Over the past six years, I’ve had such fun exploring, sampling, and sharing with you all the amazing cruelty-free alternatives I’ve discovered. What better way to wrap things up — my 283rd and final piece! — than with an updated list of my faves here in my home of the Big Apple. As many of you know, I returned to the city a little over a year ago after spending the last nine years in Tucson. It’s been a remarkable homecoming in so many ways, not the least of which is having so many fantastic vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants just a quick walk or subway ride away.
Though lengthy, this list is by no means exhaustive of all the delectables available in NYC; and I don’t venture much into the outer boroughs, so I encourage you to explore options in these areas on your own. I’ll start with my absolute favorites, but I’m also including a long list of other possibilities, all places I visit and recommend. Places marked with an asterisk * are expressly vegetarian or vegan.
My New York City Faves
- Blossom on Columbus (Upper West Side)*
Thank goodness, our favorite neighborhood place reopened in its new UWS location last month. Since moving back to New York, my husband Seth and I have made this Blossom “our place” to celebrate the personal family moments: closing on the co-op, finishing the bar exam, etc. Alas, the spinach salad is no longer on the menu, but there’s a nice arugala dish; I also love the Southern Seitan Sandwich, which I usually have for dinner rather than one of the fancier entree options.
- Candle Cafe (Upper East Side)*
Candle Cafe, located on the Upper East Side was the very first of the Candle restaurants opened in NYC. It’s the most casual of the trio (Candle 79, Candle Cafe West and itself), but it’s my favorite. The Seitan Chimichurri starter is available here, and a must-have: there’s something so perfect about the bite-size chunks of seitan with the slightly tangy sauce. Couple this with one of the cafe’s awesome salads — I love the Crispy Cajun, which features oyster mushrooms along with roasted peppers and hearts of palm. I also love the Cajun Seitan Sandwich.
- The Butcher’s Daughter (NoLITA)*
On a sunny day or cool summer evening, sit outside; otherwise, grab a seat at the farmhouse table or countertop inside. A recent favorite from the seasonal lunch menu: a salad of baby spinach, cubed watermelon, cashew ricotta, and sunflower seeds. But the sandwiches here are all wonderful — try a deli-style Reuben on sourdough or the Vietnamese “Bahn Mi” with mushroom pate, seared cauliflower, daikon, and kimchi on a baguette (gluten-free baguettes available). A few other faves here: I highly recommend starting with a half-order (one slice) of the Smashed Avocado Toast. The avocado is smashed with curry, cilantro mustard seeds, and lime, and then drizzled with olive oil. SO good. For dessert, go light and try one of the new fruity popsicles: I love the Thai Breeze, a blend of mango, coconut, and red chili powder. On the dinner menu, I’m an unapologetic fan of the Potato Skins; I’ll split those with a friend and also share the plate of different spreads with crostini. And, if you’re not in the neighborhood around lunch- or dinnertime, you can still swing by for one of the excellent juices or elixirs. I like the Red 01 Simple Juice — anjou pear, beet, and ginger. The juices also are available in TBD’s adjacent little shop, which has vegan baked goods, teas, and other goodies to go.
- Angelica Kitchen (East Village)*
One of NYC’s oldest vegan establishments and, in my opinion, still one of the best places to go for a homestyle atmosphere and unfussy food. No reservations (be prepared to wait), BYOB. Each night, there are two specials — and I often will go for one of them. But my favorite is the Wee Dragon Bowl, a nice macrobiotic mix of greens and grains that I honestly crave if too much time passes between visits here. And I always finish off my meal there with a cup of the amazing Chai: in all its simplicity, it remains one of my favorite ways to treat myself — especially on a chilly winter’s night.
