Portland went nutty for plant-based cuisine this year, with a host of new vegan and veggie-driven openings. Our favorite of the plant-based crop is Aviv, the new vegan Israeli spot from the Gonzo food truck's Tal Caspi. Aviv was a pop-up before taking over the space inside Southeast Division Street's Banana Building with a hummus-heavy menu that makes sparing use of tofu feta, cashew labneh and soy curls. Aviv builds much of its seasonal and constantly updating menu from hummus, labneh, carrots and eggplant.
If Tusk—which is ranked No. 7 on our list of the best restaurants in Portland—is the runway version of a bright Mediterranean future, the much more accessible Aviv is the prêt-à-porter version, where two can pop in and out for under $50.
An appetizer of harissa-spiced Moroccan carrots is pleasantly earthy; a beet salad made with roasted beet puree, cashew labneh and crushed hazelnuts is pleasantly hearty. The large salad is everything you want in a big Mediterranean salad, with crisp greens, sweet tomatoes, a little cucumber and some avocado, plus garbanzo beans, herbs and tahini.
My favorite thing at Aviv is the hummus. That's good, because it takes up about a quarter of the menu and includes eight distinct versions. The base hummus is great, striking a perfect balance of smooth and substantial, with a pleasant nuttiness from heavy use of Soom tahini, which is made of single-origin Ethiopian sesame processed in Israel. The wide variety of well-chosen add-ons (think Hatch chilies, harissa, avocado) are what make it special. My favorite is the spicy, with fiery green zhoug—a perfect blend of cilantro, garlic, cloves and green jalapenos. Get a few hummus plates to share, served with fresh-baked pita as needed. Get a very respectable house pickle plate ($5) for a touch of acid and you have a wonderful start to your meal.
Don't fear the soy curls on the shawarma plate, which are curry-spiced, sautéed and topped with tahini and pickled mango. That shawarma is combined with hummus, tahini, that spicy zhoug and a topping for fries. On chilly days, I'd opt for the shakshouka, the classic tomato stew that here has a nice herbal depth and doesn't suffer from the use of "tofu eggs."
Pro tip: The Israeli iced tea is the only real extravagance—$4 per glass at a restaurant where you can get a substantial platter of hummus for $8. I still order it, though, as it's a wonderfully complex, herbed blend with lemon, thyme, sage and mint.