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.
Restaurant, Contemporary, Vegetarian
Hidden down a flight of stairs is the sunken Superiority Burger, the East Village’s sanctuary for vegetarian and vegan food. Chef Brooks Headley, who left fine-dining kitchens to open a burger joint, helms the postage stamp of an operation. 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 such as 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 palate 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 with 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, such as fake pork and beef, are omnipresent in dishes teeming with sautéed vegetables. The restaurant only accepts cash.
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).
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 and dark blend.
Entering Night Music is like walking into a dark, floral cave with little nooks of couches and tables. It’s an intimate and fun effect, but what really glows amid the cozy atmosphere is the outstanding and inventive cuisine. The vegan dishes are incredibly creative and almost sneaky with innovation. You’d never guess there’s kale hidden in the fried pakora (surrounded by pomegranate seeds), that the cilantro dip on the dosa would tingle on your tongue, or that pineapple and mango would work so well in the lentil spread. Like owner Ravi DeRossi’s other restaurants, Night Music shows attention to detail, commitment to its theme and exuberant decor, making it stand out from the other Indian restaurants along nearby Curry Row in the East Village.
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 – crispy knobs flecked with panko and lemon – ready to be dunked in tangy barbecue sauce. The restaurant fills up early, so make a reservation or expect to wait.
This cheekily named restaurant offers an extensive menu of healthy vegetarian and vegan fare (symbols denote all vegan dishes). 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.
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; the 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. This hip and lively spot champions vegetables in everything. Empanadas are swollen with beet and pumpkin, while taco shells cradle mountains of tempura cauliflower. Also, 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 drinks 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, while plump sweet potato and ginger dumplings are slick with scallion oil. Also, 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 Cafe
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.
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.
Up a dim set of stairs in the East Village, Honeybee’s is a perfect hideaway. This sultry saloon has a Western-parlor vibe with a modern plant-based food menu. 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 barbecue. Therefore, you’d be remiss not to pair the phenomenal chicken and waffles with a smoky bourbon cocktail. Alternatively, wash down the crispy cornbread (which also makes an appearance atop the mac and cheese with mushroom bacon) with a bittersweet sazerac.
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. Meanwhile, 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.
Taïm now boasts five locations in NYC | Courtesy of Taïm
The Israeli mini-chain now boasts five locations in New York City, 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, such as the ginger-mint lemonade or date-lime-banana smoothie.
The same people behind ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina helm this upscale restaurant, 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 – whether they are folded up into crisp dosas or blitzed into smoothies.
Le Pain Quotidien offers quick vegan meals | Courtesy of Le Pain Quotidien
Yes, this Belgium chain is present in multiple cities (the first American store opened on the Upper East Side in 1997), and it has 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 it also serves vegetarian and omnivore dishes, this grab-and-go restaurant-bakery offers a quick option for vegan diners in need of a high-quality, plant-based meal that’s fast and convenient. Many dishes that aren’t vegan can be made so upon request.