Great vegetarian food isn’t hard to come by in New York—just look at the city’s best vegan and vegetarian restaurants for proof. And it’s more than just veggie burgers, although NYC has plenty of those too—we’re talking about falafel joints and tapas bars and some of the city’s best Indian restaurants. High-concept cooking to comfort foods, there are the best meat-free restaurants in NYC.
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Best vegan and vegetarian restaurants
In a white-tiled slip of an East Village eatery, former James Beard Award-winning Del Posto pastry great and erstwhile punk-rock drummer Brooks Headley gives his uberpopular veggie burger pop-up the brick-and-mortar treatment, offering the namesake patty, tofu-cabbage wraps, vegetarian sloppy joes and vanilla-labna gelato.
Fueled by the ambition to make people crave vegetables, Amanda Cohen revived her beloved East Village eatery on the Lower East Side with a ramped-up menu and a space three times the size of the 18-seat original. Emblazoned with a mural of greenery by graffiti artist Noah McDonough, the sprawling dining room is focused on the open kitchen at its heart—complete with a chef’s counter—and a full bar along one wall. Much like the plates of Cohen’s past, each dish is anchored by one vegetable, but her retooled offerings layer multiple ingredients.
Falafel doesn’t usually come in different flavors—unless it’s made by an Israel-born chef who’s worked under Bobby Flay. At her falafel and smoothie bar, Einat Admony seasons chickpea batter three ways: traditional (with parsley and cilantro), sweet (with roasted red pepper) and spicy (with Tunisian spices and garlic). She pairs the terrific falafel with tasty salads like marinated beets, spicy Moroccan carrot salad or baba ghanoush, and three dipping sauces. The smoothies are exotic too and can be made with whole, skim, soy or no milk.
The name is definitely worthy of an eye roll, but dad-joke hokeyness is graciously absent elsewhere at Avant Garden, a virtuous vegan-restaurant detour for owner Ravi DeRossi, whose personal brand of New York locales (the fondue-dipping Bourgeois Pig, the rum-doused Mother of Pearl) have heretofore been imbued with a Baz Luhrmann loucheness. Decadence is dialed down in the 28-seat space—a petrified-wood counter forsakes velvet trimmings and tiki camp; raw tree branches hang above an open kitchen; and the restaurant is painted in muted shades of earth—but there are indulgences to be had on the plate.
From cupcake-slinging vegan queen Chloe Coscarelli comes this entirely plant-based concept in the heart of Greenwich Village, offering meat- and dairy-free grab n' go treats, cold-pressed juices and a veggie burger (tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut patty on a potato bun to add to New York's growing pantheon. Continuing her vegan crusade—she wrote three cookbooks on it—Coscarelli stocks her takeout section with matcha kelp noodles in cashew cream sauce, brunch with quinoa hash browns and organic scrambled tofu, and dessert with gluten-free ice creams (roasted banana bourbon kale cookies).
For cautious carnivores, Blossom offers one big surprise: All the eggless pastas and mock meats actually taste pretty good. For vegans, it’s a candlelit godsend. Guiltily dreaming of veal scaloppine? Try the pan-seared seitan cutlets, tender wheat gluten served with basil mashed potatoes, swiss chard, a white-wine caper sauce and artichokes. With fake-meat entrées averaging $17, carnivores may feel compelled to eat the real thing elsewhere, but vegetarians have indeed found a great date place.
The eight-seat location of this café proves that vegan cuisine and comfort food aren't paradoxical terms. Look into the open kitchen, where chefs cook up meatless dishes, like the Midtown Melt (Cajun-spiced seitan, vegan cheddar and chipotle aioli on rosemary focaccia) and a vegan burger with soy bacon and onion rings. Healthy organic fruit and vegetable juices are blended on site, including the Supreme Green, which combines spinach, kale, ginger, lemon, apple, cucumber and parsley.
Diners often compare eating great food to a religious experience, but at Kajitsu—possibly New York's only kaiseki restaurant to offer the centuries-old Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine known as shojin, from which modern-day Japanese cooking is thought to have developed—there's something literal in the restaurant's connection to the divine. The sparse, hushed interior suggests a reverence for nature that is also expressed in the food. For those accustomed to bold flavors, the preparations can at first seem understated to a fault. But with each jewel-like course, the meal emerges as an artful meditation on simplicity and seasonality.
Not strictly vegetarian or vegan, and definitely not raw, Souen offers natural, organic foods with no dairy, wheat, sugar, chemicals, preservatives or meat in a clean, bright and peaceful setting. The Asian-influenced menu is extensive: teriyaki or ginger-steamed fish, broccoli tofu and stir-fried soba noodles with vegetables. But don’t be distracted from the chalkboard specials, which reveal the freshest fish choices and other interesting twists on the basics.
Organic-minded, kid-toting yuppies and vegan East Villagers commune over the tofu at this enduring health-food hot spot. Share the Pantry Plate (rich walnut-lentil pâté, mellow hummus and ruby sauerkraut), but snag the velvety, sesame-sauced Soba Sensation for yourself. Massive, super-popular Dragon Bowls (rice, beans, tofu, steamed veggies) get their kick from dressings like creamy carrot or black sesame wasabi. Don’t know your kombu from your kudzu? The helpful menu glossary gets you ready for the macrobiotic big-leagues in no time flat.