Since we were out of town for our daughter’s recent birthday, we offered to take her to dinner at the restaurant of her choice this evening, as a belated celebration.  She chose Vita Cafe in Portland’s Alberta Arts district.


The interior of Vita Cafe is quietly simple, with a hipster/industrial feel.  It is cozy, but the noise level gets pretty high.  One of the favorite features for me is the art.


I have always wanted to start an Ivory Coast Barbershop art collection. I think it is so cool.  I could look at these things forever!   Vita Cafe has a nice collection .   Hairdresser and Barbershop Signs of Africa are original boards from Cameroon, Senegal and the Central African Republic dating from the 1970’s  to the present day, and stand as testimony of change characteristic of modern Africa and its popular art scene.

The advertising signs contain all aspects of a specific popular genre, with similarities and differences mirroring the times of their appearance – the stylistic signature, fashion trends and influences from abroad, at the same time revealing a strong respect for the traditional ways of combing hair – the starting point for almost all modern hairstyles. Now, you may be wondering how tasteful HAIR ART is for the interior of a restaurant…but at the Vita Cafe, it works!   Inherited ideals that meet and merge with contemporary expressions, in this case, new and authentic stylizations and imported styles, create a harmonious symbiosis evident in varying formal designs in the context of elaborating hairstyles for the purpose of creating a visual embellishment of the head.

Advertising boards were made by specialized, self-taught artists, who used colors to paint previously determined motifs on wooden, plywood, or less commonly on metal surfaces, most often with the very expressive use of pure colors.   These paintings evoke positive, happy feelings…at least in me, they do.  The paintings mostly portray figure motifs which symbolize certain respectable professions, or certain products and brand names. Besides the pictorial, the boards also conveyed written messages and signs. This specific combination of symbol and written message which characterizes African painted signs has not changed since the beginning emergence of this art.

Today there are a number of artists all over Africa who are specialized in the painting of advertising boards. Their work advertises a wide spectrum of products and professions – from movies, restaurants, hotels, discotheques, buses, car mechanics, cobblers, tailor shops, state, health and religious institutions to the new trendy hairstyles.  But are we here to talk about art…or are we here to talk about food?  Vita Cafe has great vegetarian and vegan offerings.

There is one thing that I don’t miss about Texas, and that is the chicken fried steak.  I always thought that concoction was disgusting….but I used to enjoy an alternative at the Texas-specific restaurant The Black Eyed Pea, and that was the chicken fried chicken.  Well, Vita Cafe has their own version of this Southern Fare, and that is what I enjoyed this evening.  Substitute meat with tempeh and add almond gravy, and one has the ultimate in vegan comfort food!    This delicious and fattening batter dipped deep fried organic tempeh comes with mashed potatoes and almond gravy on the side.  Yum-o!  It isn’t the kind of thing one would want to eat every day….but it’s very tasty!


Baby Ingrid had the vegan mac and cheese with steamed organic broccoli.   The vegan cheese sauce was very tasty, with a salty mouthfeel and lots of flavor.  Ingrid clearly could not discern it from “real” cheese, which was a good thing. She gobbled it right up!

vita5 - mac and cheese

My daughter had a vegan philly cheese steak sandwich.  She seemed a little overwhelmed by all of that bread, so ended up eating the insides of the sandwich with knife and fork.  It was seitan cooked with onions, vegan cheese, peppers and all the works that one expects to find in a philly cheese steak sandwich.


There are many other fine offerings at Vita Cafe, but I also like this place because of its philosophy of using as much locally grown organic produce as possible, and for putting forth a concerted effort to leave a small carbon thumbprint on the earth….and for being a generally groovy little restaurant with a nice selection of wine and local microbrews.    I wasn’t crazy about their red velvet cake, but liked everything else a lot.