- Souen (SoHo)
Quiet, dimly lit, and elegant. Macrobiotic and seasonal dishes are the highlights, which aligns with my usual preference for “clean” food that leaves me feeling satisfied and energized. The Macro Plate is always delicious, but other favorites are the Yasai Itame — sauteed cabbage, carrot, broccoli, mung bean sprouts, and greens in a ginger sesame sauce — and the Kuzu Stew. Last time I was here, my non-veg friend went with the buckwheat noodles and loved them. other locations: East Village and Union Square
- Sacred Chow (West Village)
You’d never guess that such a lovely, unassuming place has some of the most creative tapas dishes in town. Even better: most of the tapas are gluten-free and soy-free. I cannot resist the Green Tapas — a mix of broccoli, collards, and kale; the Indonesian Tempeh features warm sauerkraut and Russian dressing; the root vegetable latkes are insanely delicious; and, if you’re not gluten-sensitive, try the Thai Ginger Seitan. I can’t think of a better place for date night, sharing a few of these tasty plates with your sweetie!
a little more upscale ($$$):
- Hangawi (Midtown/Koreatown)*
This spot is as much about the experience as it is about the absolutely fantastic Korean food. Take off your shoes and slip your legs beneath one of the low tables… Surprise! The heated sunken area will keep your feet nice and toasty as you enjoy your meal. The stuffed shitake mushrooms are amazing, and the stone bowl entrees are chock full of fresh, seasonal ingredients. However, for extra adventure — especially if you’re new to this type of cuisine — I recommend the four-course prix fixe for $55. The variety of pancakes you’ll get to try (i.e., leek, kimchi mushroom, and kabocha pumpkin with mungbeans) is worth it. Caveat: reservation well in advance is a MUST.
- Dovetail (Upper West Side)
On Monday nights, there’s a a vegetarian prix fixe (three courses and dessert) for $58, so get dressed up and soak up some fantastic ambience and great food here. In each course category, there is at least one vegan option, or a vegetarian option that the kitchen will tweak… just be sure to ask your server. Also, a great wine selection from the extensive cellar. Because this restaurant is located right around the corner from the American Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium, it’s a wonderful date night destination, if you and your sweetie are into hanging out with some dinosaurs or contemplating the cosmos before dinner.
- Franchia (Midtown, East)*
The sister restaurant to Hangawi is a much more casual dining experience, and great for either lunch or dinner. Lunch specials are $12 each, and you’ll get plenty of delicious food to satisfy the palate and recharge for the afternoon. The last time I had lunch here with a non-vegetarian friend, we each had one of the traditional Korean stone bowls. Mine was a mix of vegetables and “mountain greens”; she chose the Mediterranean Stone Bowl that comes with avocado, crispy eggplant, basil, and cous cous over rice. Vegan sushi rolls and noodle dishes are also good lunch options. For those of you into mock meats, the menu offers various “beef,” “duck,” “chicken,” and “shrimp” dishes, too.
- Hampton Chutney Co. (Upper West Side)
I’ve mentioned Hampton Chutney before, as one of the cool places to hit for lunch when in the Hamptons. But I’m also lucky enough to have one right here in my own Upper West Side neighborhood, so I don’t have to wait until summertime to enjoy my favorite spinach and mushroom dosa. I also like to take visiting family and friends here — something a little different from the usual lunchtime sandwich or wrap.
- Bareburger (Upper East, Upper West, Midtown, Greenwich Village)
Thanks to my (omnivore but vegan-curious) friend Bepko, I discovered one of the best vegan burgers in the city. Bareburger actually offers a few vegan burgers: Black Bean, Quinoa, and Mushroom — the Mushroom burger is my favorite. Add some vegan fixins and a side salad for the perfect casual lunch… or dinner. I’ve now been to three locations: consistently, a nice vibe along with delicious food. Great place to catch up with a friend over a bite.
- Beyond Sushi*
100% vegan sushi in the East Village, but there’s also an outpost at Chelsea Market, which is my location pick because it’s a straight shot downtown on the subway for me… and Chelsea Market is always fun to wander around when there’s a little time in the day (some takeaway treats from the One Lucky Duck, just a few steps away). And, while there’s a lot to be said for the wonderful simplicity of an asparagus roll, at Beyond Sushi, you can count on some amazingly creative combinations. I was just there a couple of weeks ago and had the September “Roll of the Month”: black rice, dijon-crusted roasted celery root, cucumber, and peaches with a blend of red cabbage, cilantro, and celery; the creamy sauce to top it off was a celery root puree with mustard seeds. Favorites from the regular menu of rolls: the Crunch N’ Munch and the Mighty Mushroom. For the perfect meal, pair your sushi with the Cucumber-Mint Lemonade. SO refreshing.
