I arrived in Portland exhausted, frustrated, achy and famished after taxi-ing on the runway for 3 hours during a hail-thunderstorm in Dallas in a stuffy airplane with no water, followed by a 4-hour flight, then driving through torrential rain and rush hour traffic. My first vegan meal in Portland was Lebanese because it was only 7 minutes away from the hotel. On a stretch of highway punctuated by fast food restaurants and steak joints, I wasn't expecting much - falafel alone would've sufficed! - but this blew me away.
Happy Cow informed me that I had 3 options within 10 miles of my hotel: a health food store, a health food cafe, and Nicolas Lebanese Restaurant. Because it was already 7:45 p.m. and the first 2 places closed at 6:00, I chose the Lebanese.
It was a cozy little spot on a quieter stretch of sidewalked side street with neighboring craft shops, a brewery, and ice cream parlor. My first thought was, "at least it looks warm and dry."
I love Middle Eastern foods like falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, and tahini, and that's what I was expecting here. It would've been fine, too. But this wasn't your standard fare. Instead, everything tasted fresh, hand made with love, seasoned a little more generously with garlic, herbs and spices, and oh so satisfying.
It was by happy accident that I stumbled upon this hidden treasure, and I'm glad I did. Had my plane arrived on time, I would've taken the drive downtown to visit one of the 200+ dining hotspots recommended by Happy Cow and other vegan bloggers. Nope, this is my little secret oasis, and I would recommend it to anyone coming to the area.
This is what arrived at my table on its own little stand: a puffy pita cloud steaming with doughy goodness. How could I possibly resist? I decided to forgo the gluten-free dietary requirement in order to inhale this delicate bread. It came with an unusual (to me), yet nonetheless delicious, dipping sauce called manakish, made with olive oil, parsley, thyme, oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds.
Stuffed Grape Leaves were filled with rice, pine nuts and raisins and perched in a pool of creamy tahini lemon sauce made a luscious accompaniment.
The vegan Arabian Mezza Platter included Baba Ghanoug, Hummus with Caramelized Onion, Garlic Roasted Cauliflower, Falafel, and Hamara, a sweet and savory pate made with roasted red pepper, tomato and walnuts. This would've been a feast for 2 people, so I enjoyed as much as I could last night and took the rest home to my hotel room, which I enjoyed this morning for breakfast. There's still some left for an afternoon snack that I'm already looking forward to.