In the space around a busy intersection and across the street from a tobacco shop lies a quintessentially American scene. The lights of parked cars shine on nocturnal customers gorging themselves on burgers and fries as they laugh about their day in their stuffed leather booths. But there is a twist: those burgers are vegan!
Vertical Diner is a vegan restaurant chain started in Salt Lake City, Utah (originally as a booth at a farmer’s market) which has recently expanded to Portland with a new location on SW Barbur, down the street from Fred Meyer. They have a wide selection of vegan and gluten-free foods including mock reubens, mock chicken sandwiches, mock cheese steaks and of course, mock burgers (paired with non-mock fries). With all these options and more, it is a fantastic place to bring your friends if you have the intention of turning them vegan.
The diner is walking distance from Fred Meyer, but the sidewalk disappears for part of the journey. You might consider driving or renting a Zipcar, lest you get run over walking down the shoulder of what is essentially a highway.
Aside from the harrowing pedestrian experience, the diner itself is quite ambient, and an archetypal image of 50’s Americana, complete with the long hallway design, booths along the window and a line of bar stools facing the kitchen. It has all the smoky history and Googie design language you would hope for in a diner, but with an earthy color palette and faux-wood furnishing which makes it ooze Pacific Northwest. There are several four-person booths (fear not, larger groups; you can pull up a chair), two big party booths and a “Gold Room” for private events. If you are in the mood for a Pulp-Fiction style vegan experience , you will be able to find a seat.
Although the food is definitely quality, hipster places mean hipster prices. A burger there is going to cost you 16 bucks,but it is vegan and named the “Tony Hawk burger” so I guess it is worth it. Alongside its burgers, Vertical Diner also features a southwestern flair, serving tacos, smothered burritos and “The Mountain”, a breakfast plate piled high with potatoes, tofu scramble, peppers and guacamole. Also, breakfast is served all day, a cause for celebration for all you vegan pancakes for dinner fans.
The quality of the food comes through as everything, including the meat substitute, is made in house. Although vegans may not mind the difference in taste, I can attest that the fake meat tastes scarily similar to its hooved counterpart. If I did not know I was in a vegan diner, I may have never noticed.
The verdict: If you are looking for a diner vibe with the ethics of veganism, but want more than your standard American fare, then Vertical Diner is the place to be. It features good food, kind staff, a vintage atmosphere and the perfect backdrop to take diner pics for Instagram. Unfortunately, there are no direct pedestrian routes from the Pio stop to the diner, so unless you and your friends are feeling especially adventurous or dedicated to the environment, make sure you drive. You are eating vegan food, after all. You have already done your part for the Earth.
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