- Cinnamon Snail Food Truck*
Yes, it’s a food truck. It’s also been rated by places like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed as one of the top food trucks in the nation, and not just among vegan food trucks. The truck makes appearances at different locations in NYC, so you’ll need to check the Facebook page or Twitter for its exact whereabouts on a given day. And prepare yourself for standing line. But all agree, it’s so worth the wait: I’ve heard as much praise for CS from non-vegan friends as the diehard vegans. For lunch, try the Korean Seitan or the Thai BBQ Tempeh sandwiches. And don’t forget about those cinnamon buns; you’ll want to take one of those to go. They don’t call themselves the Cinnamon Snail for nothing. update 2016: no longer on the road, but now has a permanent spot at Pennsy, adjacent to Madison Square Garden.
- Caravan of Dreams (East Village)*
So much to love about this little East Village place. Brunch is served every day until 5pm. The Scrambled Tofu comes with capers, paprika, sauteed mushrooms and greens. More of a sweet-food brunch person? Try the Sourdough “Nutella” French Toast. (Note: If you’re in the hood around dinnertime, try the Paella or the Seitan Taquitos. For those of you into raw, my fave on the menu is the Pear Ravioli, filled with cashew kefir.)
- Blossom (Chelsea, Upper West Side)*
The Chelsea location is the original and most upscale of the Blossom restaurants, and the village-y building just oozes character. I had my birthday dinner here a couple of years ago, BUT I’ve returned again and again for brunch, specifically for the Blossom Benedict — my east coast answer to the Benedict at L.A.’s Real Food Daily (a must whenever I’m in town). The Benedict at the UWS location is slightly different — marinated tofu rather than steamed — so I’ve discovered a new fave when I’m staying closer to home for brunch, the Tofu Florentine. LOVE it. For you sweet-brunchers: Banana Pancakes in Chelsea, Quinoa Pancakes on Columbus.
- Candle Cafe West (Upper West Side)*
The newest member of the Candle family, right in our neighborhood. Our first year back in the Big Apple, we decided to have our Thanksgiving meal here — a top-notch multi-course dinner (pumpkin seed-crusted tempeh, pecan crusted seitan) with organic wine pairings for each course. And I even got to thank actress/writer Marilu Henner, who was having dinner with her family at the table next to ours, for introducing me to nondairy alternatives through her books, years before I thought about vegan. On any given day, CCW is a great place for lunch or dinner. The Seitan Chimichurri appetizer, available at Candle Cafe, is also on the menu here. Again, it’s a must-have. Melts in your mouth.
- Kajitsu (Midtown)*
We had an unconventional multi-course Christmas Dinner at this midtown restaurant last year. The Japanese shojin eight-course meal was pricey (and we added a sake pairing to the holiday meal, which also significantly increased the final bill), but the expense was SO worth it for a special occasion. A variety of exquisitely-presented small plates that each were an incredible little burst of flavors. For example, mochi and gingko nut wrapped in a lightly fried tofu pouch tied with a thread of nori. Hands down, one of the most enlightening cuisine experiences of my life. If you’re curious but looking for something a little lighter on the wallet, Kajitsu offers a four-course dinner for $55 per person.
- Grammercy Tavern (Grammercy Park)
A NYC classic that I enjoyed in my pre-vegan days and — eureka! — there’s a Vegetable Tasting Menu in the dining room (which the kitchen will tweak for vegans). So, still a terrific place to meet friends for drinks and — to stretch it into a long leisurely evening out — enjoy a delicious meal.
- Swing 46 (Midtown)
Happiness! This old-school jazz and supper club now has Vegan Lasagna on the menu. Guess where I’ll be having my next birthday celebration.
