Eating plant-based food in New York has never been easier. Across Manhattan the eco-friendly choices now include delicious gastronomic vegetarian and vegan restaurants, vegan sushi and hip plant-based bars. Some are casual eateries, while others cater to trendy foodies and true fine dining lovers. All inform customers more diligently about their menu and transparent sourcing.
I rigorously multi-tested the most popular vegetarian and vegan eateries in the metropolis and selected the best. As a non-vegetarian, an occasional fish or meat eater balancing health and sustainability, my palate is more sensitive to the flavours in the vegetarian food in New York. My choices below kept quality on a high roll over the past years of my plant-centric investigation. Such a broad offer of meat, seafood and dairy-free food in New York reduces our cravings for flesh and our carbon footprint when staying in the fast, global metropolis.
Vegetables play leading role in Amanda Cohen’s cuisine. The first vegetarian chef to contest the Iron Chef title on the US television. A gourmet twist render her original veggie-centric creations impressive even for the most demanding foodies. Curious visits by members of the carnivorous population is on the daily menu at Dirt Candy in China Town’s upcoming strip. Cohen is poised to prove that meat is redundant in our daily diets. Showing the greatness of vegetarian food in New York, she seduces through her sophisticated savoury plates, as well as vegetable desserts like Celery Cheesecake or Carrot Meringue for which she is known for. Insisting on reasonable portions, mostly organic ingredients and culinary creativity shifts what used to be an outlier, to one of the most creative vegetarian restaurants in New York. Her challengers sprung from the high culinary ranks such as Jean Georges Vongerichten, the plant-guru Matthew Kenney, so diversity makes veggies fun on Manhattan.
MUST HAVE: Brussels Sprouts tacos, vegetable desserts
vegetarian, trendy, top chef
Jean Georges Vongerichten is an established name on the New York high-end culinary scene. His venture into purely vegetarian dining involves the most revered homeware and design department store in New York. The ABC is for the rich, but the clients squeezing into his Union Square Farmers Market sourced eater do not seem to mind. The food is bright, delicious and original. From breakfast, all day, ABCv is packed also with non-vegetarians as the laurels of the Michelin chef lure them in. My every trip to New York includes a meal in this Zen-faced cafe, where Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotes contrast the loud city crowd. You hardly find inner calm here, but the food is superb and changes frequently as the seasons dictate the creative menu.
MUST HAVE: Dosa with condiments, seasonal vegetable starters such as beet carpaccio, lettuce tacos, ‘superfood’ cocktails.
Original vegan sushi wholegrain rice bowls
The seasonally inspired rolls and rice buns indeed go ‘beyond sushi’. Most ingredients are sourced locally from the Union Square farmers market and sustainable New York State growers. Improved nutritional value of their sushi together with superb taste rend Beyond Sushi’s creations even more attractive to millenials. Flexible choices between healthier, whole-grain rices (brown, six grain, Forbidden black rice) and cholesterol-free plant ingredients in tasteful preparations turns the meal into a guilt-free sushi treat. The Roll and the Piece of the Month reflect the changing clocks of nature, but there are all-year staples like miso soup, hot or cold noodle and rice bowls. At most branches you can eat in, at some only take-out is possible, yet non-recyclable plastic was cut out. Souen in East Village also does overwhelmingly plant-based (little fish is included) Japanese menu, and its SoHo base has been very casually catering to macrobiotic clients since the 1970s.
MUST HAVE: The Spicy Mango and Mighty Mushroom Roll, Spicy ‘Shroom’ Wrap, seasonal ‘Piece of the Month’, avocado edamame rice bowl
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 the original Healthy Candle was ahead of its times. The veteran of vegetarian food in New York was renamed as Candle Café and became so popular that a more upscale Candle 79 was additionally born. As 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. The latino roots of the executive chef Angel Ramos penetrate most recipes. California Mexican ingredients such as avocado, chipotle as well as Asian influence on modern American cooking all talk on the menu. Daily cut fresh pasta bring a breeze of Italy into the smart dining room. With gluten-free options abound, Jorge Pineda, the pastry chef at Candle 79 is recognised as making one of the best vegan desserts in America, so at least try his plant-based gelato.
MUST HAVE: Guacamole Timbale, Angel’s Nachos, Live Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Live Plum Pie, house-made ice creams, sorbets
Vegan organic gastronomic Japanese Michelin star
For a purely vegan Japanese gastronomic experience go to Kajitsu, whose shojin kaiseki tasting was awarded one Michelin star. Kajitsu is a temple of the monastic Buddhist cuisine a few block from the New York Public Library. It’s counter suits solo diners and the relatively quiet dining room offers the rare calm in the midst of Manhattan. A multi-course set menu includes seasonal highlights, presented at the start of the meal in a vegetable basket. Everything else is a pure symphony of restraint and flavour.
MUST HAVE: Tasting menu only, but dietary requirements will be met with an advance notice.
vegan Korean tea herbal infusions
Take off your shoes and shuffle your feet along the wooden floor to your low-set table. The interior is like a wallpaper pulled off a traditional Korean room. Dimmed lights, brisk service, the room is humming with the international foodies of Manhattan. Hangkawi is a more upscale Korean sister of Franchia further on the East side. Both offer a generous and comforting vegan bibimbap in a stone bowl, sizzling tofu and vegetables served on hot lava stone, brown rice, and a wide menu of snacks. Most dishes are ideal for sharing as the portions are still American-sized. The Korean herbal brews healthily accompany any meal.
MUST HAVE: Assortment of wild Korean vegetables (share), bibimbap, Korean herbal infusions.
vegan natural wine
Avant Garden in its dimmed East Village bar setting, kept impressing us with its Italy-meets-American-abundance over the years. Open only for dinner, the vegan food has been always delicious, finely tuned to abundant flavours, reasonable portions, and a smart selection of natural wines. From its original success in Brooklyn, the has thrived. Sadly, the founding chef’s recently passed away, therefore its future is in the hands of the creative and diligent team. The service can be slow since the tiny, open behind the bar kitchen is modestly staffed. Sharing cuts the waiting time. Ahead of its time, Avant Garden does not look like a vegan hangout, the cosy room is as hip as any trendy bar on Manhattan.
MUST HAVE: Grilled mushrooms, pasta, grilled toasts
As meat is less trendy, even plush steak houses offer more plant-centric 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 vegan is in vogue and that is great news for animals as well as the environment. If it is healthy for you though depends on the nutritional balance of the dishes and the preparation techniques. Too much oil and sugar will make us fat or diabetic. So, carefully enjoy and savour the plant bounty that even the millennial trends chasing chefs lovingly fell for.
Most of these Manhattan based restaurants use mainly local organic ingredients. Globally, plant-based dining is on upswing, therefore keep an eye on the newcomers, still, I dined at the above healthy restaurants on multiple occasions without a single disappointment, so I keep coming back for the comfort of knowing that the risk of failure is low for me.
Bloom, Dimes, Lady Bird (sister of Avant Garden) and the Matthew Kenney‘s (his Asia-bound Arata was hit and miss, the same plate-dependent experience we had the Mediterranean XYST) growing empire of plant-based restaurants, are also worth trying. Afterall, each of us has different taste preferences and these should not be judged but embraced.
Enjoy the top New York healthy, plant-based dining, as I did!