Modern Love’s hen-of-the-woods piccata, tempeh-stuffed avocado, and seitan pot pie with cashew-cream gravy.
Photo: Isa Chandra Moskowitz
It seems like only yesterday that New York was enmeshed in a full-throttle pork-belly fixation. But with none other than former-pork-pusher-in-chief David Chang flipping plant-based Impossible Burgers at Momofuku Nishi, times have changed. And although veganism derived from the animal-rights movement, it has gained appeal among all sorts of eaters, bolstered by terrifying reports of the impacts of animal consumption and agriculture on human health and the environment. In the past, omnivores might have considered the diet and its abstinence from all animal products, including eggs, dairy, and even honey, fairly draconian. But with the rise of vegivorism, the appeal of a plant-based diet has grown exponentially, as have the number and quality of places that cater to it. Some are strictly vegan; others will happily veganize otherwise vegetarian items upon request. Some rely on mock meats made of wheat gluten or soy products to mimic familiar fare; others choose to showcase only vegetables. They’re the best places to eat vegan food in New York, for vegans and omnivores alike.
The Absolute Best
1. Modern Love
317 Union Ave., nr. S. 1st St.; Williamsburg; 929-298-0626
Nice Jewish girl from Sheepshead Bay goes punk and vegan, becomes a cookbook author and internet personality, moves to Omaha, and opens a restaurant. Now Isa Chandra Moskowitz has returned to her native borough to expand the franchise with knockout dishes like hen-of-the-woods piccata, a glorious mess of crisp-fried maitake, whipped potatoes, soupy gigante beans, and a vibrant lemon-and-wine sauce that binds it all together. Olive oil is responsible for the pot pie’s addictive crust, pulverized cashews for its creamy innards. This is comfort food for vegetable lovers: Note the kimchee and baby carrots that accompany borderline-junky cauliflower wings, and the sautéed kale and blackened cauliflower cohabiting with mac ’n’ cheese. If April Bloomfield cooked vegan, it might go something like this.
2. Dirt Candy
86 Allen St., nr. Broome St.; 212-228-7732
Dirt Candy is vegetarian, not vegan; pioneering vegetable chef Amanda Cohen does love her dairy. But she’ll veganize everything on her prix-fixe menu, a nine-course, $83 extravaganza featuring such theatrics as binchotan-grill-your-own snap-pea pancakes, and a tableside eggplant flambé. Is it as good as the vegetarian version? Almost: We tried both side by side, and the vegan version more than held its own.
125 E. 39th St., nr. Lexington Ave.; 212-228-4873
For something slightly less dramatic than blazing eggplants, try this Murray Hill restaurant devoted to the ritual of shojin ryori cuisine, an outgrowth of Japan’s Zen Buddhist monasteries and the forerunner of kaiseki, the seasonal multicourse meal. The mood is serene, the service precise, and the ceramics antique, some over two centuries old. Chef Hiroki Odo’s pristine vegetable-centric food is arranged in carefully wrought compositions that reflect and celebrate nature. You won’t miss the meat, the fish, the eggs, or dairy one bit.
4. Superiority Burger
430 E. 9th St., nr. Ave. A; 212-256-1192
No one has done more to make vegetarian and vegan fast food cool and craveable than Brooks Headley. He shops at the Greenmarket, where he’s as familiar a presence as corn in August, but he keeps his prices low. He improvises daily specials like a reality-show cooking dude who’s never lost a mystery-box challenge. And although he’s best known for his veggie burger, he makes a fake cheesesteak that could pass muster in Philly and a hippie tofu wrap that gives hippie tofu wraps a good name. Some of the menu is vegetarian, but most of it is easily vegan-izable.
38 E. 19th St., nr. Broadway; 212-475-5829
More L.A. glam than health-food co-op, the newest addition to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC restaurant stable makes several valuable contributions to the plant-based category: It’s open for three meals a day, and might even be best at breakfast; though the menu isn’t strictly vegan, nearly everything can be made so; and the kitchen, under the direction of vegetable maestro Neal Harden, is much more seasonally attuned and market-driven than most. Which means that if it’s fall, it’s time for sweet roasted carrots, slathered with nut-and-seed butter; a forestful of mushrooms; and even white truffle, shaved over a bowl of tofu and yuba.
6. JaJaJa Plantas Mexicana
162 E. Broadway, at Rutgers St.; 646-883-5453
Sunny, cheerful corner space. Lively crowd. Beyond-friendly service. And a killer lime-coconut-mezcal cocktail. The whole atmosphere is kind of like Café Habana crossed with Dimes or abcV. And then there’s the artfully plated, all-vegan menu. Go for a gravity–defying pyramid of nachos with faux queso, fake chorizo, and fermented black beans; and a round or two of mock-meat tacos (fish, chorizo, spicy tinga, and Buffalo cauliflower are best). Even the brunch menu’s awful-sounding kale pancakes bring around skeptics of both brunch and vegan food.
