Friday, July 3, 2009

Review: Portland's Mesa Verde

We found Green Elephant closed on a recent Sunday evening, so we walked a few doors down to Mesa Verde. I used to love this vegan-friendly Mexican restaurant in high school, but I hadn't been back in more than ten years.

The decor has certainly gone downhill: the black plastic tables, overly-large wood-paneled booths, and green metal-backed chairs looked like they'd been salvaged from a T.G.I.Friday's. A television over the bar blared ESPN throughout the restaurant. It was dark, and the table and chairs were sticky; this place felt more like a dive than the bright, fun Mexican restaurant I remembered.

Our server was extremely helpful in determining which dishes could be made vegan. I was a little scatterbrained about my order, but she cheerfully made several trips to the kitchen to inquire about sauces and side dishes. The menu features the standard line-up of quesadillas, tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, and almost everything can be made vegan with vegetable, bean, tofu, or tempeh fillings and soy cheese.

We skipped the margaritas, having overindulged at a wedding the previous night, but the couple at the next table got a huge pitcher for $12. Chips and salsa are no longer free, so we simply ordered entrees. I got tamales with tempeh and mole sauce, and sides of pinto beans, brown rice, and salsa.

I'd wanted to try tamales since the early 80s when I saw them prepared on an episode of Mr. Rogers, but since Mexican food is scarce in Maine and they're usually made with meat or cheese, I'd never had the opportunity. They were surprisingly rich, with nutty tempeh and smoky mole sauce over soft, creamy cornmeal. The rice and beans were filing, if not exciting. The mole sauce had a little bit of bite to it, but I still doused the plate in hot sauce.

Mesa Verde doesn't have a website, but you can find links to other reviews on the Portland Food Map. Most are negative. My food was decent, no worse than Margarita's, and the service was great, but the dark, depressing atmosphere will probably keep me from visiting again. If I lived in Portland I'd be all over Mesa Verde for take-out. Margarita's is a better option for dining in; it's a chain and offers very few vegan options, but I don't feel dirty when I leave.

I give Mesa Verde three chickpeas for a wide selection of vegan items.


  1. Wow, I wish I had mex restaurants like that in Tempe! (or should I say Tempeh)

  2. very clever chick pea scale you have.....what would humas be for a rating?--happy 4th!!

  3. usually mole sauce has some chicken stock in it. i hope they double checked for you.

  4. Anon: I sent the poor server back to the kitchen three times to check ingredients. MV is pretty veg-saavy, and the mole sauce is indeed vegan.

  5. we are travelling to the portland// booth bay area in search of some strictly vegetarian restaurants can you recommend some. We will be there from Friday thru Tuesday. Seems like most are closed on Monday. Any ideas??

  6. Hi anon #2. There are only two vegetarian restaurants in Portland. One is Green Elephant (Asian, 95% vegan, closed Sundays), the other is GRO (raw vegan, open Mon-Sat). I haven't been to GRO, but you can find a review here:

    Other good bets are Flatbread Company (not vegetarian, but they have a vegan flatbread) and Silly's (many vegan choices). I don't know Boothbay at all.

    I don't live in Portland, I just visit from time to time, so I'll refer you to the blog of a vegan food writer in Portland for a more comprehensive list:

    Enjoy your trip!


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