Kenji's Top 10 Vegan Bites in Manhattan
Another year of The Vegan Experience has come and gone, and to be honest, it always leaves me a little bittersweet. On the one hand, it's great to be able to not have to explain myself when I order vegetables for dinner or abstain from hitting that new burger joint. On the other, it's admittedly a bit of a relief to be able to give into that pizza craving now and then. And even though I don't actually eat much of the end-results, it's undeniably fun to cook with meat, and man, do I love the smell of a house filled with the aromas of a pot of stock slowly simmering away on the back burner.
This year I focussed almost exclusively on developing new recipes, and I'm proud of the new batch of 25, particularly this roasted chickpea salad, my vegan nachos, a hearty mushroom bolognese, and these mushroom "bacon" bits. It did mean that I had very few opportunities to go out and eat, but I tried to make the best of it when I did.
Here's where I did so, my ten favorite vegan bites and restaurants in Manhattan. For more vegan eating out advice, be sure to check our full guide.
The Curry Mixed Vegetable Casserole in Clay Pot From Nyonya
At $12.95, the Mixed Vegetable Curry at Nyonya may seem a little pricey compared to their under-$10 lunch specials, but it's huge—easily big enough to feed two or three with a side of rice. It arrives at your table in a big clay pot, chunks of tender eggplant, broccoli, and cabbage poking up through the rich and aromatic coconut-based curry broth. Poke around in there and you'll find other vegetables hidden underneath the surface—carrots, bok choy, chunks of fried tofu, and tender nuggets of taro root.
The Vegetarian Shoyu Ramen From Ivan Ramen
The Vegetarian Shoyu Ramen ($13) at Ivan Ramen makes as good a case as any that ramen doesn't have to be packed with pork to be soul-satisfyingly delicious. The buckwheat noodles come in a strong stock flavored with mushroom and seaweed along with a slick of what chef Mike Bergemann calls "vegetable fat,"—oil flavored with their house soffrito and seaweed.
The Mushroom Larb from Somtum Der
All of the spicy larb salads at Somtum Der are mighty tasty, but the tastiest of the lot happens to also be available vegan. The Mushroom Larb ($8) comes packed with slices of king oyster mushroom, toasted puffed rice, and peppermint in a fiery dressing.
Anything from Dirt Candy
Ok, so ti's not easy to get into Dirt Candy, chef Amanda Cohen's hole-in-the-wall East Village vegetarian restaurant, but if you're lucky to nab a seat, you're in for a treat. She works wonders with vegetables that still haunt my dreams, and the best part? Everything on the menu can be made 100% vegan.
The Monday Night Vegan Menu at Dovetail
Who knew that hiding behind the small door next to the Upper West Side Shake Shack is one of the most elegant little restaurants in the city? All of the food at Dovetail is top-notch, but hit it on a Monday night and you're in for a special treat, as the mostly vegetarian chef John Fraser puts together a mostly vegetarian prix-fixe menu packed with vegan options like a Brussels sprout and roasted squash salad with puffed wild rice and sunflower seeds, or smoked, seared, and puréed cauliflower. It's easily one of the best vegetarian meals I've had in the city. If you've been extra good, go for the wine pairing and prepare to be both surprised and delighted.
The Vegan Square from Prince Street Pizza
Ok, so chances are nobody is going to ever order the Tomato Square Pie from Prince Street Pizza, no matter how good it is. Why? Because it's available only by the whole pie, and it costs a whopping $40—that's $5 a slice; Di Fara-level pricing.
But let me tell you: for a vegan with a pizza craving, it's worth every penny. No cheese on this guy, just piles and piles of excellent whole tomato marinara with more than a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and basil, all on their crispy-on-the-bottom, pillowy, thick square pizza crust.
Vegan Soba and Fresh Tofu from Cocoron
With over a half dozen vegan noodle options on their menu made with seaweed broth, perfect buckwheat noodles, and a variety of toppings, Cocoron should be the first stop for vegetarian noodle lovers. But here's a secret: the homemade silken tofu is even better than the noodles. Smooth, creamy, and fresh, it comes simply with grated ginger, scallions, nori, and a touch of soy. You'll never look at tofu the same way again.
Falafel Sandwich from Taïm
I'm not sure what I can say about Taïm other than to reiterate what we've said before: they make the best falafel sandwich in the city. Made with fried-to-order balls of falafel in your choice of three flavors (go for the harissa), the balls are stuffed into a warm, charred pita filled with cabbage, Israeli salad, tahini, pickles, and—if you ask for it—s'rug, their fiery herbal hot sauce. You'd be a fool not to ask for it.
Zucchini Bruschetta with Cashew Cheese from The Butcher's Daughter
I've always been a little intimidated to go into The Butcher's Daughter. It's sort of like walking into a biker bar, except instead of burly bearded bikers, you've got skinny, fashionable, pretty-folk who are served less in a meal than I typically eat in a bite. But a meal here can be quite satisfying if you order right. The best things are their soups, their a-little-too-dry vegan burger, and their roasted zucchini bruschetta with cashew ricotta that was so rich and creamy I swore they got it from one of the Little Italy dairies down the street.
The Tasting Manu at Kajitsu
Want to impress your date/mother/in-laws/meat-loving brother/[INSERT ANYONE HERE]? Take them for a tasting menu experience at Kajitsu. Yes, it used to be better when it was at its old East Village location, but even at the new midtown digs, it ranks as one of the best restaurant experiences I've had in New York period, vegan or not. Every detail from the exquisite serviceware to the found-in-nature decorations ooze Japanese-ness, and it's one of the few restaurants in the city serving vegan cuisine that has a centuries-old cultural heritage.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.