There are three things every vegetarian knows for certain: most veggie burgers taste like something an alien would try to feed a cat, chana masala is your friend, and the average restaurant typically only has a few things on the menu that a vegetarian can eat, and most of them tend to be sides and/or bread.
So if want to go to a restaurant that has more than just a grilled portobello on the menu (whether you’re a vegetarian or not), use this guide. Some of these spots are fully vegetarian or vegan, and some have meat on the menu. Either way, they’ll have enough good food to satisfy someone who longs for great non-meat food the way Christian Bale longs for Santa Fe in Newsies.
Eventually, you should make someone repay you for all the times you’ve had to eat salad at a steakhouse. When that moment comes, demand a dinner at abcV. This is an upscale vegetarian restaurant in Nomad from the same people behind ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina. You can get a dosa, a plate of pasta, or a roasted head of cauliflower with a turmeric sauce that gets poured all over it. This place is also great for breakfast and brunch, and works well for situations where someone is bound to lay down a corporate card when the check comes.
West Bourne is an all-day cafe in Soho where you can find vegetable-heavy things like crudite plates and big salads. Between the throw pillows and high probability of people wearing wide-brim hats, West-Bourne looks like it belongs in a very nice lifestyle magazine. But, of all the attractive all-day cafes in the city, this is one of the best. It’s not just pretty, you’ll want to eat this vegetarian food all the time.
We like the meat substitutes at this casual Chinese-inspired restaurant in Bushwick more than we do at most other vegan spots in the city. There’s a really good plate of sesame “beef” made of soy protein and some seitan bbq “roast pork.” Plus, the most expensive entrees cost $15, and the smaller dishes are well below $10. So in addition to the seitan and soy protein things, make sure to try some fried king oyster mushrooms with a batter that tastes like onion rings and wonton soup that might be the most flavorful vegetable version of this dish we’ve ever had.
The Chinese food at Amituofo is better than the stuff you’ll find at Buddha Bodai. But this place is BYOB and kosher, and it’s a good spot to know about if you’re vegan or vegetarian and looking to have a dinner in Chinatown. Get some spring rolls and mock duck noodles, and then go across the street to play arcade games at Chinatown Fair.
Loring Place is what you’d get if a Chili’s or TGIF grew up, decided to move to the West Village and eat more vegetables. The menu has things like pizza with squash blossoms, crudo, and pasta with mozzarella and lemon. 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.
Unlike a lot of vegan restaurants, Avant Garden avoids meat-substitutes. Instead, this tiny East Village restaurant just lets vegetables be vegetables, without making them pretend they’re somebody else. . What you get instead are some really great pasta dishes, cold starters, and toasts. If Williamsburg is more convenient to you, there’s another Avant Garden location there.
Angaar is a casual Indian restaurant on 73rd Street on the UWS where you can get some really good aloo gobi and a bunch of vegetarian curries. When you walk in, you’ll see roughly five tables and a staircase leading to the second-floor dining area. Which is just to say that we wouldn’t bring a huge group here unless you want to feel like you’re squished into a dollhouse. This place is great for a casual date or catch up with a friend who probably wants to ask you for advice about wedding planning. They also do a vegetarian lunch special during the weekdays where you get dal, two vegetable dishes, rice, and naan for $13.
Jajaja is a Mexican place on the same part of the Lower East Side where you’ll find Cervo’s and Kiki’s. Like those other restaurants, this place gets pretty busy - but the food here is entirely vegan. Jajaja makes 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.
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 cheesesteak with almond cheese. The whole place feels like the sort of spot where you would have hung out with some friends after high school, so stop by for a quick lunch or pick something up for a dinner that you’ll eat on your couch.
There will inevitably be a dinner in your future that Cookshop will work perfectly for. It might be a nice family thing with your pescatarian step-mom. Or a big date with someone who often lifts weights and makes their own nut butters. Or maybe even an intervention disguised as brunch with a friend. Whenever the time comes, know that Cookshop is a great go-to place in Chelsea for slightly nicer American food than your average dinner.
Shuka is run by the same team as Cookshop, but it’s much more casual and it’s in Soho, not Chelsea. Most of the dips, salads, and small plates at this Middle Eastern spot are vegetarian and cost around $10-15. So bring someone who feels good about splitting lots of things, especially your friend who will inevitably get jazzed about some pink hummus (it’s made with beets). You should know, however, that the mains here involve a lot of meat.
