Portland’s newest, most buzzed-about fine dining restaurant always has vegan dishes on its menu.

Twelve opened last summer where Thames Street ends on the waterfront and promptly landed on the New York Times’ list of the “50 places in America we’re most excited about right now” and Esquire magazine’s list of the best new restaurants in America. It’s been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, the Robb Report and other publications, as well.

The restaurant is among a crop of new date-worthy Portland spots, where vegan dishes are integral to menus.

Twelve’s finely curated menu changes with the seasons. Two of the nine salads and entrees it offers are always vegan, and executive chef Colin Wyatt plans to increase that number.

“We have a lot more vegan diners in restaurants than we did five, six or seven years ago,” said Wyatt, who moved to Portland after years at storied Manhattan restaurants, Eleven Madison Park and Daniel.

“We always want to make sure we’re offering something vegan to the guests that doesn’t feel like a dish made vegan by omissions,” Wyatt said referring to the practice of removing items from a non-vegan dish to create a vegan dish. “We always put a lot of thought into our vegan options.”


A savory rice and buckwheat porridge with olives and grilled lion’s mane mushrooms is a recent vegan dish on the menu at the buzzed-about new fine dining restaurant Twelve. Photo courtesy of Twelve

In mid-April, the vegan dishes at Twelve included a Caesar salad and a savory rice and buckwheat porridge with olives and grilled lion’s mane mushrooms. The mushroom dish will soon leave the menu but the salad, with a dressing made from fermented tofu and cashews, will stick around.

“The fermented tofu has a lot of the elements of a Caesar dressing,” Wyatt said. “It has a little bit of funkiness. A little bit of savoriness. And an umami bite. We’ll have that salad, in one form or the other, always on the menu.”

The upscale cocktail bar Paper Tiger next to the Hyatt Hotel in the Old Port opened last summer with a sophisticated food menu. Though the menu doesn’t mark any of the dishes vegan, many are. Chef Nace Cohen says all diners today tend to eat more plant-centric dishes and meals.

“Even if someone wants to eat a steak, they don’t want to eat a steak every day,” Cohen said. “We want Paper Tiger to be a restaurant where people can come on a regular basis. In order for a place to be like that I find that lighter, vegetable-focused dishes are necessary.”

Vegan dishes at Paper Tiger include fried Brussels sprouts served with caramelized onions over spicy whipped tofu, black pepper mushrooms served with scallions, and Szechuan cold noodles. The poutine has an Asian slant; instead of the usual gravy, the restaurant swaps in the base from mapo tofu, but a vegan version. The poutine can become entirely vegan if diners chose to substitute tofu for the usual cheese curds. Similarly, the tom kha gai rice can be made vegan by request.

Served with edamame dumplings and a Mai Tai, drunken noodles with tofu is one of the many entrees at Dok Mali that can be made vegan. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Restauranteur Nonglack Thanephonesy opened Dok Mali last year on India Street in the space formerly occupied by Lois’ Natural Market. It also offers an extensive array of vegan dishes. “I know a lot of people who are vegan or vegetarian or trying to be healthy,” said Dok Mali chef Bunchhay Prom, a graduate of many Portland kitchens. “That’s the thing now.”


To meet the demand, Dok Mali offers vegan pad Thai as well as a vegan spicy cashew ramen with oyster mushrooms and tempura seaweed. (The dish originally included a house-made vegan egg, but the labor-intensive garnish has dropped from the menu, for now.) For vegan appetizers, diners can choose from many options: fresh rolls, fried Brussels sprouts, corn fritters, grilled okra and a number of the dumplings. Many other dishes can be made vegan at customer request.

According to a recently released report from the national Plant Based Foods Association, establishments with vegan and vegetarian options now make up nearly half of American restaurants, a growth of 62 percent in the past 10 years. Among these restaurants with plant-based dishes, 95 percent anticipate that demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes will either grow or hold steady in 2023. The report also notes that while the overall size of menus has shrunk since the onset of the pandemic, the number of plant-based dishes on menus has grown.

While we don’t know precisely how many vegans and vegetarians live in Portland or the surrounding area, the national data does reveal that politically progressive communities like Portland have the largest percentages of the population that identify as vegetarians. This probably explains why vegan upscale dining in Portland has been around for a while. The local trendsetter is Evo Kitchen + Bar, which offers many vegan entrees and a full vegan tasting menu. David’s Restaurant and Sur Lie are also standouts for stylish vegan food.

What is new is the increased demand and the corresponding increase in plant-based choices.

Although many new and notable restaurants in Portland offer vegan options, other such places have removed them from menus. In my experience, these disappearing vegan dishes can often be traced to changes in chefs. For instance, when Alto opened late last year in the Cambria hotel on Hancock Street, executive chef Chris Galipeau offered vegan options for every course. But under new chef Cheddi Billingslea, these dishes are gone. “We don’t have guests since I came aboard looking for vegan food,” Billingslea told me.

Cohen, at Paper Tiger, says cooking vegan and vegetarian dishes makes his job more interesting. “From the perspective of a chef, it can be kind of stagnant to work with the same ingredients all the time,” he said. “What vegetables do is they are constantly going in and out of season, so it’s more dynamic than meat.”

At Twelve, Wyatt has found the process of developing vegan dishes improves the staff’s kitchen skills.

“Our vegan dishes are something we think about a lot,” he said. “We’re always learning about ingredients, about fermenting. We’re always trying to find umami and how to make a dish pop. It’s about giving guests a full experience. Working with vegan dishes makes us better chefs.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in downtown Portland. She can be reached at avery.kamila@gmail.com.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.