If you’ve spent your entire life glued to the carnivorous lifestyle, you might be surprised to hear about the kind of spells New York City vegetarian and vegan restaurants are casting on vegetables nowadays. But for those who have long maintained a plant-forward lifestyle, this news is hardly a revelation. From a fast-food counter slinging heavenly veggie burgers to a Brooklyn diner veganizing your favorite comfort foods, these are the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants in NYC.
Superiority Burger, East Village, NYC
Hidden down a flight of stairs is the sunken Superiority Burger, the East Village’s sanctuary for vegetarian and vegan food. The postage stamp of an operation is helmed by chef Brooks Headley, who left fine-dining kitchens to open a burger joint. Vegetarians and carnivores alike flock here for the eponymous burger (a squat patty brimming with quinoa, chickpeas and walnuts, crowned with muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles). Pair the sandwich with sides like the tahini ranch romaine salad or the rotating daily special, which is often announced on Instagram.
While it’s true that just about anything wrapped in sushi rice and seaweed and dipped in soy sauce is purely delightful, Beyond Sushi takes vegan rolls one step further. This sushi restaurant is creative with its use of plant-based food, quickly making you forget all about raw fish. Titillate your palette with pickled burdock root, black rice and creamy tahini and lemon saffron sauces. The appetizers and mains go beyond rolls while still maintaining similar flavor profiles, such as in ramen, ravioli, dumplings and giant roasted cauliflower heads, so the options are abundant. The growing chain has multiple locations (some including dessert and drinks), including a stand in Chelsea Market.
Housed along a narrow Chinatown alley, Vegetarian Dim Sum House offers complimentary tea while you dig into crispy wontons, sweet and salty dumplings and lotus-wrapped sticky rice. Mock meats, like fake pork and beef, are omnipresent in dishes teeming with sautéed vegetables. Pro tip: the restaurant is cash only.
At the all-vegan Bunna Cafe, utensils aren’t necessary. The Ethiopian restaurant in Bushwick encourages diners to scoop up piles of spicy red lentils, mashed yellow split peas and sautéed beets with injera (a spongy flatbread) and share everything the Habesha way. The space will often host Ethiopian coffee ceremonies (bunna, after all, is the Amharic word for coffee) in which guests can nurse cups of a strong, dark blend.
This cheekily named restaurant offers an extensive menu of healthy vegetarian and vegan fare (all vegan dishes are denoted by symbols). Here, there’s the requisite smashed-avocado toast, crowned with a smattering of mustard seeds; a deli-style Reuben sandwich, boasting cabbage instead of pastrami; and a walnut pesto linguine tossed with mushrooms and tomatoes. You can also add an extra dash of CBD to any smoothie, coffee or wellness latte.
Tucked away in the basement of a Brooklyn Hare Krishna temple is a Westernized Indian vegetarian lunch buffet. Here, downtown Brooklyn workers converge with the Hare Krishnas, dressed in traditional saffron robes. The setting isn’t much – a windowless room dotted with round tables – but no one seems to mind. After all, everyone is here for the complete meal (the daily entrée plus all the sides) for a mere $12; dishes in the past have included spinach dal, black-eyed peas, samosas, potato and cauliflower stew and the beloved cheesecake.
The mother-and-son duo behind this wonderfully oxymoronic New York vegan soul-food restaurant in Harlem transforms those beloved classics into plant-based versions. Barbecue crawfish is reinvented and replaced with grilled burdock root, stained red from the house-made Bayou barbecue sauce. Fermented soy poses as chicken nuggets – palmable crispy knobs flecked with panko and lemon – ready to be dunked in tangy barbecue sauce. The restaurant fills up early on, so make a reservation or expect to wait.
In Williamsburg, quintessential comfort food is veganized. Here, chef Isa Moskowitz infuses the menu with a cocktail of her Brooklyn upbringing, plus Italian, Jamaican, Jewish and Southern cuisines. Mozzarella sticks masquerade as something healthy, filled with chewy cashew-coconut mozzarella; mac and cheese boasts blackened cauliflower and pecan-crusted tofu, submerged under a gooey layer of red-pepper cashew cheese; and chicken wings mutate into buffalo cauliflower wings, sticky with avocado ranch.
Jajaja puts a vegan twist on Mexican cuisine | Courtesy of Jajaja
On the Lower East Side of New York, Mexican food gets a vegan makeover. The hip and often lively spot champions vegetables in everything: empanadas are swollen with beet and pumpkin, taco shells cradle mountains of tempura cauliflower, and hemp- and flaxseed-battered chayote squash and nachos boast cracker-thin chips, teeming with ‘chorizo’ crumbles, black beans and turmeric-nut queso fundido. Wash it all down with a glass (or two) of mezcal from the extensive drink menu.
