Sanjay Chandrasekaran — the Indian-American chef best known for the inventive Indian meets New Mexican vegan plates at The Sudra — is adding handmade pasta and pizza to his portfolio. Lilla will open in Southeast Portland, transforming the former Aviv space into Portland’s first fully vegan Italian restaurant since Portobello shuttered in 2016. The new restaurant is just one of the new Chandrasekaran spots opening in the next three years, with a new cafe and another Sudra on the way, as well.
Portland’s vegan community is responsible for planting the idea for Lilla — which means “lilac” in Italian and is pronounced like the chef’s grandmother’s name, Leila — in Chandrasekaran’s mind. “In the Facebook groups, people are always talking about vegan Italian food,” he says. “People are really missing that. They miss Portobello.” When Middle Eastern vegan restaurant Aviv closed, Chandrasekaran, who is also an Aviv co-owner, had a decision to make: back out of the Aviv leases, or do something else with those spaces. Aviv’s Pearl and Killingsworth locations became the Sudra and Rabbits Cafe, respectively, but he needed a plan for the spot on Madison, which functioned as a commissary kitchen and takeout-exclusive restaurant. Once renovations are complete, Lilla will operate as a fast casual, counter service restaurant similar to the Sudra.
Chandrasekaran is still working on recipes (and waiting for a pasta extruder to arrive), but he says handmade pastas served with sauces like hazelnut pesto and marinara will be the star of the menu. Diners can expect Italian-style comfort foods, like meatballs, bruschetta, and soy chicken parmesan sandwiches and plates. The restaurant will also serve a handful of 12-inch thin crust pizzas — margherita, pepperoni, and a bianca. The vegan cheeses used at Lilla will be made in-house, made with either sunflower seeds or soy. The restaurant will offer beer and wine pairings, as well as take-and-bake lasagna and other pasta dishes for takeout.
But Lilla is not the only new concept on Chandrasekaran’s plate: He and his wife Danielle Chandrasekaran will open Daylily Coffee Shop next to the Sudra’s Mississippi outpost. In late 2021, Daylily’s Instagram teased a pink-tiled counter and sleek white La Marzocco espresso machine. The coffee shop will serve Roseline coffee, smoothies, Just Egg English muffin breakfast sandwiches, and pastries from Shoofly bakery. Customers can choose between oat, almond, soy, hemp, and coconut milks with their coffee drinks.
After Lilla and Daylily are up and running, Chandrasekaran will set his sights on a fifth Sudra location, to open in downtown Hillsboro. Next year, the new outpost will take over a mid-century building with Ex Novo Brewing, Sizzle Pie, and Grand Central Baking — Ex Novo will share the spacious roof deck with The Sudra. The westward expansion to Beaverton and Hillsboro is a recurring theme among successful Portland restaurants: Top Burmese, Loyal Legion, and Mirisata have also opened outposts in the suburbs.
In 2013, Chandrasekaran opened the first Sudra, melding his Indian roots with his childhood in New Mexico to create dishes like black-eyed pea korma and red lentil tamarind stew; it quickly became one of Portland’s best vegan restaurants. The chef and restaurateur has played a leading role in shaping Portland’s vegan scene, as the owner of bowl and smoothie shop Rabbits Cafe and co-owner of the now-closed Aviv, on top of operating four Sudra locations: Mississippi, 28th Avenue, Beaverton, The Pearl.
Rabbits Cafe continues to operate out of downtown’s U.S. Bancorp Tower (better known as the Big Pink), as well as its newer Killingsworth space that was previously home to Tiny Aviv. In addition to the barbecue soy curl bowls, smoothies, and cornmeal waffles, Chandrasekaran plans to add bean and lentil-based plates — like black-eyed pea fritters and veggie burgers — to the Killingsworth menu for dinner service starting this spring; the bar menu will also grow, with the addition of juice-based cocktails.
Depending on the pace of construction, Lilla is slated to open at 960 SE Madison Street by April. Daylily Coffee Shop will also open around then, at 912 N Fremont Street.