Every vegetarian knows two things for certain: that the average veggie burger tastes like something an alien would try to feed a cat, and that there’s always chana masala.
So if you’re a vegetarian who longs for good food the way Christian Bale longs for Santa Fe in Newsies, we’re here to help. Here’s where you can eat a no-meat meal that isn’t your usual Indian food or pizza. And non-vegetarians looking for a place to dine with someone who only eats plants should listen up. (Some of these places even serve meat.)
Check out the rest of our Guide To Being A Little Healthier.
Jajaja is a Mexican place on the same part of the Lower East Side where you’ll find Cervo’s, Dimes, and Kiki’s. Like those other restaurants, this place gets pretty lively - although all of the food is entirely vegan. They make things like nachos, fake-chorizo burritos, and tacos with ingredients like jackfruit and squash. The space itself isn’t very big, but it’s well-designed and sort of looks like a Southwestern-themed yoga studio. Think of this place as a Mexican spot for people who like By Chloe, and expect a wait on weekends.
If you’re looking for a place where you can get a meal with some in-laws who happen to be vegetarian or a friend who’s trying to be a little healthier, try abcV. It’s from the same people behind ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, and they make the kind of food that even people who don’t eat meat will like. You can get a dosa, a plate of pasta, or a roasted head of cauliflower with a turmeric sauce that you apply yourself. This place is also great for breakfast and brunch, and the all-white space is nice enough for a meeting.
At your average restaurant, there are typically only a few things on the menu that a vegetarian can eat, and most of them tend to be sides and/or bread. Loring Place is different. They have things like vegetable pizza, pasta, and a dish of squash and baked ricotta that happens to be one of the best things on the menu. This place is a little more upscale, although it isn’t fancy in a sportcoat-and-tie kind of way, and it’s good for a night out with some friends, family, or friends of the family.
In Bed-Stuy, Toad Style is your neighborhood vegan junk food place. It’s where you go for non-meat sandwiches such as a mushroom banh mi and a Philly cheesesteak with almond cheese. The whole place has a subtle kung fu theme as well, and it feels like the sort of spot where you would have hung out with some friends after high school. Stop by for a quick lunch or pick something up for a dinner that you’ll eat on your couch.
If you aren’t a vegetarian and someone tries to sell you on Beyond Sushi, you might be a little skeptical. You might even throw a flip over a table or throw a chair at the wall when they tell you there’s no fish. But go ahead and try this all-vegetable sushi. It’s actually pretty good. We like the roll with mango and avocado. This is a counter service place, however, so come when you need a quick sit-down or take-out dinner that is definitely pretty healthy.
Selamat Pagi does Balinese food, and, if you’ve never had it, the best way to explain it is Southeast-Asian fusion. There’s a lot of curry and about half the menu is vegetarian. It’s also a nice good-looking place (owned by the people behind Van Leeuwen). If you’re going out with friends or have a date in Greenpoint, Selamat Pagi is a solid, affordable choice.
Bunna Cafe does affordable vegan Ethiopian food in Bushwick. When you come here, count how many people you have in your party, and get a “feast” for that many. What you’ll receive is a big round plate with a bunch of different vegetable dishes along with some flat Ethiopian bread (injera) that you’ll use as a utensil. If you’re tired of forks, the experience can be liberating.
In some alternate universe, meat doesn’t exist and your average neighborhood place is a lot like Candle Cafe. At Candle you can get a seitan cheeseburger or some spaghetti and “wheatballs.” They make a lot of dishes that traditionally have meat, but sub in tofu, seitan, and tempeh instead. The result isn’t bad. Also, the dining room is pretty nice. And while this place doesn’t make the cheapest vegetarian food, you could still do a weeknight dinner here. Bring your mom. She’ll be into it.
Hangawi is a vegetarian restaurant in K-Town where you check your shoes at the door. Obviously there’s no bulgogi or Korean fried chicken here, but there is a lot of tofu, and everything is very good. The menu is also fairly large, and you might just enjoy sitting on a pillow (they don’t have chairs) while you eat some stuffed mushrooms.
There’s a lot of falafel in the city, and a lot of it is sad. Taïm’s is not. It’s small, hot, crispy, and it will temporarily improve your life. The fries here are also pretty good, but eat them quickly because they get soggy in their to-go container. And if you let this happen, you should know that you can be sued for negligence. Come here and pick up a sandwich (with one of three falafels) or a platter if you’re super hungry. There isn’t much seating at the West Village location, but the Nolita one has a little more room.
For vegans and vegetarians, this a good place for a quiet sit-down meal. It’s clean and friendly, and there isn’t a stick of butter in sight. Everything is vegan, and they make their own versions of things like pizza, dumplings, and fries. The fries are made of chickpeas, they resemble a deep-fried Jenga set, and they taste like good, soft falafel. Use the dipping sauce, and even non-vegetarians will find them weirdly addicting. This is a good lunch spot, and it’s a good place to eat something that will remind you that food is supposed to make you feel better. Uptowners can visit the Peacefood on the UWS and downtowners can enjoy the one by Union Square.