Vegetables shine at Michelin-star vegetarian restaurant Nix, where the kitchen collects seasonal produce from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket. Shareable bowls swiped with spiced eggplant and tangy labneh are served with puffy tandoor bread; plump sweet potato and ginger dumplings are slick with scallion oil; and soft steamed buns offer diners the opportunity to stuff the half-moon rounds with crackly cauliflower tempura and house pickles.
You can choose from pizza or sushi rolls on Peacefood's vegan menu | Courtesy of Peacefood
Peacefood Cafe launched on the Upper West Side back in 2009 after two vegans decided that the best way to promote non-violence was through feeding people plant-based food. The original restaurant was a hit and promptly expanded with a second location downtown. Both serve a mix of salads, soups, sandwiches, pizzas and side dishes (think spelt sourdough bread overflowing with roasted Japanese pumpkin and pizzas painted with mottled tomato sauce and roasted sweet peppers). No trip is complete without a concentrated examination of the pastry case, where grasshopper cookie sandwiches and slices of strawberry cheesecake will hardly convince you they lack butter and eggs.
This East Williamsburg vegan diner is far more spirited and fun than the average haunt. Everything may be vegan, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy: pancakes are dressed up with swirls of cinnamon icing and cookie dough; tater-tot rounds star as nachos, crowned with nacho cheese, avocado cream and jalapeños; and crispy mozzarella sticks offer that classic cheese-pull magic when wrenched apart. Champs serves as a veritable destination for hangover food – for vegans and non-vegans alike.
Chef Amanda Cohen transforms even the simplest vegetables into art at her Lower East Side restaurant. The menu changes with the season, but dishes in the past have included pink salt-roasted beets served like popcorn, pumpkin pad thai and brussels sprouts tacos accompanied by lettuce wraps. Here, there isn’t an à la carte menu but rather a choice between two tasting menus (for $61 or $93, tip included).
This upscale restaurant is helmed by the same people as ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, but instead of following suit with a focus on sustainability, abcV flirts with wellness. Plants – and lots of them – make an appearance in every dish. Green chickpea hummus, swirled with Thai basil, arrives prepped to be mopped up with soft pita bread or dunked into with raw vegetables. Chestnut-colored soba noodles are twirled with dashi, mushrooms, sea lettuce and broccoli. Even in the morning, fruits and vegetables shine, folded up into crisp dosas or blitzed into smoothies.
Taim Falafel now boasts four locations in NYC | Courtesy of Taim Falafel
The Israeli mini-chain now boasts four locations, all specializing in falafel. Puffy pita bread, swiped with a scoop of hummus, becomes swollen with crisp, piping-hot falafel – some green inside from parsley and mint, others red from Tunisian spices – then further filled with Israeli salad and pickled cabbage. Pair the sandwich with a refreshing drink, like ginger-mint lemonade or date-lime-banana smoothie.
Up a dim set of stairs in the East Village, Honeybee’s is a perfect hideaway. This sultry saloon has a Western parlor vibe that will make you feel transported back in time – until you taste the modern plant-based food. In a mix of old meets new, Honeybee’s recreates nostalgic, homey recipes for the contemporary vegan diner. Here, the cocktail bar specializes in whiskey drinks, while the kitchen focuses on vegan BBQ, so you’d be remiss not to pair the phenomenal chicken and waffles with a smoky bourbon cocktail. Or wash down the crispy cornbread (which also makes an appearance atop the mac & cheese with mushroom bacon) with a bittersweet sazerac.
Le Pain Quotidien offers quick vegan meals | Courtesy of LPQ
Yes, this Belgium chain is present in multiple cities (the first American store opened on the Upper East Side in 1997), and they’ve been a plant-based staple ever since. Le Pain Quotidien has been dishing up vegan recipes for over 30 years, focusing on heavily organic, sustainable, and in-season ingredients. While they do also serve vegetarian and omnivore dishes, this grab-and-go restaurant-cum-bakery offers a quick option for vegan diners in need of a meal that’s fast, convenient, plant-based and high-quality. Many dishes that aren’t vegan can be made so upon request. Plus, their latest “Plant Love” menu comes with a mission to help the National Forest Foundation plant five million trees in 2019, its largest reforestation project to date.