The Grilled Cheese Grill

The Grilled Cheese Grill Brief Review
Overall Service Food Quality Atmosphere Vegan Options
9 9 9 10 8
Location: 1027 NE Alberta St Portland, OR
Hours: Tue-Thurs 11:30am-9pm,Fri-Sat 11:30am-2:30am,Sun 11:30am-3:30pm,closed Mon Times Visited: 3


Everyone who’s gone to The Grilled Cheese Grill smiles when they mention it. It’s nearly impossible not to.  Even though there’s dairy abound, the appeal of feeding your inner child vegan food prevails on their popular lot.

My first year of veganism was filled with melted Tofutti American singles on organic Vermont Bread.  The Grilled Cheese Grill not only brings me back to those early vegan days, where I barely comprehended the notion of a stir fry, but to the American childhood of Kraft singles.  The Grilled Cheese Grill is another Portland business that respects the vegan community as customers.  It immediately introduced vegan cheese onto its menu upon opening.  There is a sign next to the ordering window that clearly states its vegan options: Tofutti singles and cream cheese (additional charge of 75 cents), Dave’s Killer Bread, Earth Balance for grilling and vegan chocolate chip cookies for sale.  It also offers gluten-free bread that is vegan.

Once you place your order and are handed the corresponding baseball card, it’s up to you to take it to go, grab a picnic table outside, or, most likely, step up into the time warp of a school bus and grab a stool or one of the precious tables.  The Grilled Cheese Grill hosts an entire lot’s worth of seating options.  It’s a food cart with territory.  The school bus is trippy, and you need to see it for yourself.  The tables are covered in yearbook photos (I’ve been told this includes the staff’s),  the ceiling is a psychedelic mural, the booths are made from bus seats, and “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam always seems to make the musical rotation.  The seats transport you back to your own days on a school bus, and whether there are other customers on the bus or not, your booth is an intimate world for two to four where secrets and laughs are heard.  Wisely, all orders are announced via a speakerphone that is piped into the bus, so even if you’re in a time warp, you won’t miss lunch.  Just listen for your player’s name!

The actual sandwiches are gloriously grilled on the new Northwest classic Dave Killer’s  Cracked Wheat Bread, as well as other brands of white, sourdough, and rye breads, but who can resist Dave’s?  You can easily veganize a few sandwiches on the menu, such as the Southsider with Tofutti Mozzerella, artichokes, sun-dried tomato, and mushrooms ($5.75) and the Jalapeno Popper with roasted jalapenos, sliced and spread Tofutti, and tortilla chips inside the sandwich ($5.75).   I like to start with the appropriately named Kindergartener ($4.75 vegan base price) base, using the Cracked Wheat.  You can also go the Pre-Schooler route, where they literally cut the crusts for you, if you’re feeling picky and don’t mind being ridiculous. Both sandwiches come with one free filling.  If you want another add on, they are $1 a piece.  The vegan fillings are tomato, avocado, pickles, potato chips, grilled onion, mushrooms, roasted jalapenos, pepperocinis, and sauerkraut.  There are additional add-ins for $1.75 that are not vegan, with the powerful exception of making your sandwich a triple decker.  No talk of tempeh bacon or vegan deli meats…yet! If you want to see them, you should mention it.

On all three of my visits, I’ve stuck with the Kindergartener.  The first time, I added avocado, the second, jalapeno, and the third, jalapeno and tomato.  The theme here is that the long slices of roasted jalapenos are delightful.  They don’t lose their crisp and they invite just enough heat into each bite.  If you have a preference between mozzarella and American Tofutti you should specify, as I’ve been both surprised and asked what I prefer.  On my third visit, my friend and I had no clue they’d use both Tofutti American and cream cheese along with the tomato and jalapenos, and it was somehow the fanciest vegan grilled cheese I’ve ever had.  Thank you, cart culture!

If you’re looking for a full meal, let me warn you in advance:  Do not split this.   Eat the entire thing, and add a side of chips and a cookie.  All grilled cheeses come with a sliced pickle, but no complimentary chips.  That is the only big complaint I’ve heard, besides the obvious non-interest and disdain from people who pass on processed vegan cheese.

