Normally, when I go to a trattoria, I like to do three things: eat heaps of wild boar ragu over housemade tagliatelle, drink far too much wine than is technically ladylike, and furtively ogle attractive Italian men. Portobello Vegan Trattoria was an adjustment for me. They aren’t keen on wild boar, and as hard as I eavesdropped I couldn’t pick up one single Italian accent attached to a handsome dark-haired fella. I was, however, able to order a nice glass of Chianti while I got my bearings in this strange new world.
Portobello was conceived in 2009 in Southeast Portland coffee house Cellar Door Roasters, feeding a lucky few after latte-making hours, but when popular demand necessitated bigger digs and a stove of their own, they moved into a charismatic reclaimed wood-lined space at the intersection of SE 12th and Division. Co-owner Dinae Horne deftly manages the front of the house and the well-stocked bar while chef Aaron Adams and crew dream up explosively-flavorful antipasti, pizzas, and pastas.
Not a wild boar ragu in sight, but I doubt you’ll notice as you’re fork-fighting for the tartare—a deep purple disk of diced roasted red beets, creamy carrot aioli, briny capers, and fresh basil, perfectly pan-crisped polenta swimming in a rich eggplant-tomato ragout, pillowy roast pumpkin-stuffed cappellacci, or popular spaghetti and meaty balls (how can you resist after seeing PETA’s Best Vegan Meatball award hanging on the wall?).
As for dessert—hot Italiano to share it with or not, order the sinful chocolate-hazelnut olive oil cake with salted caramel or the cheesecake—if I had a nickel for every time a former vegan-cheesecake-skeptic exclaimed “this is unreal!” I could afford a plane ticket to a land where Italian accents run as wild as the tofu boars.
Executive Chef: Aaron Adams
Owner: Dinae Horne and Aaron Adams
Atmosphere: Sophisticated but comfortably mellow bistro in a small Southeast strip mall, tables are close together so plan on a convivial meal and maybe save your secrets for after dinner drinks somewhere more private
Outdoor seating: No
Best Seat: The bemuraled nook for two in the back by the bar
Noise Level: Normal to Boisterous
Dress Code: Casual is fine, but sometimes patrons dress up a bit
Bring the Kids: No
Parking: Street parking is free but can be challenging to find in the immediate vicinity, plan on parking a couple blocks away
Cocktails: Full bar, great spirits list, and a half dozen signature cocktails
Beer: Eight or so choices, on draft and bottled, two gluten free, $4-$8
Wine: Lovely list of sparkling, white, rosé, red and dessert by the glass ($5-$10) and bottle ($18-$93), many which are organic
Teetotalers: Great mocktails list, kombucha, housemade soda, craft sodas
Coffee: Cellar Door
Ideal Meal: Beet tartare, pan-crisped polenta, ravioli, Arrabiata pizza, Piscialandrea pizza, Little T foccacia (seriously, you must order this, it is not ordinary bread), polenta poundcake
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Vegan Friendly: Yes and yes
Gluten Free: Yes, many clearly marked GF items
Good for the following occasions: Dinner With Friends, Dinner With Vegan Friends, Date Night
Reservations: Yes, call 503.754.5993 or reserve online at Open Table