PORTLAND IS A CITY of special-needs eaters. We love to talk about our esoteric dietary requirements, whether it's glut- en-free cupcakes, soy curls vs. seitan, or how bacon is so last year ("I'm a vegetarian, but I eat truffle-fed lamb when I'm menstruating"). Planning a dinner party for such culinary special snowflakes is a logistical juggling act involving research, dedication, and frantic 11th-hour Googling for gluten-free enchilada recipes—and finding a restaurant that can comfortably accommodate a variety of diets is nearly as bad.
Newish SE Belmont eatery Dick's Kitchen stakes claim to the intersection of several subsets of Portland eaters: vegans, vegetarians, and label-conscious carnivores who are willing to pay a bit more for quality meat. Describing itself as "Portland's first 'Stone Age diner,'" Dick's provides a diner-style interpretation of Michael Pollan's edict "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." The menu emphasizes the foods "our ancestors evolved to eat," which translates to a focus on lean protein and vegetable dishes. (And milkshakes!) The menu provides a bibliography-style list of "food sources," as well as an actual bibliography of suggested reading.
For all that, Dick's propaganda emphasizes their veggie friendliness, but their vegetarian entrées are uninspiring. A tempeh Reuben is a solid but not outstanding entrant in a city crowded with better vegetarian sandwiches; slathered with dressing and cheese (Daiya vegan cheese is available for an upcharge), it's filling but hardly qualifies as healthy. A vegan Caesar salad, meanwhile, is healthy but hardly qualifies as filling. Other vegetarian options (portobello and tempeh burgers, grilled cheese, a few vegan sausage/hot dog offerings) are unimaginative variations on the "fake protein in a sandwich" formula—it would be great to see a few more innovative non bun-based veggie entrées. To Dick's credit, all of their side dishes are vegan, including collards, kimchee, sweet potato mash, and baked beans; but any halfway-committed vegan chef—or remotely competent omnivore—could easily replicate these dishes at home. (I've added their dish of sautéed cabbage and kale with vermouth and dill to my at-home repertoire—it's quite good, and exactly as easy to make as it sounds.)
Meat is the way to go, here—a slider-sized turkey burger was flavorful and surprisingly filling, while their burger (offered in a range of preparations) is lean enough to avoid gut-bomb territory. The salmon sandwich was perfectly cooked, flaky and tender—try it with the anchovy-and-parsley persillade, one of a handful of condiments made in house. The condiments add an endearing homespun touch, though the portions are too small—we weren't expecting a soup tureen full of the excellent house ketchup, maybe just enough to last through an entire order of "not-fries," Dick's low-fat alternative to french fries. (The baked fry-shaped potatoes are a passable substitute for the real deal, if on the dry side.)
Though Dick's vegetarian offerings aren't as appealing as their meat dishes, it's nonetheless refreshing to find a restaurant that can accommodate a decent cross-section of Portland's finicky eaters. It's impressive, too, the level of care Dick's takes in sourcing their ingredients and offering healthy options whenever possible. Even the alcoholics should be content—try the house margarita. You won't even notice it's made with agave instead of sugar.