Carnitas, ceviche, chorizo. When many of us think of Hispanic food, we often think of animal protein. But the focus on meat/seafood and dairy that’s traditionally been at the center of the plate in Latinx cooking - countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay are all famous for their high protein diets, for example - is primarily a consequence of colonialism.
Many of these countries’ indigenous populations, particularly Mexico, actually ate a predominantly plant-based diet, which we’re starting to see come out more in Latinx restaurants across the city. And now, Hispanic Millennials are setting the table for what the future (or going back to the past) of Latin American cuisine looks like, as they’re outpacing the older Hispanic generations.
“The consumer demand for more vegan food is part of the reason why vegan Latin cuisine is growing in the way that it is,” says chef and owner Lyana Blount of the Black Rican Vegan. “It is innovative, new, and delicious.”
29% of New Yorkers are Hispanic: Puerto Ricans are the largest Hispanic group at 31% and two in five Latinxs in the tri-state area are either Dominican, Mexican or Ecuadorian. Latinx communities are largely found in the northern part of Manhattan, the Bronx, Elmhurst, Corona, the northern and eastern parts of Brooklyn and sprinkled in Staten Island. And it’s actually the heavily dominated Hispanic areas in NYC where vegan Latin American options are being introduced, shares Blount.
“The Hispanic culture is leaning in a more compassionate and health-conscious direction, which is helping many people relate to and be more comfortable converting to a vegan diet because the food is still so familiar without losing its culture,” says Blount.
Leslie Ossa of the vegan Hispanic dessert spot Bearylicious shares that it’s in the Bronx, home to one of NYC’s largest Hispanic and Latinx communities, where folks are finding more and more plant-based Latin American options.
“The Latin American vegan trend in NYC is popping up in every borough, especially in the Bronx. For example, back in 2018, the Bronx was a food desert... and now in 2021, you can find several options for vegan [Hispanic] food.”
While we expect the number of vegan Latinx spots in New York to keep growing, these are our 10 favorite places to get everything from jackfruit carnitas to some excellent cheese-free queso right now.
“Most people who are not vegan think that veganism is boring, so I just wanted to take a different approach and make Savage Sicko fun,” says Chef Alex Ayala of the Astoria-based Latin American vegan restaurant (which also is a great spot for weekend drag brunch). The menu features plant-based arepas, ceviches made with hearts of palm, burgers, and flautas. Their food is so delicious, says Ayala, that “...we can make a shark go vegan.” Hence, you’ll notice lots of shark references across the restaurant, the menu (“Save the Sharks Nachos″), and on their social media to raise awareness on the state of the oceans. Sharks aside, their cheddar empanada is a hot pocket packed with creamy tofu cheese and cilantro aioli. And we definitely recommend you try it.
Carrots have never gotten their time in the spotlight quite as they do at this mostly vegan Mexican restaurant in Greenpoint. Here, the vibrant orange vegetable is prepared three ways in one dish, all on a crispy nixtamalized tortilla: a base of navy bean and carrot purée with some spicy serrano peppers and a carrot top salsa verde is topped with carrots braised in their own juice and a maple glaze. This sister spot to nearby Oxomoco serves brightly colored Mexican dishes using a rainbow of vegetables and salsas on vegan tacos, tamales, and quesadilla in a cool space that feels a bit Wes Anderson-y, but in a fun way. The masa pancakes are quickly becoming my stack of choice for brunch - they’re made with a touch of cornmeal that adds a nice nuttiness and are served in triangles rather than circles. Similar to how I like my sandwich cut, triangle-shaped foods just taste better than any other shape.
Next Stop Vegan
If you want Dominican vegan cooking from the hands of a “70-year-old Dominican lady,” as she describes herself, then Ana “Loly” Baez of the Bronx’s first vegan meal-prep service company has got you. Along with her sister Blenlly, the Dominican duo make meal kits to prepare at home featuring vegan takes on traditional dishes like mofonguitos con quinoa carne (a basket made of plantains stuffed with “quinoa meat”), the Dominican hamburger known as chimi made with black beans and brown rice, and meat-free pastelitos.
When that craving for four pounds of tres leches hits, Chilean-American chef and baker Leslie Ossa is ready with her vegan dessert delivery service. While the four-pounder is made for 10-12 people, there are also smaller sizes of flan and tres leches cake by the slice if that feels more reasonable. Both are just as creamy, soft, and positively moist as one would expect from their dairy brethren. To order, email firstname.lastname@example.org with at least a 48-hour notice. Ossa delivers to every borough with a fee, but she offers free pick-up points at Next Stop Vegan locations too.
