Sorry steak, there’s a new top tartare in town and it’s this rootsy spin at Andrew Carmellini’s Smyth hotel dining room. The bright-magenta bulbs are roasted, finely chopped and molded into a neat round, with horseradish cream, a crunchy rye crumble and briny, bursting smoked trout roe adding a savory kick to check the veg’s natural sweetness. $12.
If fighting for the last piece of cauliflower isn’t something you’ve had to do lately, it means you haven’t tried the deep-fried version at this Arabian-French bistro. Fresh cauliflower soaked in salted water then fried to a caramel hue is where most Lebanese restaurants would stop, but chef Tarik Fallous elevates these crispy-yet-tender florets by tossing them with kosher salt, chopped garlic, cilantro and lemon juice to brighten the nutty, sweet undertones of the veg. $8
At her New Israeli dining room, Einat Admony takes Gotham’s most overused vegetable of the moment—cauliflower is the new carrot is the new kale, naturally—and makes it downright snackable. Crunchy, golden florets are crowned with sliced coins of Bamba, an Israeli junk food made peanut-butter–flavored puffed corn grits, cleverly echoing both the natural nuttiness of the veg and the tahini slick beneath it. $15.
David Waltcuk went witty and whimsical at his comeback restaurant, serving stuff like General Tso’s sweetbreads and sea-urchin guacamole, but it’s a simple, elegant preparation of steamed-and-stuffed zucchini blossoms that reminds of his acclaimed three-decade tenure at the now-shuttered Chanterelle. Instead of Chanterelle’s chicken-and-black-truffle filling, Waltcuk opts for a more seasonal, populist treatment, padding the curling, ethereal blossoms with salty parmesan, cherry-tomato confit and lemony lemony crème fraîche. $17.
Kale cynics may balk at seeing the overexposed green on yet another restaurant menu, but celebutoque Bobby Flay wisely pairs the sauteed leaves with something more delectably elusive: soccarat, that Spanish phenomenon when rice gets crusty while toasting on the bottom of a paella pan. Those scraped, crunchy kernels of Calasparra grains get extra earthiness from fried artichokes and wild mushrooms, with the yolky porn of a soft-cooked egg holding it all together. $28.
One peek at the menu of this vegan-Ethiopian haven and you’ll want to try everything—that’s where its jam-packed sample platter comes in handy. All nine entrees are accounted for, including roasted berbere-spiced pumpkin cubes, garlic-licked red and yellow lentils, cooling kale-and-avocado salad and tomatoes stewed with hot peppers and sunflower-seed milk. Rolled rounds of injera, a spongy, tangy teff-flour flatbread, acts as your utensils to soak up every hearty, exotic bite. $28.
Let’s be real, veggie burgers are one of the least cool foods on the planet—except in the hands of Brooks Headley. After wowing the likes of David Chang and Questlove, the James Beard Award-winning Del Posto pastry chef astonished the masses with his meatless-burger pop-up this summer, serving a crisp-edged quinoa round tucked inside a squishy, normcore Martin’s potato roll with crunchy iceberg lettuce, roasted tomato, and melted Meunster and cheddar cheeses. Satisfyingly salty and fall-apart messy, this is one veggie dish even the most steadfast carnivores will want to sink their fangs into. $5.
Thomas Chen’s considerable technical prowess—honed at Eleven Madison Park and Commerce—is on full display in this stand-out of corn, a stunningly simple showcase for his command of spices and texture. Blending New American cooking with Chinese flavor, Chen zaps sweet kernels with a flash of kaffir lime and rich curry, then finishes the hearty bowl with a tart spoonful of crème fraiche. It’s a side so tasty, you’ll want it as an entrée. $8.
This is not your nonna’s eggplant parmigiana. Hillary Sterling’s deconstruction of the Italian-American classic takes buttermilk-soaked, rice-flour–dredged strips of aubergine—fried to a crisp—and dusts them with a chile-fired tomato powder and parmesan. Crunchy, salty, cheesy—it’ll be your favorite, most unlikely snackfood of the year. $12.