7. Divya’s Kitchen
25 First Ave., nr. 2nd St.; 212-477-4834
Even if you don’t know your particular dosha, you can eat well at this tranquil East Village ayurvedic canteen. We recommend vegetable curry in cashew sauce, which is inherently vegan, or the seasonal khichari, which isn’t but can easily be modified. Both are generously endowed with all the healing legumes and plant matter one needs to achieve mental clarity and clockwork digestion. And if you still feel like your system’s not in perfect balance, Divya’s probably got a tea for that.
72 University Pl., nr. 11th St.; 212-498-9393
Nix is the culmination of the plant-based path chef John Fraser has been on since he instituted Meatless Mondays at Dovetail. Here, he makes things simple with a separate vegan menu, stripped of the main one’s eggs and dairy. It still leaves plenty of tempting options, which happily include bubbling flatbread baked in the tandoor inherited from the Indian restaurant that preceded Nix, plus Fraser’s take on the great Indo-Chinese dish Manchurian cauliflower, served with steamed buns for stuffing.
9. Le Botaniste
Le Pain Quotidien’s organic and vegan (or, as they say in the Belgium home office, botanical) fast-casual spinoff has an apothecary design motif, lab-coat-clad servers, and a catchphrase: “Let food be the medicine.” Luckily, it also has a satisfying, well-conceived menu that marries Mediterranean flavors with macrobiotic underpinnings, and a selection of natural wines. Of the “prescriptions” doled out from a long marble counter, self-medicate with mezze like green-pea-mint hummus and caper-strewn potato bacalao, followed by the three-bean “chili sin carne” or the coconut-curry-and-peanut-sauced Tibetan Mama.
10. Champs Diner
197 Meserole St., nr. Bushwick Ave., East Williamsburg; 718-599-2743
The all-vegan cooking at Champs is not the sort you read about in newspaper lifestyle pieces about vegans going glam. Presumably, the Drunken Cowgirl breakfast plate (tofu scramble, tater tots, chili, cheese, avocado, and Texas toast) is not what Mark Bittman means when he talks about eating vegan before 6 p.m. Ditto the Chocolate-chip Pancake Slam. A meal at Champs at any time of day is probably going to shave a month or two off your life. But health and wellness isn’t the point. Indulging your inner vegan-junk-food-junkie is. Pretty much everything except the egg creams (which are terrible) is good; the Philly cheesesteak, the mozzarella sticks, and the Chik’n & Waffles are great.
Adelina’s Fraschetta Romana
159 Greenpoint Ave., nr. Leonard St., Greenpoint; 347-763-0152
They don’t hit you over the head with it, but 70 percent of the grub at this under-the-radar osteria is straight-up vegan or vegan-izable. In fact, a perusal of the menu reveals just a couple of rogue omnivore plates containing meat or seafood. What’s more, it’s all pretty good, especially crisp squares of panelle served with vegan lemon aïoli and a nice paccheri sauced with a hearty cauliflower purée. Pizza’s the thing, though, cooked in the Neapolitan montanara style: flash-fried, topped with housemade cashew “mozzarella,” then baked, which gives the dough a bit of a flavor boost.
130 E. 7th St., nr. Ave. A; 646-922-7948
At Ravi DeRossi’s East Village restaurant, the best seats in the house are upholstered bar stools overlooking the open kitchen where cooks fry broccoli and cauliflower to an almost delicate crisp, slather thick slabs of toast with rich purées, and arrange vegetables into artful compositions that, while sometimes overwrought, are generally tasty.
Vegan sushi calls to mind white rice concealing a sad sliver of cucumber or burdock. Nothing like the multihued constructions served up by this burgeoning chainlet, which has carved a niche for itself by transforming the globally-inspired contents of latter-day grain bowls into distinctive plant-based rolls. The Mediterranean-themed Chic Pea, for instance, enfolds roasted eggplant, artichoke, and saffron-chickpea purée in nutty black rice, and garnishes it with tahini.
Buddha Bodai Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant
5 Mott Street, nr. Worth St.; 212-566-8388
Contrary to popular belief, vegetarian hippies from Woodstock did not invent mock meats; Chinese Buddhists did, and this unassuming spot at the southern tip of Mott Street is a worthy descendent of the tradition. If we counted correctly, there are 193 dishes on the menu, not including lunch specials, but the place earns a spot on this vegan food list for its Bar-B-Q Veg Meat alone – sweet, chewy, compulsively edible strips of wheat gluten that bear a striking resemblance to char siu. The chicken in the General Tso’s is made from soy and may remind you, in a not unpleasant way, of a Krispy Kreme doughnut crossed with a McNugget. There’s dim sum every day until 4 p.m. And if you’re just looking for something nice and green, the kitchen stir-fries a mean mess of pea shoots.
