Eating vegetarian food in New York has never been easier. The choices now include delicious gastronomic vegetarian restaurants, superb vegan sushi, raw take-outs and a vast selection from cold-pressed juices. Some are casual, while others are trendy queues teasers, but what they all have in common is informing customers more diligently about the menu, its health improving credentials and even proudly disclosing the sources of their raw material in accord with the current local sourcing trend.
I rigorously tasted and selected the best from the most popular vegetarian eateries in the city. As a non-vegetarian, but only an occasional meat eater (once per week and less) honouring sustainability, my palate is more sensitive to the truly great flavours in the vegetarian food in New York. These places kept quality on a high roll over the past years of my plant-centric investigation. Such a broad offer of vegetarian food in New York easily reduces our cravings for meat when dining out in town.
Vegetables play the leading role in the culinary series directed by the celebrated chef Amanda Cohen, who was the first vegetarian chef to contest the Iron Chef title on the US television. A gourmet twist in her original veggie-centric creations impresses even the most demanding foodies. A curious visit by a member of the carnivorous population seems to be on the daily menu here. Cohen is poised to prove that meat is redundant in our diets and shows the greatness of vegetarian food in New York. She seduces through her sophisticated savoury plates, as well as vegetable desserts like the Celery Cheesecake or Carrot Merringue, for which she became known for. Insisting on reasonable portions, mostly organic ingredients and culinary creativity shifts what used to be an outlier, to the trendiest and most creative vegetarian restaurant in New York to date. Let’s see who follows and challenges her.
MUST HAVE: Brussels Sprouts tacos, vegetable desserts
Original vegan sushi
The seasonally inspired rolls and rice buns indeed go ‘beyond sushi’ in offering a wide variety of healthier rice options and vegan friendly toppings, fillings and sides for fast vegetarian food in New York. Most of the ingredients are sourced locally from the Union Square farmers market and sustainable New York Growers. Although organic does not play the leading role in their otherwise local vegan Japanese parlance, sustainability and improved nutritional value of their sushi together with superb taste make Beyond Sushi’s creations attractive. Their choice of healthier, wholegrain rice (six grain, Forbidden black rice) and cholesterol-free vegan ingredients in tasteful preparations turns the rejuvenating experience into guilt-free sushi treat. The Roll and the Piece of the Month is the reflection of the changing clocks of nature.
MUST HAVE: The Spicy Mango and Mighty Mushroom Roll, Spicy Shroom Wrap, seasonal Piece of the Month
Candle Café and Candle 79
Local green plates
A sake, wine bar an a restaurant in one, all organic, makes for the ideal healthy veggie meal. A brunch on weekends offers egg-less vegan “Nuevos Rancheros“, tofu scramble and fruit-packed pancakes and waffles. Sourcing directly from the farms and local farmers markets had been a daily routine of the original Healthy Candle for decades promoting vegetarian food in New York. Renamed, the casual Candle Café was so popular that the owners later opened the more upscale Candle 79. The Café was also the first “Certified Green Restaurant” in New York. Everything from washing up the dishes to decoration is conscious of its environmental impact including the eco cocktails. Gluten-free options are celebrated by cealiacs as well as other sensitive bloated diners. The latino roots of the executive chef Angel Ramos penetrate the recipes. California Mexican ingredients such as avocado, chipotle as well as the Asian influence on modern American cooking all talk on the menu, while the chef’s daily cut fresh pasta bring a breeze of Italy into the smart dining room. Jorge Pineda, the pastry chef at Candle 79 has been recognised as making one of the best vegan desserts in America, so at least try his vegan gelato.
MUST HAVE: Guacamole Timbale, Angel’s Nachos, Live Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Live Plum Pie, house-made ice creams and sorbets
Macrobiotic organic Japanese
Manhattan’s pioneer of Japanese macrobiotic dining, Souen serves also organic or wild fish since the menu is in line with the macrobiotic lifestyle. Eating seasonal, local and whole foods, mostly wholegrains and vegetables with their skin, their sodium and potassium content, and other aspects of balanced eating in sync with nature are its top values.
The very first basic Souen takes the corner spot with large windows in SoHo, where a broad range of dishes, cold or warm feature on the menu. The Union Square location makes sushi rolls from brown rice, while the East Village centres around buckwheat soba noodles and whole-wheat or gluten-free rice udon noodles in their nourishing ramen soups. Some of the ingredients are not organic, but the crucial “dirty dozen” like tofu, miso, grains and beans are. Flexibility is embodied in the abundant choices as well selection of dressings, cooking style of your fish, and even brainstorming your own sushi roll made upon request by the sushi chefs. Their baked goods are perfect for breakfast or as a sweet treat with Japanese tea served there.
MUST HAVE: Tataki Gobo, Macro Plate, Inari roll, Tempura, Blueberry Scone
Liquid nutrition with raw foods
Juice Press does not just squeeze and cold press organic raw ingredients into liquid meals, but its mushrooming branches offer also chewable vegan take-aways. From breakfast oats through massaged kale salad to kelp noodles Juice Press expands the realm of the vegetarian food in New York. Some new magic promising health fast chains have sprung up, but none has reached the quality, pleasure and balance of its offering. Many dishes contain nuts, so allergy sufferers should skip their nutritionally maxi dense foods that are mostly raw, but there are also some warming soups cocooning your frozen limbs on a cold winter day. Many of their liquid treats are indulgent, rich and creamy, as are with nutrients packed tasty meals and desserts like the chia pudding, coconut yogurt and power-monster matcha bowl. The omega rich coconut oil is added to most of their “superfoods” sold in recyclable plastic containers, whose high price reflects the quality of the organic ingredients rather than the presentation of the food.
MUST HAVE: Kelp Me! Summer Noodles, Raw ravioli, For the Love of Kale salad, OMG! my favorite juice, Doctor Earth green juice
As meat is now less trendy, many chefs even at plush steak houses offer more vegetarian plates. In my musing on the future of food I provide evidence for the increased number of meatless plates served even at the world’s most coveted restaurants from Paris to New York. Being a vegetarian is in vogue and that is a great news for the animals as well as the environment. If it is healthy for you though depends on the nutritional balance of the dishes and the preparation technique. Too much oil and sugar will make us fat or diabetic as much as the abundant consumption of meat does. So, carefully enjoy and savour the plant bounty that even the millennial trends chasing chefs lovingly fell for.
NOTE: Although I focused on purely vegetarian, I had to include Souen whose macrobiotic concept allows some fish on the menu, but mostly offers vegetarian dishes. To their credit, most of these Manhattan based restaurants also offer vegan plates and use mainly local organic ingredients. For a purely vegan Japanese gastronomic experience go to Kajitsu, whose shojin kaiseki tasting was awarded one Michelin star.