When you need to satisfy a craving for homemade Colombian food, head to this vegan spot in Park Slope, run by Colombian-American brothers and co-owners Alex and Danny Carabaño. They make plant-based versions of Colombia’s national dish, bandeja paisa (a mixed platter of sausage, ground beef, rice, red beans, chicharrón, arepas, plantains, avocado, and a fried egg), along with chichapapas (sazón-seasoned Belgian fries with crispy chicharron made with “wheat meat”), and plátanos maduros stuffed with refried beans and seasoned ground seitan molida. Grab a platter and enjoy a vegan feast in their outdoor garden. Or if you’re in a bit of a hurry, grab an arepa con todo to-go. These handmade crispy corn arepas with vegan mozzarella, Colombian red beans, fresh guacamole, ground seitan carne molida, and salsa roja are juicy, meaty, and designed to be inhaled as quickly as possible.
Jajaja Plantas Mexicana
If you’ve never had vegan Mexican food, or just want to try the best, check out JaJaJa. The popular spot has multiple locations across Williamsburg, the West Village, Hudson Yards, and the Lower East Side. “You would be surprised how many Latin Americans frequent our restaurants specifically because they are plant-based and want to enjoy flavors they grew up eating,” say owners Nima Garos and Koorosh Bakhtiar. While Garos and Bakhtiar are actually first-generation Iranian-Americans who fell in love with Mexican culture after spending summers in Cuernavaca throughout their youth, their chef, Rufino Colex, is originally from Puebla. Order everything from jackfruit tamales, flan, and coconut queso quesadilla, to the excellent meat-free chorizo.
Wepa! While Black Rican Vegan is delivery-only, it’s still one of the best places not just for vegan comida puertorriqueño in New York, but Puerto Rican food in general. Puerto Rican owner and chef Lyana Blount makes a rotating selection of classics like pernil (but made with jackfruit here), oxtail and rice aka ”moxtail,” pastelon (beefless lasagna), flancocho (a two-story flan and chocolate cake combo), and asopao (chicken and rice soup) using mushrooms or homemade seitan. Based out of Morris Heights in the Bronx, Black Rican Vegan delivers throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens on the weekends.
This East Village coctelería is a dimly-lit, flower and vine-decorated spot that works great for a solo drink seated in one of their tufted burgundy banquettes, or someplace to end up doing tequila shots with the neighboring table. Mexican Chef Xila Caudillo preps dishes like a marinated tomato tostada, tamale with jackfruit, and a mushroom avocado mango “ceviche” (the whole menu is gluten-free too). It’s also a great option for cocktails, with their drinks being made by the team behind nearby Amor y Amargo. Make sure to grab a drink or three, like the "Yellow Pineapple" or "Oaxaca Old Fashioned."
For those times when you need a massive sandwich ASAP, stop by this pan-Latin vegan bodega in Dumbo. Run by California-born, Salvadoran-Mexican owner Jeremy Dean, the short menu has six sandwiches total, including his take on a chopped cheese and a sausage, egg, and cheese, but the real star is the Cubano made with jackfruit, vegan provolone, mayo, turkey, and the requisite mustard and pickles. While most faux-cheese and meats substitutes can be a little disappointing, as a Cubana myself who has made and consumed many Cubanos, I can definitely get behind Vodega’s version of the classic. It’s perfectly cheesy, meaty, and tangy thanks to a swipe of mustard and the pickle’s brininess.
This popping pink Clinton Hill cafe full of plants takes all things Cuban and makes them vegan - the vegan dulce de leche made with brown sugar instead of sweetened condensed milk, guava y queso pastel using oat milk butter and tofu cream cheese, and vegan queso pastries loaded with coconut cream are particularly great. Note: I fully recognize that some folks will deny the existence of a vegan dulce de leche, but they should try it before using fighting words. Guevara’s also has rainbow-hued conchas, savory empanadas, coconut ceviche tostadas, and vegan chilaquiles. Don’t skip out on the dairy-free Cuban coffee either, like the oat milk cafe con leche and their non-Cuban, but just as delightful, seasonal beverages like the rose and halvah latte.