A veggie burger will never be as good as a real burger. That’s something all vegetarians have to come to terms with (if they haven’t already). Superiority Burger takes a stab at the fake-meat sandwich, however, and the result is pretty enjoyable. It’s small, dense, and fun to eat. You don’t come here for the burger, however. You come here for the sides and the frozen desserts. So get a burnt broccoli salad, whatever they have on special, and a scoop of every frozen dessert they’re willing to sell you. There isn’t much seating, so take your food to Tompkins Square Park and stand on a bench to avoid the rats.
There’s just no way this can be healthier than meat. So if you started doing the whole herbivore thing because you thought your body might like you more, don’t count on By Chloe to make you feel like you’re good at making decisions. If, on the other hand, you’re a vegetarian (or a vegan) who’s craving junk food, this is the place. And yes, okay, you can get a kale salad or a juice here, and these things are probably even healthy - but you can also get a vegan Whiskey BBQ Burger or some mac & cheese with shiitake “bacon.” This is why you come here, and that’s why there’s always a line.
Unless you’re annoyingly picky, you’ll find something to eat at Westville. Most people can have a good, quick, casual dinner here. They do salads, sandwiches, burgers, and bigger things like a whole grilled trout. The most impressive part of the menu, however, is the list of veggie sides. Every day they do things like cauliflower with tahini and plantains with cotija. It’s easy to make a meal of out the sides (and there are plenty to choose from), so a vegetarian shouldn’t have too much trouble eating here. The veggie burger also tastes like it’s deep-fried, so vegetarians rejoice.
Rouge Tomate specializes in healthy food, and nothing says healthy like a bunch of vegetables. Most of the food here consists of fish or vegetables, and it’s the sort of healthy, upscale stuff that looks good on the plate and doesn’t make you feel too bad once it’s not on the plate. This place isn’t exactly cheap, but you should go if you’re with someone who values the peace of mind that comes with eating a plate of zucchini at about $28.
Vegetarians aren’t used to being treated this well. Usually, they’ll go to a nice restaurant and settle for the plate of mushrooms that’s the only non-meat entree on the menu. But Narcissa is different. They do dishes like carrots Wellington and beets that get roasted as if they were brisket. It’s also fun here, and there’s a much cooler vibe than your average vegetarian-friendly restaurant. Meat-eaters will have plenty to eat as well, so they don’t even need to stress.
You can get your soba three ways at Cocoron: cold, hot, and dip. There are vegetarian options for each, but you’ll want to go with dip. It’s more fun, and you’ll get to drink the leftover broth at the end. This is a good option for vegetarians who feel left out when their omnivorous friends talk about ramen or other soups typically made with pork or chicken. Cocoron also gets pretty lively, and they make homemade tofu that you’re going to want to order even if ordering homemade tofu has never crossed your mind.
The menu at Spring Natural is full of stuff that your aunt who likes the Grateful Dead would try to serve you. If you’re a vegetarian or you’re trying to eat healthier, this is great news. Get some chickpea/fava bean fritters and some tempeh-vegetable enchiladas. There are a lot of vegetarian options to choose from, and (bonus) they’re clearly labeled as such. If the healthy thing doesn’t interest you, however, you can always get a burger and fries. The menu’s all over the place, so everyone should be able to find something to eat.
Nix is a vegetarian restaurant that doesn’t feel lame. That doesn’t sound like much, but there aren’t too many of those out there. Here, a vegetarian can sit down in a good-looking space and eat some vegetables that someone paid attention to. Which isn’t to say this a heath-food place. It isn’t. There’s still fat and cheese and fried things. Bring your parents or stop by with a sad vegetarian who doesn’t think that anyone cares about them.
Dirt Candy used to be in little a basement on 9th Street where it was impossible to get a table. Now this vegan restaurant is bigger, sleeker, and on the Lower East Side. The broccoli hot dogs are still far more appealing than they deserve to be, and now they do things like a DIY brussels sprout taco spread. Dirt Candy does fun, trendy vegan food that’s good for a night out with friends.
Champs is vegan, but you can still eat here and feel like garbage (in a good way). They serve food for three kinds of vegetarians: drunk vegetarians, hungover vegetarians, and vegetarians who are tired of salads. If Al Gore watched the Super Bowl (which, maybe he does?), he would get his snacks here. Get some mozzarella sticks, a burger, or a Philly cheese steak. They’re all, somehow, vegan. Champs is in East Williamsburg, so it isn’t exactly centrally located, but it’s worth a little trip if you don’t live hours aways.
If you eat meat, you aren’t going to be jazzed about this place - but vegetarians and vegans listen up: Modern Love serves somewhat-refined vegan versions of all the food you miss. Have a pot pie with seitan or some mac & cheese with tofu and barbecue-flavored cauliflower. It won’t be the best macaroni you’ve ever had, but you didn’t sign up to be a vegetarian because you heard those guys ate better pasta. Settle for this food, and you’ll barely notice you’re settling.