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Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten Free Eats in Portland, Maine

by Noella Schink

portland little lads

If you are a vegetarian, you know how frustrating it can be to find a good meal out in a new city. It’s doubly annoying if you are vegan or strictly gluten free! In Portland, Maine, never fear. This city is teeming with accommodating eateries that will pay special attention to your every dietary need.

Pepper Club

The Pepper Club is far enough removed from the Old Port, so it’s almost never congested with tourists–a fact in my book that makes it worth a visit even without its mouthwatering menu. It does cater to both meat eaters and vegetarians, but the place is clearly veg-centric.

Vegans can delight in everything from soups to entrees. Start with the fresh, zippy carrot and ginger soup, then work your way into a plate of crispy sesame and tempeh spring rolls. By this time, even if you are a carnivore, you’ll wonder why you ever needed meat in the first place. The molasses and oatmeal bread that comes with dinner is the perfect accompaniment to fresh salad and organic wine. Roasted vegetable risotto, butternut squash and ricotta stuffed shells are good, but don’t even get me started on the beet chutney that comes with the two curries with lentil dahl and jasmine rice.

The Green Elephant

Fully vegetarian, this The Green Elephant Bistro specializes in Asian influenced dishes. Tucked in Portland’s arts district, it’s cozy yet sophisticated.

With sauces that slap you in the face with their packed flavor, vegetables that are vibrantly fresh and innovative recipes, you’ll want to try one of everything. It seriously smells so good when you walk into this place. Like you’ve entered a delicious, spicy sweet, fried, coconut…whatever that might smell like, it’s good! In an attempt to soak your whole being in this tasty aroma, order the vegan, gluten free coconut soup. Baby bella mushrooms, tofu, tomatoes and cilantro balance out the sweet coconut and leave your tastebuds blissful. I like to follow up with a steaming bowl of pad Thai that’s packed with veggies like broccoli, carrots and bean sprouts. Their sauce is literally tasty enough to sip as a beverage!

Little Lad’s

One of the longest established “healthy” restaurants in the area, Little Lad’s has made such a name for themselves in the Northeast, they just opened a restaurant in New York City! Congratulations, Little Lad’s!

Famous for their addictive herbal popcorn (I’ve been known to eat a whole bag in one sitting…and then lick the inside of the bag—it’s that good), Little Lad’s offers an ever changing breakfast and lunch buffet on Congress Street.

For five bucks you can choose from cheesy lasagna, Armenian lentil pilaf, quiche and the ever popular Burrito Pie. Homemade soups, all the veggies you can eat and dessert is included! Take home a bag of the popcorn and let me know how long it takes you to munch through it. My estimate? Ten seconds.

Local Sprouts Café

This cooperative brings the organic farmers, volunteers, good food enthusiasts and certainly vegetarians together in Portland. By pitching in with the workload, you earn a share of delicious fresh food! The café is an owner/customer run spot where the artistic, green vibe of the city really shines through.

Totally casual, Local Sprouts displays local art, hosts bands and bakes all its own vegan and gluten-free bread (called Bomb Diggity Bakery). Local beers are served on tap, all of the meats and cheeses are organic and locally sourced, but like the other restaurants on this list, you’ll find yourself leaning towards the jerk tofu wrap with kimchi, veggies and greens rather than the hamburger. Every sauce and patty is made lovingly from scratch and the workers are exceedingly knowledgeable regarding all ingredients (a real blessing, when it comes to vegan and gluten free diets).

Silly’s

A city favorite, this kitschy kitchen has something for everyone. Their menu is so large and diverse you could eat there once a day for a year and never repeat a dish. Not that you wouldn’t want to!

I’m personally stuck in a Relativity rut (it’s a homemade cheese pizza with an arugula salad built on top, drizzled with balsamic vinegar—swoon). In the summer there is a garden patio that’s so cute you’ll want to cry into your Garden of Eatin’ (cuke dill sauce served with hummus, falafel, veggies and tortillas). The inside looks like a bedazzled, inside out wedding cake, but you’ll be too preoccupied with your bursting Bio-diesel Abdullah wrap (stuffed with coleslaw, fried tofu, pickles, tomatoes and vegan bbq sauce). They offer gluten free brown rice tortillas too! Check out Silly’s website for the mile long list of from-scratch made dishes they offer for the vegan and gluten free crowd. From Thai noodles to the decadent triple chocolate layer cake, you’ll be in dining nirvana.

Noella Schink lives and writes in Portland, Maine. She loves to share stories of her travels and the delicious eats she finds along the way! She recommends Excellent Hotels for your stay in a hotel in Portland.