Other Noteworthy Vegan-Friendly Places
Upper East Side
Organic wine bar and bistro, and a member of the Blossom restaurant family. The long, narrow layout resembles my fave Candle Cafe, but it’s got a much swankier vibe. However, V-Note also makes a wonderful Wilted Spinach Salad, which makes it nice lunchtime stop for me when I’m in the neighborhood. In fact, whenever I’ve been here for a late weekday lunch, it’s super-quiet… I love it when I’m flying solo and just want to take a break with a good book.
- Candle 79*
The upscale dining experience of the Candle restaurant family. I had my birthday dinner here a few years ago, and it’s also a fave to take my omnivore friends to experience the glorious possibilities of vegan eating. Seitan Piccata is a favorite here.
Upper West Side
- Ayurveda Cafe*
Ayurveda, sometimes called the sister science of Yoga, aims to bring us into balance, and this includes a diet that balances the six tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, and pungent. Here at the cafe, whether you come for lunch or dinner, you’ll be served a circle of foods that each feature one of these tastes, in portion sizes that leave you satiated without feeling overstuffed. SO good. Lunch is $9.95 and Dinner is $13.95, which makes it also one of the best values in the city.
- Mill Korean
This place is such a popular spot in our neighborhood for lunch and dinner, and has been around for a long time. My husband and I are among the local regulars. I get the #2 Stone Bowl — hold the tofu, extra veggies. Before your meal arrives, the server will set you up with a tasting of four different starters, which always includes some tasty kimchi — just make sure you tell him/her that you need them all to be vegan.
- Absolute Bagels
It’s a family tradition: Sunday morning, no matter what kind of week we’ve had, the family sits down to a bagel breakfast together. “Everything” bagels with tofu cream cheese. Our pups split a plain bagel. Absolute, in our neighborhood (lucky us) may just be the best bagel in the city… with a line half way down the block come rain, sleet, or snow, to prove it. FYI: most bagels are vegan, and most bagel places in NYC now seem to be offering tofu-based cream cheeses.
- Peace Food Cafe*
I’ve been here for lunch and dinner — it’s always packed and always great energy. I like to order one of the seasonal specials for dinner. For lunch, I’m a fan of the Pan-Seared French Horn Mushrooms Panini. BUT. Whatever time of day, whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the vegan baked goods: they have a Raspberry Crumb Bar that is to die for. This, coming from someone who doesn’t even have a sweet tooth, is saying something. other location: East Village
- Hummus Place
I know, ubiquitous hummus hardly seems like something to get excited about in the vegan universe. However, this hummus really is something special, and the menu has some appetizers and sides that really round out the meal. My favorites here are the Roasted Cauliflower appetizer and the Mushroom Hummus entree. Pair with a nice glass of Israeli wine for the full Mediterranean experience.
- Dig Inn
Homestyle cooking with a seasonal, farm-to-table focus. Very casual place (think eco-cafeteria, complete with a crowd of Columbia students). A large Veggie Plate gets you a choice of grain and three sides. Although not entirely vegan, there are plenty of vegan warm and cold sides to choose from. I cannot resist the Shaved Roasted Brussels Sprouts when they are on the menu. Lately, it’s all about the Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower and the Roasted Beets with Pumpkin Seeds. For my grain, I ask for a split of brown rice and bulgur wheat. Locations throughout the city.
Upper Upper West/Harlem
My favorite Ethiopian place in New York since my Columbia University days. Not far from the Columbia campus in the Morningside Heights neighborhood, and close enough to our apartment to make it a popular “date night” choice for us. Order the Vegetarian Sampler for Two. I can’t get enough of those collard greens!
- Seasoned Vegan*
Looking for vegan soul food in NYC? This Harlem spot is the place. A recent combo meal that Seth and I split featured Pepper Steak Seitan, Mac and Cheese, Spicy Chicken, and Sauteed Broccoli. De-lish. Next time, just for kicks, I’m trying the Barbecue Riblets made from lotus root.
- Blossom Cafe on Carmine*
All the Blossom restaurants have different menus, so it’s worthwhile to point out this West Village location, a cozy little place that’s a good choice for either brunch or lunch or dinner. If you’re going for weekend brunch, there isn’t my favorite Vegan Benedict on the menu — I recommend the French Toast.
