Living in the Pacific Northwest is great if you’re one of the many people moving in a more plant-based direction. Portland is basically vegan mecca, which means we can be picky. At least once a week, plant-based bae (AKA Portland-based hip-hop artist Bryson the Alien) and I crave a burger and then spend a good 30 minutes trying to decide where to go. I love the veg offerings at Little Big Burger and Super Deluxe, and even Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, but sometimes it’s awkward to eat a big juicy burger under fluorescent lighting, sitting on hard plastic seats, amongst a bunch of hangry kids. Sometimes you just want to sit in a dark bar, sipping on something alcoholic, and have a nice adult night out with actual ambiance. Here are six worthwhile spots to have a tasty vegan burger and date night.
Capitol’s big colorful room, accented by a wall of rainbow geometric watercolors, is all high ceilings, big windows, and a backlit wall of liquor. Offering an all-vegetarian menu, there are two excellent plant-based burgers: the Capitol Burger and the Jalapeno Mushroom Burger (both $14), which both come with a BtB (Before the Butcher) patty—a savory combination of sunflower seeds, lentils, portabella mushrooms, wild rice, hemp seeds, flax, garlic, onions, and coconut aminos. Bryson remarked that their burger(s) actually go perfectly with chips instead of fries, which we were initially craving. The Capitol Burger has all the classic fixin’s, plus burger sauce (add CHAO Cheese for $1). It’s tasty, but bae and I prefer the one that comes with jalapeño relish, peppers, onions, and mushroom.
White Owl Social Club has my respect for several reasons, but most recently for taking an environmental stance by removing all beef and lamb from their menu and replacing their meat patties with the Impossible variety. After ordering two of their plant-based burgers, we sat down in a booth to the sounds of Fleetwood Mac and were giddy to try their famous Vegan Burger ($12). With a beet, wakame, and hazelnut patty, it ended up being... interesting and definitely edible, but didn’t live up to the hype. The regular White Owl Burger ($14) with Impossible patty and added vegan cheese ($1), sitting atop a heavenly, slightly crispy bun, was incredible TBH. I asked to hold the pickles because I fucking hate pickles. Shout out to their always-excellent Buffalo cauliflower “wings” and the fact that THEIR FRIES ARE JUST SALTY ENOUGH!? WHAT SWEET PERFECTION IS THIS?
Black Water Bar
Cozy up to bae over a couple of burgers in Black Water’s big pillowy booths. Black Water Bar is so much more than just a stalwart spot for punk rock shows—they’ve also got a fire vegan food menu. Between the Scorpion Burger ($9) and the Blue Cheeze Burger ($10), both containing a housemade patty, this place is the truth. The Scorpion really won my heart with the burger’s charred edges, and those grilled jalepeños and onions were everything. Upon first bite Bryson says, “Oh my god, it’s delicious.” I was nearly full after half of a perfectly-spicy Scorpion, but also really enjoyed the Blue Cheeze burger despite the tempeh bacon (which isn’t normally my thing). Nothing can outshine that Scorpion, though. On a recent drizzly Tuesday, while Black Sabbath blared from the house speakers, there were cute animal video compilations playing on the TV: costumed pups, relaxing bears, and submissive raccoons. A-plus date night entertainment.
We recently caught the tail end of a Blazers vs. Mavericks game from one of Slow Bar’s tall and private booths. As a rule, they play rock music, such as “Locust Star” by Neurosis. It’s the kind of place where a gaggle of angsty hipsters can totally shout “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” over and over again at the next table, and it’s not even frowned upon. I ordered a Steigl Radler and plant-based bae had a cup of green tea (because he respects his body and this is why he’s my role model). Along with the very friendly and fast service, this place is known for its dead cow flesh burger, which some of you may call a “regular burger,” and which I have pee’d my pants in ecstasy over in the past. But it’s been reported that their vegan offering is also impressive. I immediately noted that Slow Bar’s fries are the perfect texture, a delectable ratio of crispy and cushy. Their Vegan Burger ($13) combines a Beyond Meat patty with a classic burger taste and fixin’s (onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce). I was in love with the humble addition of Thousand Island dressing to the toasted bun (though it could’ve used a little more sauce). This burger is proof you don’t have to get too fancy for a plant-based burger to be “yummy” by Justin Bieber.
The vibe here is that of a nicer fast food joint: better/homier decor, better music (Robyn was blaring from the speakers during my visit), comfier seats, and more interesting architecture. I appreciated their quaint assortment of plants, books in their free library, rustic benches, and napkin dispensers displaying pet pictures. (They also have a framed Washington Post newspaper from the day of Trump’s impeachment, with a piece of paper that reads “At last” taped to it.) I went on a Friday toward the end of the day and it was delightfully slow. DC Vegetarian offers an excellent Before the Butcher burger (beef-like patty, $11) with varied toppings. I added avocado (do it) to the Classic (not beef-like, $9) but forgot to ask them to hold the pickles—ick! The bun was great, I liked the clearly vegetarian patty, and that avocado was well worth it.
Modern Times’ Belmont Fermentorium has a very festive vibe with shiny, piñata-inspired décor. We loved the table numbers made of floppy discs, and the ambiance is punctuated by their music selection of... psychedelic African jazz (?) and comic-book wallpaper that stretches into the bathrooms. The Double Burgers ($13) came out remarkably fast, which is great because we were so fucking hungry. Highly recommend upgrading to fries for $2 (because duh). The ultra-juicy, messy burger on a chewy bun with double Beyond patties, coconut cheese, caramelized onions, and mushrooms is, as Bryson put it, “a real-ass burger.” We were both kind of surprised it was vegetarian, and now we understand all the hype.