When Aviv opened last spring, it felt like a revelation. Portland's vegan options are plentiful, but they mostly range from synthetic junk food to superfluously healthy salads and grain bowls. But at this Israeli vegan spot, soy curls aren't a meat substitute, they're a juicy vehicle for herby shawarma. The cashew labneh ($7) is impossibly silky, and while the sharp tofu "egg" in the shakshuka ($14) is obviously nothing like an actual egg, the hearty tomato stew base stands on its own. The food at Aviv isn't "veganized." Everything tastes rich, and nothing feels like a substitution.
Aviv's sense of whimsy is evident in everything from the serene nature footage that silently plays on a screen in the restaurant to the slushielike Gimmel cocktail ($9), a variation of a gimlet that's named after the Hebrew symbol for charity. A year and a half after Aviv's opening, the menu has grown to include more experimental dishes, like deep-fried mushroom "calamari" ($13) and jackfruit brisket ($14). But the relatively straightforward stuff, shawarma and falafel plates ($15 each) for instance, are still the most satisfying. There's a long list of incredibly creamy hummus to choose from, but the cilantro and chili zhoug ($7) is hard to beat. Fried in tahini and aromatic za'atar, the side of cauliflower ($6) is one of the most delicious things on the menu, and it's emblematic of what Aviv does best—vegetables served as utterly decadent flavor bombs.
Pro tip: Aviv's brunch menu is slightly cheaper than dinner, and for some strange reason, there's never a wait. At only $8, the filling shawarma bowl is packed with fatty, salty goodness that's ideal for hangovers—soy curls and fries smothered in tahini and hummus.