1084 Flushing Ave., at Porter Ave., Bushwick; 347-295-2227
The food is only part of the draw at this vegan Ethiopian restaurant, where the teff-and-barley flatbread called injera serves as edible platform for a colorful, deftly seasoned array of puréed and stewed pulses, steamed and sautéed vegetables, and the irresistible kale-avocado mixture called kedija selata. There’s also the coffee ceremony, an engaging reminder of the bean’s Northeast African origins.
Délice & Sarrasin
20 Christopher St., nr. Gay St.; 212-243-7200
The menu at this family-run restaurant and crêperie reads like a greatest-Gallics-hits list: Boeuf bourguignon. Coq au vin. Foie gras with fig jam. Escargot. But nothing is precisely what it seems. The “boeuf” and “coq” are pea protein; the foie is a cultured mix of tahini and cashew cream; and the snails are oyster mushrooms, doused in coconut-based garlic “butter.”
65 Second Ave., nr. 4th St.; 212-777-1608
After abandoning New York for the warmer climes and superior produce of the West Coast, Matthew Kenney returned to New York (in spirit, at least) to open this plant-based pizzeria, named for the finely ground flour favored by Neapolitan pizzaioli. Nobody will mistake the spongy-doughed oval-shaped pies or their nut-cheese and farro-fennel sausage for Totonno’s, but the kitchen earns points for creativity — and for the simpler salads and vegetable sides.
12 E. 32nd St., nr. Madison Ave.; 212-213-0077
Root-vegetable rice bowls, pumpkin porridge, fermented cabbage, an abundance of mushrooms, and lots of greens. Hangawi’s veggie-centric Korean temple cuisine may not seem as exotic as it did 20 years ago when New York magazine declared it the best vegetarian food in New York. Nor is it up there with today’s most accomplished vegivore cooking. But just yanking at the imposing, practically castle-moat doors and entering this oddball oasis — a kind of cross between a monastery mess hall and a cozy mountain ski lodge — is still a thrill. Take off your shoes (it’s mandatory), grab a surprisingly comfortable cushioned seat on the floor, and for an hour or two forget all about meat.
246 W. 48th St., nr. Eighth Ave.; 212-651-7247
On the surface, P.S. Kitchen looks like any number of bar-restaurants specializing in elaborate cocktails and globally-inspired shareable small plates. But P.S.: They’re all vegan. (Get it?) This includes the (duckless) Peking-glazed-mushroom steamed buns, (chickenless) Buffalo-sauced maitakes with vegan blue cheese, and a piquillo pepper stuffed with Beyond Burger meat instead of chorizo, tuna, or goat cheese.
620 Manhattan Ave., nr. Nassau Ave., Greenpoint; 347-844-9412
Lots of pizzerias cater to vegans with a faux cheese offering or two, or even a vegan-friendly menu category. But Screamer’s is the only full-fledged, 100 percent, all-vegan slice joint in New York, at least that we know of, so that alone is something. The slices are titanic, the plates are paper, and the vibe is punk rock meets Joe’s of Carmine Street. We’re partial to the seitan pepperoni with “mozzarella” made from coconut oil (much better than it sounds), and also an exquisitely sloppy Buffalo cauliflower number drizzled with faux ranch dressing. Watch out, though, for the clunky grandma pie, which seems like it’s been made with two separate planks of dough fused into one, and is a discredit to grandmas everywhere.
93 Ralph Ave., nr. Putnam Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant; 347-789-1589
Bed-Stuy’s estimable answer to the vegan-junk-food trend is this 12-seat, deep-fry dive, whose name alludes to a 1970s martial-arts movie. This is vegan cooking that ought to come with a complimentary heart-attack aspirin just in case. We like it for its quirky kung fu décor, its quirkier clientele, and the kitchen’s commitment to making a lot of ingredients from scratch — including ketchup, Heinz be damned. Best dishes: a finger-licking BBQ jackfruit sandwich on a potato bun, a deep-fried oyster-mushroom bánh mì with mushroom pâté, and a Yeah Dawg!!! frankfurter served Jersey-style, which means deep-fried and stuffed into a split baguette with crispy potatoes, onions, and peppers.
Veggie Castle II
132-09 Liberty Ave., South Richmond Hill; 718-641-8347
Great neighborhood juice bar and steam-table buffet catering to Rastafarians on an ital diet, meat-abstaining celebrities, and everyday vegan soul-food aficionados who like their mac ‘n’ cheese dairy-free. The Jamaican patties are stuffed with callaloo and peas, or soy versions of meat. Fake chicken is big here: There’s jerk “chicken,” stew “chicken,” curry “chicken,” and BBQ tofu “chicken drumsticks” — all good. If none of this fixes you up, there’s a juice “cure” for everything from arthritis to PMS.