Portland is known for its nightlife, and vegans who venture downtown won’t be disappointed. Provided they know where to go. One dish to look for is plant-based meat, which is showing up on the menus of more and more local watering holes.

Bramhall Pub added the Impossible Burger last month. The Somerset Tap House inside Whole Foods Market serves the Beyond Meat burger. And Bayside Bowl offers a tempeh bacon BLT.

One surprising plant-based meat dish is the vegan Freshiez burger at Nosh Kitchen Bar. Added this summer, it is the restaurant’s only vegan option.

Two things make this vegan burger unexpected. First, is the restaurant’s focus on animal-based dishes, epitomized by the aptly named Apocalypse Now burger. Second, is the controversy Nosh stirred up in 2012. That’s when Nosh produced a low-budget commercial that purported to show “the city’s top vegetarians” being tricked into eating meat at the restaurant. In the commercial, the Nosh ground beef burger was so delicious, it turned the vegetarians into willing meat eaters.

If my memory serves me, the lead “vegan” actor in the piece later apologized for his part in the video. (No one from Nosh responded to my repeated requests for comment about their new vegan burger.)

But vegan meats were everywhere this summer, including in more people’s kitchens. In September, the nonprofit Good Food Institute released Nielsen retail sales data that shows a 23 percent jump in plant-based meat sales during the past year.

So no surprise Nosh is not the only unlikely place with vegan meat on the menu. At The Thirsty Pig in the Old Port, chef Hayly Charest added a vegan sausage a couple years back to what had been the all pig-based sausage menu.

“It’s been a funny summer,” Charest told me, “because we’ve noted there’s been a huge increase in vegan sausages sold.”

Served in a hot dog bun toasted with olive oil, the sausage links are made by Charest using vital wheat gluten, beans and seasonings, such as nutritional yeast, paprika, cumin and coriander.

Charest is working on a new fall menu, which is due out at the end of the month.

“Every other week there will be a new vegan sausage special,” Charest said. “We’re hoping to expand our vegan menu as a whole.”

Charest plans to make a vegan bratwurst for the bar’s Oct. 13 Hoptoberfest event with brewery The Hop Yard. One of her first vegan specials will be a vegan blueberry sausage.

Some of The Thirsty Pig’s sides, like the vegan chili, are already vegan; others, like the vinegar coleslaw and an assortment of pickles and relishes, are naturally vegan friendly. Each day a side dish is on special, and it’s usually vegan.

A short walk up Exchange Street and down an alleyway, I visited Novare Res Bier Cafe, where chef Arianna Stefanilo told me about the Veganwurst sausage plate she added this summer. The cafe sells an average of 60 per week.

“Our (meat-based) sausages sell really well here,” said Stefanilo. “And so we didn’t anticipate our vegan sausages selling so well.”

Stefanilo makes the vegan sausages using vital wheat gluten, vegetable stock and white beans. She seasons them with ginger, garlic, oregano, hot pepper flakes, nutritional yeast and cumin.

“I was a baker before I became a chef,” Stefanilo said. “Vital wheat gluten is fun to play with. We had a lot of trial and error with it. At first it was too mushy. We weren’t cooking it hot enough.”

Now the sausages are hand rolled into links, wrapped in tin foil and steamed at a very high temperature.

“People who aren’t even vegan eat it,” Stefanilo said. “I eat it.”

Novare Res, which has offered plant-based dishes since it opened in 2008, also has a plant-based seafood dish on its menu. The vegan Crabless Cakes can be ordered on their own or added to the banh mi or the Cold Glass Noodles.

“It sells really well, especially on the banh mi,” said Stefanilo, who makes a vegan aioli from aquafaba (chickpea liquid) to top the sandwich.

The soy-based patty is purchased from a vendor because, as Stefanilo said, “if we can’t do it better, we’ll buy it.”

Stefanilo said both the vegan sausages and vegan crab cakes have generated social media buzz for the bar, known for its menu of more than 400 bottled beers with dozens more on tap.

Near Monument Square inside Arcadia National Bar, chef Daniel Letendre told me the video game lounge wanted something different on its menu when it reopened in May after renovating and expanding. So it added a musubi (pronounced moo-sue-bee) filled with either tofu or Spam.

At Arcadia National Bar, tofu stands in for Spam in a vegan musubi, where the marinated tofu is seared and wrapped with sushi rice and marinated enoki mushrooms in a sheet of nori.

Letendre said the tofu musubi has been a strong seller. While the Spam musubi has a following, it also generates comments due to the canned meat’s notoriety in popular culture.

“The tofu musubi draws less of an eyebrow,” Letendre said. “People will say the (Spam) one is good, but the tofu one is so much more interesting. And it’s a much healthier version.”

Spam musubi is a common Hawaiian snack food, and Arcadia co-owner Ben Culver lived in Hawaii for many years.

“We marinate the tofu like we would Spam,” said Letendre, describing a marinade of tamari, pineapple juice and turbinado sugar. “Then we sear it really hard like you would meat. Then we roast it for a few minutes.”

The tofu is placed on sushi rice, topped with marinated enoki mushrooms and wrapped in a sheet of nori. Letendre may swap the enoki mushrooms for seared local fall mushrooms soon.

“It’s a very meaty dish without being meat,” Letendre said.

Back at Novare Res, co-owner Shahin Alireza Khojastehzad told me he eats meat but his wife and mother-in-law eat vegan. Being married to a vegan has opened Khojastedhzad’s eyes (and tastebuds) to the delights of plant-based foods, a newfound appreciation he’d like to share with guests.

“As much as meat goes well with beer,” Khojastehzad said, “plants go with beer even better.”

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

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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