milkshake, made with in-house soft serve. Vegan Junk Food has also partnered with Dream Cakes to offer vegan cake in weekly rotating flavors.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant is experiencing the same challenges the rest of the industry is—supply chain issues and a changing labor force. In an ideal world, Thomas would like to have a big enough staff to open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. As Thomas himself might argue, this is food best enjoyed late into the night. Currently, the restaurant is open Wednesday-Sunday 4-10 pm.
Despite the Delta variant continuously throwing curveballs, Thomas and Vance have big plans; the pair is already in talks to open a second location at Pine Street Market.
At their existing property, they’ve acquired a smaller structure adjacent to the restaurant that was once a drive-through cigarette shop. Once it passes health department inspections, the space will be used as a prep kitchen and function as a drive-thru. The restaurant is also gearing up to convert their 12 parking spaces into a drive-in with carhops (think Sonic!) where diners can order by QR code.
Vegan Junk Food, 5052 SE Foster, (503) 946-8052, veganjunkfoodpdx.com