Personally, I know I’m not stopping by for a real dinner, I’m there for the American (vegan!) tradition and the experience.  True, they serve vegan grilled cheese next door at the fabulous Bye & Bye if you’re scared of grill contamination, but you can’t eat them in a bus or add potato chips inside for free.  Although it hasn’t happened to me, I have heard about the Grill being temporarily out of vegan cheese on more than one occasion.  Keep supporting the vegan options and they’ll keep stocking them! Pencil in a stop here after enjoying a North Williams or non-alcoholic Floor Punch next door, and stop by on your way home.  I know this South East Portlander finds it hard to resist when she’s on Alberta.

Grilled Tofutti Mozzerella with Jalapenos

Michelle style

Grilled Cheese with Jalapeños and Tomato

Grilled Vegan Cheese with Avocado
Grilled Cheese Grill

Inside the School bus
the bus


10 responses to “The Grilled Cheese Grill

  1. Hi, I’m Matt, the owner at the GCG. First of all, awesome review, and much appreciated. So thanks!

    I just want to clarify or update a few things. First, starting this week, menu pricing has changed slightly. The Kindergartner, Pre-Schooler, and 1st grader are now $3.50, instead of $4. And all veggie add-ons are 25 cents (except avocado, which is 50 cents).

    Second, one of our cooks is Vegan, so he’s our go-to guy when it comes to the Vegan opinions. It was his idea to spread tofutti cream cheese in addition to tofutti slices on the other as the default way of making a vegan Kindergartner (or pre-schooler). So from now on, that’s how they’ll come, unless otherwise requested.

    Third, our vegan breads are, as you mentioned, Dave’s Killer Cracked Wheat, as well as Delphina’s Sourdough and Rye. Recently, we made a vegan 1st grader out of one slice of Dave’s, one slice of Sourdough, both Tofutti Slices and Tofutti Cream Cheese. We’re more than happy to experiment!

    Lastly, I just want to say that we’re very happy to offer vegan options, and that we really appreciate your support. I am personally not vegan, so unfortunately, I can’t say for sure whether our vegan options are cuttin’ it or not, and have to rely on your feedback. If you or any of your readers, as customers, have any feedback on how we can make it better or expand our options, I am more than willing to listen, and if we can make it happen, we will.

    Thanks again for the great review!

    –Matt Breslow
    GCG owner

  2. I was never a grilled-cheese eater, and having been vegan for fourteen years I haven’t thought about them since–but this looks really inviting. Thanks, Mr. Breslow, for taking our way of eating seriously–it’s my hope that in Portland we constitute a critical commercial mass that offer profitability to local business owners. Gotta make it up to Alberta soon to try this and the jacket potato place out. Been very ill and in the hospital, but I’m out now and regaining enjoyment of food, so it’s exciting to see all these new options.

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  4. I watched as the grill was not cleaned at any point between cooking the rest of the food (butter, burgers, and cheese) and my vegan sammy. Don’t know if its yummy because I walked away before I’d even let them serve it to me.

  5. Sorry to hear about your experience, WFV, but the good news is we now have a separate grill where we cook all meats. Our main grill is now reserved only for toasting bread, cooking some veggies, and putting sammys together. This has drastically reduced the chance of grill contamination. There may be some butter left behind but we are very diligent about cleaning the grill after each sandwich, whether a vegan sandwich is going on next or not. Someday when we get more space I would like to have a grill reserved only for vegan foods… but that just isn’t possible now.

    I am vegan myself and I eat (at least) one sandwich every shift I work. I have no problems because I know how serious we are about cleanliness. WFV: I hope you will give us another try.

    A couple updates: our tomato soup is now vegan! We started using Earth Balance instead of real butter in it. Also, in the near future we will be offering homemade vegan “cheese” sauces for all our sammiches. So no more processed faux cheeses! Stay tuned…

    Take care everyone,

    VPVO 🙂

  6. Matt, GCG owner again. I just want to second what Luke said, and say that I too am sorry WFV for what happened and I hope you give us another shot. Everything he said is correct. Two separate grills, one for meats, one for sandwiches, and the Tomato Soup is now vegan as well.

    One thing Luke forgot to mention is that as of a few weeks ago, he has a new official title. He’s now our Vice President of Vegan Operations. And that’s more than just an honorary title! 🙂

    –Matt Breslow

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