- Rockin’ Raw*
This raw vegan Peruvian Creole cafe takes me right back to an extraordinary trip I took years ago, wandering around on my own in the Andes. My favorite here is the Tallarines a la Huancaina, a noodle-like pasta with aji/nut cheese sauce, tossed with choclo (Peruvian corn), mushrooms, and peppers. It’s listed as spicy, but it was fine for me… and I’m usually someone who chooses a 4 whenever I’m asked how spicy I’d like my meal (out of 10). For starters, try the jalapeno poppers.
- by Chloe*
This vegan counter-serve is the happening place on Bleeker Street these days, but waiting in line is well worth it. I love the Spicy Thai Salad, but there are plenty of bowls and burgers to please the crowd. The Whiskey BBQ sandwich gets rave reviews. Additional location now in the Flatiron neighborhood on 22nd Street. (Lucky me, it’s just a few blocks from one of my yoga havens.)
- Red Bamboo*
Check out the menu and you’ll probably do a double-take. Coconut Chicken, Sizzling Pepper Steak, Quinoa with Salmon, Codfish Cakes, BBQ Ribs — am I in the wrong place? But it’s all made with delicious substitutes, so RB is a particularly good dining destination if you’re having a hankering for something from your pre-vegan days. But there’s also a bunch of entrees without mock meats: I like the Black Bean Vegetable Stir Fry. Also worth mentioning, a few months ago I attended a small fundraiser for Catskill Animal Sanctuary that was catered by Red Bamboo: Vegan Buffalo “drumsticks” with “bleu cheese” dressing were top-notch.
The location on St. Mark’s is long gone, but Dojo on W. 4th St. — just around the block from NYU’s Psychology building, my home for grad degree #2 — is still a happening place. About once a week during my NYU days, I’d have a bowl of miso and the veggie burger. Now, whenever I’m in the neighborhood I usually can’t resist a bite of nostalgia. My veggie burger is no longer on the menu (if it were, Dojo would definitely be in my Top Faves list), but there’s a Tofu Hijiki option for the burger-adventurous. Not in the mood for a little seaweed? Go for the soba or udon noodles.
- Quantum Leap
I’ll grab dinner here if I happen to be heading over to the weekly local blues jam on Bleeker. The Aloha Burger comes with grilled pineapple, soy bacon, and mango salsa. There’s also a terrific macro plate on the menu.
- Hummus Place
(see above in UWS section)
- John’s of 12th Street
John’s has been around since the early 1900s, and it retains its old world charm. The restaurant is next door to Angelica Kitchen: I’m convinced that John’s saw all the vegans, night after night, waiting for a table (no reservations at AK often means a small crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk) and decided cash in by creating a separate vegan menu. Good for them! It’s romantic, it’s cozy, and you can get an authentic Seitan Marsala or Piccata. More important, you can get a vegan cannoli. Save room for dessert. Or, if you’re eating dinner next door, stop in at John’s for a cannoli to go.
- Dirt Candy*
Before recently moving to a larger location, there was a two-month wait for a reservation. DC keeps it simple, using just a few fresh ingredients — no mock meats or processed vegan food here. The “Broccoli Dogs” are just what they sound like: two big stalks of broccoli in gourmet hot dog buns. For about $20. So, some may find it a little pricey for what comes on the dish, and I’m not entirely sure it lives up to all the hype. But it’s definitely worth checking out. A staple on the menu that I highly recommend: as a starter, the jalapeno hush puppies with vegan maple butter. And I’ve heard the “Chicken” (roasted cauliflower) and Waffles entree is pretty amazing.
It’s all about mac n’ cheese here, and this place was all the rage when it first opened years ago in the East Village. Hipsters, young celebrities… and vegetarian, pre-vegan me. You can get a “classic” or choose from a list of vegetables (or cheeses and meat options for the omnivores) to have baked into your personal-size skillet. How happy was I when I discovered a couple of years ago that S’MAC began offering vegan cheese as an option. Bake it up with some broccoli and roasted garlic, and I’m practically swooning. It also was a hit with my seven year-old nephew when he came to town. other location: midtown.
