I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon acclaimed vegan pop-up-turned brick-and-mortar Plant Based Papi, located on SE Morrison. I was actually heading into a neighboring restaurant, vegan Vietnamese hotspot Mama Dut, to pick up my fried oyster mushroom bahn mi, when I noticed an absolutely epic, socially distanced line wrapped around the block. There’s no shortage of stellar restaurants in this city, so when Portlanders choose to spend their time waiting in line to eat, it’s because they’re confident the food is well worth the wait.
With so much attention to detail in each menu item, you can’t go wrong with anything Plant Based Papi offers; it’s mostly about preference, and how much spice you can handle. Owned and run by Jewan Manuel (AKA the Plant Based Papi himself), the creative menu at this Latin American-inspired vegan restaurant is constantly changing. With mouthwatering photos of dishes like truffle mac and cheese, and chick’n sandwiches, business at the Black-owned brick-and-mortar experienced a big boom during the pandemic, selling out online orders in under 10 minutes. For the last few months, the restaurant is undergoing renovations, and will make walk-up ordering more accessible. Today, Plant Based Papi currently operates via a residency at Bit House Collective, and more recently, took over the kitchen in the reopened Fortune location, which now lives at the coveted former Jackknife space inside the Sentinel Hotel. With his kitchen takeover at Fortune, he also brings some much needed gourmet vegan food to SW Portland in a super swanky bar setting.
One big menu highlight is the Caprese Burger ($15). (Why haven’t I had such a melding of tastes before?) This incredible burger should have been on my best plant-based burgers list from February 2020, if only I had been aware of Plant Based Papi at the time. While eating the Impossible-based burger—stacked with arugula, beefsteak tomato, basil pesto, cashew mozzarella, and garlic aioli—I completely forgot the cheese was vegan. If you’re looking for a vegan burger that’ll outdo all the beef burgers of the past, the Caprese is the one.
Don’t miss the Angel Hair Fennel and Meatball Pasta ($16), which ends up being a superb thin-noodle spaghetti with marinara and housemade Italian gravy. Seasoned with fennel, the three large Impossible meatballs are cooked just right, and are embellished with a bit of basil pesto, fresh parsley, and dusted with cashew parmesan. Only extra marinara sauce and an additional side of parm could improve this dish.
Another particularly noteworthy item is the crispy calamari appetizer made from a medley of mushrooms fried to perfection, and served with a side of cocktail and tartar sauce. Speaking of which, all the condiments—including the chipotle ranch and spicy mayo—are exceptional, and deliver an extra je ne sais quoi. At Fortune, there’s also a rotating menu of japepeño mac or truffle mac, wedge salad, rotating pastas (hello scallop alfredo!), and a bread bowl ($14) containing some seriously cozy broccoli cheddar soup in a cashew-based broth with celery, carrots, and onion.
At Bit House Collective, Manuel throws down epic vegan wings on Wing Wednesdays, and otherwise focuses on Latin American-inspired dishes like crispy birria tacos with chili roasted jackfruit, gluten-free elote (gussied-up Mexican street corn), street tacos a la carte, and Papi’s nachos. But the most appealing menu he offers here is perhaps the brunch, in which he slings strawberry rose french toast, made with sourdough, sweet coconut creme fraiche, strawberry preserves, and rose glaze. Also at the 10 am-3 pm brunch, don’t miss the no-fail breakfast burrito, Nashville chick’n and jalepeño cornbread waffles, “Feggs Benedict,” and sides like the refreshing mint and fresh berry salad.
To be clear: Plant Based Papi isn’t just “good vegan food”—Manuel’s rightfully earned his cult following for meals that are consistently flavorful, creative, and delicious. (And, might I add, super filling.).