Portland’s plant-based restaurant scene is booming, with at least 11 all-vegetarian eateries in the city. That number doesn’t include Portland’s veg-friendly spots, which according to Yelp.com number more than 200, and according to Rent.com’s recent calculations earned the city the No. 6 spot on its list of the Best American Cities for Vegans.

This scene went into overdrive at the end of 2019.

A branch of Copper Branch restaurant, a vegan chain based in Canada, opened in Portland in December. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

That’s when the city gained two quick-service vegetarian restaurants, Copper Branch, and Nura Hummus and Falafel Bar. Both are located downtown (Canal Plaza and Monument Square, respectively), have attracted lunchtime crowds, and serve vegan food (Copper Branch is all vegan and Nura is 90 percent vegan). They join the state’s reigning vegetarian restaurant queen, the Green Elephant – the full-service, all-vegetarian, mostly vegan, pan-Asian restaurant on Congress Street in the Arts District continues to pack its dining room night after night more than 12 years after opening.

Yet Portland has even more to offer in terms of purely plant-based restaurants.

The Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck operates year round in the city. Owner Tony DiPhillipo says he’d eventually like to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant featuring his hand-crafted, vegan comfort foods such as queso Dawgs, Roadhouse burgers and maple-chipotle tots. This winter, the truck is operating weekends only, setting up at breweries on Saturdays and next to Tony’s Donuts on outer Congress Street on Sundays, where the truck sells brunch. In April, the truck will be back on the road five days a week.

DiPhillipo held his first-ever pop-up dinner at Fork Food Lab in December. He said tickets “sold out in less than 24 hours” for the vegan Chinese Christmas-themed meal. DiPhillipo hopes to host other similar events.

Down in the Old Port, the Maine Squeeze Juice Cafe has been slinging an all-veg menu of smoothies, bowls, juices, salads and wraps since 2007, the same year Green Elephant opened. While its Public Market House stall sticks to smoothies and juices, Maine Squeeze’s Moulton Street shop also sells vegan and vegetarian prepared foods. Even at this time of year, the two cafes stay busy, said Alex Vandermark, who owns Maine Squeeze. Selling hot soups, such as white bean and kale, helps, but despite the January chill, customers continue to line up for the signature products, like smoothies, juices and açai bowls.

Around the corner on Exchange Street (with another shop on Forest Avenue), the all-vegetarian Blake Orchard Juicery sells a long list of smoothie bowls (vanilla bean, mint cacao chip), juices, nut mylks, nitro coffees, oatmeals and soups (such as vegan cheddar broccoli).

Further up Exchange Street, Dobra Tea House offers light vegetarian meals, including lentil soup, noodle bowls, mezze plates and flourless vegan chocolate tortes, alongside its lengthy menu of teas.

“My husband and myself are mostly vegetarian, so we are always coming up with ideas we test at home that we’ll then offer at the tearoom,” said Ellen Kanner, who owns the local franchise of the Czech Republic-based Dobra Tea with her husband, Ray Marcotte.

Likewise, the Soakology Tea Lounge on Congress Street offers vegetarian nibbles to accompany its teas, soaks and massages; while over in the West End, the all-veg and all-organic Maine Juice Company offers three flavors of smoothie bowls (chocolate, green or açai blueberry), plus cold-pressed juices and nitro coffees.

Before opening in Monument Square, Nura built a loyal customer base under the flag of the Falafel Mafia food truck, which was often parked a couple blocks away on Spring Street for lunch. Many of those same customers now frequent the restaurant.

“During the lunch hour on weekdays, we see a lot of office workers on their lunch breaks,” said Cameron Gardner, who owns the restaurant and food truck with his brother, Dylan Gardner. “In the evening hours and on weekends, we’re seeing more families and people from town and around Maine coming in to check us out.”

The Gardner brothers launched the truck in 2017 with a half-vegan, half-meat menu. The following summer, Falafel Mafia switched to an all-vegan menu and saw its sales double. When they opened Nura in November, the brothers stuck with the vegetarian concept, making the menu largely vegan except for the occasional cheese or butter-based topping for the hummus bowls.

Cameron Gardner told me they decided to keep meat off the Nura menu because “we enjoy cooking vegetarian food, and believe that it’s better for your health and the environment. Our parents owned a vegetarian restaurant when we were younger, so this type of food has been with us our entire lives. We also see vegetarian and healthy food options gaining popularity in the future.”

Two blocks away and across the street from the Nickelodeon Cinemas, Copper Branch opened in December with a menu of burgers, sandwiches, grain bowls, air-fried potatoes, all-day breakfast, desserts and local beers.

“Every day has been constant traffic,” said Chris Hooper of Cape Elizabeth, who owns the local outpost of the Canadian-based franchise with his wife, Melissa Hooper, who is vegan. The Canal Plaza restaurant is the third Copper Branch to open in the U.S. and the 65th to open internationally. The Montreal-based company aims to have 100 of its plant-based restaurants up-and-running by the end of the year.

“We have a lot of regulars now,” Melissa Hooper said. “We’re not really getting a specific type of customers. We’re getting vegans. We’re getting families. We have a lot of professionals. We have kids through seniors. We do get a few high school students. We’re getting a lot of meat eaters.”

The presence of people who eat meat going to vegan and vegetarian restaurants is no longer a rarity in Portland. “With a growing interest in a vegetarian diet, we continue to see new faces,” echoed Nate Edwards, Green Elephant’s front-of-house manager.

Popular dishes at the Green Elephant in winter include the vegan gogi berry herbal noodle soup and the Panang vegetable curry with Lalibela Farm tempeh. Green Elephant doesn’t take reservations and can fill up fast, Edwards said. As with restaurants all over Portland, winter often means shorter (or no) wait times, lunch is often a better bet than dinner, and the closer you get to a weekend, he said, the harder it is to snag a table.

“If you were thinking of coming on a busy weekend night, we use a waitlist system where you come into the restaurant, leave your name and cell number, and we text you when the table is ready,” Edwards said.

These days, diners can use the wait to determine which vegetarian eatery in Portland they’ll visit next. Me, I’ll be heading over to Sticky Sweet, the all-vegan scoop shop on Cumberland Avenue that opened last year.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. Contact her at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. 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.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.