I don’t usually associate vegetarian or vegan fare with the term “cheap eats.” I’ve always had this vague notion that if you want to get healthier food, you have to pay a little more.

That’s not the case at Little Lad’s, a vegetarian and vegan cafe and bakery near Monument Square on Congress Street in Portland.

The place’s speciality is a vegetarian/vegan buffet, where you can get your fill of soup, bread, vegetables and entrees for just $4.99. And because it’s a ready-to-eat buffet, it’s also an extremely quick place for lunch.

Quickness is something I strongly associate with cheap eats, by the way. So if you have limited time for lunch and don’t want to pound down a burger or hot dog, this is a good option.

The place has the feel of an urban diner, with big plate-glass windows abutting the sidewalk that let customers look out onto bustling Congress Street.

When I dined there during a recent lunch time, I paid before I ate. I love paying for lunch before I eat, because then I have the mental comfort of knowing I can leave as soon as I’m through. Or whenever I want.

Armed with a plate and a bowl, I proceeded to fill them. I was told that you could eat whatever you could fit on your plate and in your bowl, and that refills were $1.

But I can tell you that one full plate and one full bowl is plenty for lunch.

I started with a bowl of Italian-flavored lentil soup, with big chunks of carrots and onions. The lentils and vegetables were very tender and nicely spiced. With the soup, I sampled a slice of bread — dark, but fairly soft — that had a hint of sweetness and was very hearty.

On my plate, I had an entree labeled “chicken pot pie” and, gosh darn it, it tasted like chicken pot pie. (But it wasn’t.) The crust was flaky and satisfying, the sauce was rich, and there were lots of veggies.

I also had a side of corn, a side of mashed squash that tasted like it had pineapple in it, and some brown rice. Usually I hate brown rice, but this batch was tender and soft, with a mild taste. It made me want to try brown rice again.

Little Lad’s has a salad bar, but I had enough food with the other offerings. It also offers a selection of “Toaster Oven Cookies” such as pumpkin crunch with pumpkin seeds, and other desserts.

I was told, after I went, that the place is also famous for its popcorn. But I didn’t think to try some. You can also get the buffet to go by cramming as much into a container as it will hold.

Overall, I’d say this is a good place to try if you think you don’t like vegan and vegetarian offerings — and things like brown rice, kasha or kale.

The features staff of The Portland Press Herald anonymously samples meals for about $7.