Monday, May 24, 2010

Viva La Cart Culture: Viva! Vegetarian Grill

There's a reason Viva! Vegetarian Grill place has a 100% approval rate on Urbanspoon. If you go, you go because you know what you're getting into: cart vegetarian food. Now, if you're reasonable, you know this could go very wrong, and so when it doesn't -- when they hand you over your steaming fake philly cheesesteak after only a few moments -- you feel relief. I haven't been taken for a ride, you think, even before you take your first bite.

And that first bite, well, that's what usually separates the day traders from the pros, the part-time vegetarians from the faithful. Part-time vegetarians get excited over things that taste like vegetables, over weird combinations, things that make being a vegetarian "special" and "fun." Long-term vegetarians, in my experience, form two lines: the vegan line and the line that, on occasion, wants something reminiscent of their meat-eating days without the attendant meat.

Viva satisfies the second group. The first group might be happy there, too, though only if they bring their own salad.

Here, we have the aforementioned Fake Philly, which is, incidentally, vegan, complete with a cashew "cheese" sauce. Does that sound troubling? If so, don't go. If you read "cashew 'cheese' sauce" and think, why would you do that?, well, you haven't had cashew "cheese" sauce. You have to understand the subculture of "food in quotes." I live here. I eat "burgers" all the time. And I loved my "Philly" with cashew "cheese" sauce. So did C, who still -- from time to time -- ventures into real Philly land. The sandwich was large and satisfying, hot, salty, and with enough fake meat and real veggies to make it a thing of lunch glory: a one-stop.

But since we were sampling, this wasn't the only thing I tried. I also picked up a little basket of the tempeh satay, which came with a phenomenal (and simple) peanut dip. When the two sticks of (normal, blandish) tempeh were gone, C and I both eyed the little paper cup with the peanut dip inside, pretty much ready to fight for the right to lick out the insides. I can't remember who won (me).

C also tried the Tempeh Reuben. This has been a mistake at every place he's ever tried it, and I think Viva! was the cart that finally convinced him to take the Veg Reuben on its own terms, to not compare it to meaty adventures past. Seen in that light, it was something he liked, though I'm not sure it's an adventure he'd try again. Still, the sauce here was good again, and it inspired confidence in the cooks. C was also delighted by the condiment bar, where one could load up on several typical dressings in addition to sauerkraut, vegan cheese, raw onions, and something called "Charlie's Numb Sauce" that called out to me -- to avoid it.

On our next trip -- and you bet there will be one -- C's got his eye on the Fake Philly. Me? I'm thinking summer is probably a great time to try Viva's Polish Soysage, since I liked the caramelized onions so much on the first trip.

Viva! Vegetarian is installed in a parking lot on Willamette street, so this is pretty much dedicated to-go food. (There are a few -- maybe three? -- chairs provided in a covered area, but at lunch time, I bet that space is really scarce). You can also call or text ahead orders to 541/595-VIVA, which seems like a good bet if you're in a hurry.

Location: Willamette and 12th, east side parking lot
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays only
Discounts: $.50 off if: a) you ride your bike there; b) you show a student ID; or c) it's raining.

Viva! Vegetarian Grill - Food Cart on Urbanspoon

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