Pizza in TriBeCa! This little hole in the wall, just around the block from The Tribeca Grand, offers all kinds of pizza pies (and spirits), including a vegan pie with vegan cheese. A specialty is the Brussels Sprouts pizza: ask them to veganize it for you. Ridiculous delicious.
- Vegetarian Dim Sum*
In the heart of Chinatown, this place caters to vegetarians and vegans with a whole host of dim sum options. I’m not big into Chinese food, but I can eat here and not feel icky afterwards. My favorites are the Roasted Cabbage Buns (Seth goes for the “Pork” Buns), the Steamed Spinach Dumplings, and the Napa Cabbage Rolls. And something for my fellow NYers to keep in mind (benefiting from my recent experience): the next time you’re called for jury duty and looking for somewhere to spend your lunch break, it’s just a five minute walk from the courthouse.
- Angelo’s of Mulberry Street
You had to know I’d include a vegan-friendly place in Little Italy on my list! I first heard about Angelo’s when I was just a child from a dear family friend — and himself, an extraordinary cook. (Having come over on the boat when he was still very young, his stories about being a little kid in Italy fascinated me and, no doubt, planted the seeds for my decision to study in Rome during my college years). Give me a summer evening spent here sidewalk dining, practicing my Italian, savoring some amazing food and a good glass of vino! The Pappardelle Campagnole is a dream of a pasta dish with wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, and tomato — just ask them to substitute the pasta with one not made with eggs. Or, the Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (garlic and oil) is a lighter dish and always tasty; it’s even better if you ask them to add in some broccoli rabe.
- Maoz Vegetarian*
Falafel pitas are my favorite late-night or quick bite here in the city. What’s nice about Maoz is that it’s an all vegetarian place — so the falafel doesn’t share space with schwarma. I actually opt for the Falafel bowl rather than the pita, so I have lots of room for all the good stuff at the fixins bar.
(see above in East Village section)
- Blossom du Jour*
Blossom’s “fast food” lunch spot, with a few stools at a countertop if you decide to eat there rather than takeaway. There’s no question what I’ll get whenever I’m stopping in for a bite: The Little Italy sandwich is comprised of vegan meatballs and cheese, sauteed peppers and onions, and marinara. locations: Chelsea, Midtown, Upper West Side
- Fresh & Co.
Locations abound throughout NYC neighborhoods, but the one just a stone’s throw from Madison Square Garden is an ideal lunch spot for the midtown working crowd. There are three Bowls (you choose the base — Quinoa or Brown Rice) that are vegan, two of which feature Beyond Meat “Chicken.” I go for the Wild Ginger Bowl. If you prefer, build your own salad or go with a wrap. This place has something for everyone.
Specifically for Sweets
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I’ve sampled from the following places and recommend:
- Babycakes *(cupcakes)
- Lula’s Sweet Apothecary *(ice cream)
- Vegan Divas *(blondie brownie)
- Molly’s Cupcakes (vegan cupcake of the day)
- Dun-Well Doughnuts *(Brooklyn)
On a final note…
A big THANK YOU to all who have been reading along throughout the years, trying new products, and sharing with your family and friends.
It’s my hope that the Cruelty-Free Faves site will continue to serve as a resource — whether you’re a veteran vegan or someone just starting down the cruelty-free path by taking one step at a time, one meal at a time, one household product at a time. Remember you can always browse through the main categories; or, if you have something more specific in mind, use the keyword search to seek out new options. I hope you’ll continue to share the site with others as part of your own advocacy.
And let’s all keep an eye out for new cruelty-free alternatives: each day, there are new, exciting, and affordable products popping up. If you find something good, please share with the rest of us on the Cruelty-Free Faves Facebook Page. “Like” the page if you haven’t already so we can all stay connected!
Have you seen my new book, Stellar Vegan Salads yet?
Available now on Amazon and also for your iPad. Check out sample pages and order your copy today!