Champs serves food for that’s ideal three kinds of vegetarians: drunk vegetarians, hungover vegetarians, and vegetarians who are tired of salads. If Al Gore watched the Super Bowl (which, he probably does not), he would get his game day party snacks here. Get some mozzarella sticks, a burger, or a cheese steak. They’re all vegan.
Hartbreakers is from the same people behind Champs Diner, and it’s another great place to get some vegan food that won’t necessarily make you feel like a healthier person. This Bushwick restaurant specializes in big fried “chicken” sandwiches topped with things like ranch and cheese sauce, and we especially like the one with seitan bacon, vegan cheddar, pickled red onion, and cole slaw (called the Picnic Basket). There are also a couple of veggie burgers and a few salads - but just go the chicken sandwich route, and add a side of waffle fries. Order at the counter, then either enjoy your sandwich in the tiny, brightly colored dining room, or run home and eat it before the bun gets soggy.
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.
Bunna Cafe makes affordable Ethiopian food in Bushwick, and it’s all vegan. 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). Aside from the feast, we think you should try a vegan alcoholic milkshake or their spicy margarita.
Like Champs and Hartbreakers, Samudra is here to make vegetables less healthy. The menu at this Indian restaurant in Jackson Heights is fully vegetarian, and almost all of it involves fried things, potatoes, or fried potatoes. We really like the dosas, each of which is massive and costs around $7 or $8 dollars. Ask for the one filled with gobi manchurian (an entree made with spicy cauliflower) - it’s not on the menu but we promise they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
There’s pretty much no other restaurant in NYC like John’s Of 12th Street. This a classic Italian American spot in the East Village with huge portions, framed historical photos on the wall, and candles that have been burning mountains of wax for probably a hundred years straight (it opened in the early 1900s). But what’s different about this place is that there’s an entire menu dedicated to vegan options. So you can get your eggplant parm with vegan cheese and your in-laws can eat meatballs. If you’d rather avoid vegan cheese, we really like the lemon-y grilled portobello mushrooms with polenta and greens.
The food at Dirt Candy, a vegetarian restaurant on the Lower East Side, is exciting and inventive enough for a special occasion dinner - even if you or someone you love usually orders steak frites. Dirt Candy has two constantly-changing tasting menus: five courses for $65 and ten courses for $99 (including tip), both of which can be made vegan if you ask. Since the dishes change often, there’s no set menu and you’ll get to be surprised by things like a tower of vegetables and seaweed caviar, as well as Korean fried broccoli.
In an 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. Most things are in the $15-20 range, which means you can use it as your go-to weeknight spot or just hang out there on a weekend when you don’t feel like leaving the neighborhood.
Modern Love serves vegan versions of all the food that might make someone nostalgic for childhood (or the 1960s). For example, there’s 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 vegan because you heard that community ate better cheesy pasta.
There are more vegetarian options on Malai Marke’s menu than there are at most other Indian places in the East Village (as well as a full vegan section). All of the vegetarian food we’ve tried is really good, like a creamy chana masala and the vindaloo from the “spicy club” section of the menu. Make yourself a sticky note or maybe a permanent sign to hang in your bedroom as a reminder of this place. That way you’ll know where to bring your friends for a casual and fun dinner in the East Village (especially with a group of people who have different eating preferences).
Hangawi is a vegetarian Korean restaurant in K-Town where you check your shoes at the door. There’s no bulgogi or 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.
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 good. But the sides and the frozen desserts are the best things about this place. There isn’t much seating, so take your food to Tompkins Square Park.
For vegans and vegetarians, this a good place for a quiet sit-down meal without 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. If you’re downtown, there’s also a location by Union Square.
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. Just know that there isn’t much seating.
If you’re in Park Slope and need to make a lot of different people happy, we’d suggest going to Miriam and ordering a ton of their Middle Eastern dishes. You can get three mezes for $27, including things like falafel and roasted tahini cauliflower. Our favorite, though, are the bourekas (which come stuffed with spinach, leeks, and feta all in a garlic sauce).
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 usually a line at lunch.
Unless you’re an alien who cannot digest human food, you’ll find something to eat at Westville. 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 market 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).
If you ever go to a show at Brooklyn Steel, you should check out Selamat Pagi. This is a Balinese restaurant and about half of their menu is vegetarian (including some good papaya salad and pumpkin coconut curry). It’s also owned by the people behind Van Leeuwen, which means it’s beautiful and got more pastels than a dressed-up baby on Easter.