During 2018, Portland became home to three all-vegan, fast-food options, and I became a firm believer in Santa’s magic.

Confused? Loyal readers may recall that last year at this time I wrote to Santa asking him to bring a vegan fast food restaurant to Portland. And then crickets. Santa didn’t write back and left no hint of his intentions in my stocking.

Yet as the year progressed, it became clear he’d not only listened but was responding with great generosity.

The first sign of this trend’s arrival in Portland came with the return of the Falafel Mafia food truck in late spring. As it rolled down the streets, the truck now sported the word “vegan” in a prominent spot on the driver’s side.

When Falafel Mafia launched in 2017, it served animal-based gyros alongside its plant-based falafel menu. This season, the owners decided to take the menu 100 percent vegan.

Dylan Gardner, who runs the truck with his brother, Cameron Gardner, told me they were nervous about the decision to go all-vegan, but it paid off.

“The truck was twice as busy as it was last year and almost more than we can handle,” Dylan Gardner said. “By June and July, we were maxing out. The switch to being all-vegan was the best decision we made.”

Not only did the move to a plant-based menu coincide with a doubling of the truck’s business, but “dealing with meat is not easy or cost effective,” Gardner said. “Vegetables are simpler, and they’re fresher.”

In July, as Falafel Mafia was bumping up against the limits of the number of falafels the Gardner brothers could prepare, Silly’s owner Colleen Kelley opened the doors to a new vegan deli serving breakfast and lunch. Called Simply Vegan by Silly’s, it’s located a few doors down Washington Avenue’s restaurant row from the original Silly’s. The new vegan outpost has a deli case full of salads and prepared foods, plus a menu of breakfast sandwiches, soups, burritos and sandwiches.

“The biggest complaint is you can’t eat our sandwiches in one bite, and you need a knife and fork,’ said manager Shelley Kelley, who is Colleen’s sister. “And I’m OK with that.”

The shop did a brisk business selling Thanksgiving special-order dishes, and Dec. 19 is the last day to place Christmas orders for specials that include baked cashew chevre with cranberry compote, veggie fritters, tempeh sausage and pumpkin chiffon pie.

In August, Santa’s latest bit of magic came to town in the form of the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck. Sporting a purple paint job with graffiti-style graphics, the vegan truck drew big crowds and long lines as soon as it launched.

“Business has been really great,” truck owner Tony DiPhillipo said. “Even in the earlier days when there was a whole lot of stuff in terms of process that was being figured out and we weren’t fast and people had to wait a while for their food, no one got upset about that.”

Instead, his vegan chili dawgs, cheeseburgers and bacon cheesy fries have earned more than 30 five-star reviews on Facebook, where DiPhillipo posts the truck’s latest whereabouts.

While Falafel Mafia is off the road for the season, the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck is still doing events and setting up for breakfast and lunch, with a winter menu that includes hot breakfast sandwiches, steaming pot pies and hot chocolate with whipped cream.

“Unless I find it is too difficult, I’m planning on just going through the winter,” DiPhillipo said. “Maybe I’ll take a short break in March.”

Meanwhile, the Gardner brothers are working on plans for the coming summer. They hope to have a new truck that will travel out-of-state to attend festivals and sell their pitas and salads, which come stuffed with falafel and accented by bold vegetable combinations such as shawarma cauliflower, pickled beets and ginger-carrot puree.

By the end of 2019, the Gardner brothers intend to start looking for a brick-and-mortar restaurant space in Portland. DiPhillipo, too, said he’d like to open a restaurant within five years. He already has the name in mind: The Totally Awesome Vegan Roadhouse and ’80s Arcade.

All summer, Simply Vegan was affected by the intense road construction on inner Washington Avenue. But even with parking and traffic headaches, steady foot traffic fueled a busy summer, Colleen Kelley said.

As the new deli heads into the winter months, Colleen Kelley said she and her sister are using the quieter season to fine-tune what kind of special order and deli items customers want.

At the same time, Colleen Kelley has applied to the city to allow the restaurant to more than double its seating (from nine to 20). Among other things, the extra seating would allow Simply Vegan to host a New Year’s Day buffet with multiple seatings.

These three eateries are bringing vegan food to a wide audience. DiPhillipo said he’s had vegan skeptics try his food and then come back later in the day with their friends.

“We’re showing people who’ve never considered vegan options that vegan food can be awesome,” he said.

Such is the power of vegan fast food, and Santa’s magic.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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