ACTIVE CULTURE

Food: () Organic grains and vegetables are the basis for simple, flavorful meals.

Service: () Gracious counter staff delivers meals directly to tables.

Atmosphere: () Oasis has a spacious ambiance, and there’s a playground outside.

More info

Location: 285 NW Riverside Blvd., Bend

Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day

Cuisine: Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free

Price range: Breakfast $7 to $13, bowls $7 to $12, wraps and burgers $8 to $13, salads $11 to $15

Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Yes, priced $3.99 to $6.99

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Entire menu

Alcoholic beverages: Beer, cider, wine

Outdoor seating: Limited, seasonal

Reservations: No

Contact: activeculture.com/bend/, 541-241-2926

THE HUMBLE BEET

Food: () There’s consistency in the kitchen, where dishes are prepared in advance.

Service: () Choose from the coolers and pay at the cash register.

Atmosphere: () Furnishings are sparse; food is exhibited in grab-and-go coolers.

More info

Location: 1124 NW Newport Ave., Bend

Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, to 6 p.m. Saturday, to 5 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: International

Price range: Grab-and-go offerings $5 to $10.

Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: No

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Most dishes are vegetarian; many are vegan and/or gluten-free.

Alcoholic beverages: Yes

Outdoor seating: Front porch

Reservations: No

Contact: humblebeet.com, 541-598-5973

Not many years ago, it was hard for a vegetarian to get a good restaurant meal in Central Oregon.

That’s no longer the case. More than a half-dozen cafes specialize in fare for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diners, and it is rare to find a fine-dining restaurant that doesn’t have at least a couple of gourmet veggie dishes beyond salads.

The best of the vegetarian options is the new Active Culture Natural Foods Café, which opened on Sept. 22 in a building that was home to The French Market and, before that, the Riverside Market.

And The Humble Beet, in the former Devore’s Good Food Store, is offering a wide selection of mainly (but not exclusively) vegetarian foods for takeout or dine-in.

Active Culture got its start on the beaches of Southern California’s Orange County, with cafes in Laguna Beach (2010) and San Clemente (2013). Two years ago, owner Faye Wickland and her husband, fire Capt. Eric Wickland, bought a home in Bend to raise their two daughters. Placing a cafe here was the logical next step.

The outside appearance hasn’t changed much since the restaurant’s previous incarnation. It’s still a colorful if unexpected oasis in Bend’s historic district, inclusive of a children’s playground area. Inside, it has a more spacious ambiance: Patrons seat themselves after ordering from a giant blackboard. Each diner is given a number, and meals are delivered directly to tables by a gracious staff.

Simple flavors

Chef Dane Baratta, previously the kitchen manager at the east side Jackson’s Corner in Bend, offers a menu similar but not identical to the California cafes. Crafting meals around organic brown rice and quinoa, steamed lentils, red and black beans, he serves breakfasts (egg or egg-free), grain bowls, açai bowls, lentil burgers, salads, veggie wraps and more.

“It’s simple stuff, but it’s flavorful,” Baratta said.

Smoothies and shakes are made with a coconut-milk base and/or homemade raw and organic almond milk, sometimes blending agave nectar.

The Bend Bowl ($11.99) is one of the few menu items that isn’t vegetarian: It includes prosciutto (cured Italian ham), along with goat’s cheese, apples and dates. But it is gluten and soy free.

And the soups of the day are excellent, based upon my cup ($4.99) of tortilla soup. Prepared with vegetable (not chicken) broth, the mildly spicy potage included tomato, onion, carrot, celery, red and black beans, red and jalapeño peppers, cilantro and, of course, tortilla chips.

Bowls and burgers

Much to my dining companion’s chagrin, Active Culture didn’t offer decaffeinated coffee. (The regular drip was excellent.) So insistent was she that, after ordering her breakfast, she drove several blocks to Strictly Organic and returned with a decaf latte.

But she was very pleased with her Breakfast Bowl ($10.99). A hearty blend of rice and beans was topped with two scrambled organic eggs, then finished with green onions, avocado, cilantro, sour cream, salsa and melted cheese. “I’d come back for this,” she said — a grand compliment from an often-choosy diner.

I was ready for lunch, so I chose the Grassroots Burger with cheese ($12.99). Although the wheat-flour bun is obviously not gluten-free, the lentil burger patty itself is vegan, and made with no binders or fillers. I found it delicious, even more than at local specialty plant-based burger cafes. Topped with melted cheddar cheese, it was served with a thick layer of alfalfa sprouts, as well as tomato, onion and cucumber. The bun was spread with a falafel (garbanzo) sauce, and the sandwich was presented with Southwest blue corn chips.

On another visit, we ordered an Eastern Trade Winds Salad ($11.99) to go, and found it big enough for two. Although it reminded me in appearance and texture of a Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad (made with bulgur wheat and mint leaves), this was quite different: The main ingredients were quinoa and ribbons of kale. Chickpeas, red onions, cucumber, red pepper, and bits of dates, walnuts and (perhaps) peanuts filled it out. We ate every bite.

Vegan beets

Meanwhile, opposite the Newport Avenue Market on Bend’s west side, The Humble Beet has replaced Devore’s. Its produce selection is limited, but chef Dylan Rudloff remains in the kitchen of the deli, where he’s spent the last eight years. Furnishings are sparse, so most dishes are prepared for takeout and (frequently) reheating. They are displayed through the glass of large coolers.

Given the deli’s new name, I had to try the chilled vegan beet poke ($6.95). It was my favorite of several dishes I tried here. There were as many sliced sweet onions as there were roasted golden beets, but the flavor was deliciously spicy thanks to the addition of jalapeño peppers and grated ginger. Lime juice, tamari and sesame oil combined as a base; togarashi pepper, sugar and green onions served as seasonings.

I was nonplussed by the red curry kabocha squash soup ($6.95), which used a splash of (perhaps unnecessary) chicken stock. The squash was supplemented with chopped sweet potatoes and zucchini, neither of which were listed among ingredients. Coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice and Thai basil clearly were intended to give it a Southeast Asian flavor, but it came out a little flat.

Better was the Greek rice falafel wrap ($8.95) with moist, oven-baked chickpea fritters and feta cheese. This was my companion’s favorite. Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, parsley, artichoke hearts and sweet pickled peppers were all wrapped together in a whole-wheat tortilla with house-made vegan tzatziki sauce.

The Tex-Mex casserole ($8.95) was decidedly not vegetarian. Its rice was made with chicken broth, and the casserole included chunks of chicken — along with onions, bell peppers, black beans, corn, cilantro and garlic. Cheddar and pepper-jack cheeses were melted over blue-corn chips before the casserole was baked.

Shortly, the Humble Beet will begin serving meals in returnable containers, encouraging diners to help in its waste-reduction effort.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached janderson@bendbulletin.com .

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