Remember when the very utterance of the word “vegan” would induce eyerolls and sighs among everyone at the table? Or when explicitly vegan and vegetarian restaurants were limited to words “Earth,” “Peace,” or “Buddha” in the name?
Being a vegan is no longer marginalizing. After all, New York City mayor Eric Adams is a proud vegan. So is Bill Clinton, Beyonce, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Madonna, RZA, and Stevie Wonder. Even Prince was a vegan.
Dirt Candy, the first sophisticated vegetarian restaurant in New York City, opened in 2008. It tempted carnivores. It still does today. And since then, a slew of other plant-based eateries have opened up, giving the New York City dining scene a legion of sophisticated vegan and vegetarian restaurant options.
In the 2020s, vegan dining is no longer limited to “hippie” or college towns like Asheville, Boulder, and Santa Cruz, CA. Here are the 15 best vegan restaurants in NYC.
Located at ABC Carpet & Home, Alsatian super chef Jean-Georges Vongrichten’s plant-based eatery is an excellent spot even for staunch carnivores. The menu isn’t strictly vegan, as some dairy pops up here and there. The Flatiron restaurant crosses borders serving up excellent mint-laced hummus, veg-filled dosas, and a pasta ragu made with mushrooms and walnuts.
Aunts et Uncles
Located in the heart of Little Caribbean in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens, this vegan spot made it onto many New York restaurant critics’ “best new restaurants of 2021” list. And for good reason.
The sweet potato porridge is worth the trek. So is the mashed green plantain mofongo. The menu doesn’t just stick to the Caribbean, as there are faux lobster rolls and tacos too.
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants don’t have to have punny names. But sometimes they do. As is the case with this East Village spot.
You won’t find any imitation meat on the menu here. There’s no pretending at Avant Garden. It’s straight up vegan fare and it’s done well.
The veg fare is presented in that fancy, somewhat minimalist way—like a place you’d take your parents to show them you’re all grown up now.
The Amharic word for “coffee,” Bunna is no ordinary Ethiopian coffee shop. This Bushwick vegan restaurant is one of the best Ethiopian eateries in the city.
First timers should get the Feast: seven different items, all laid out in front of you on a platter of injera, the spongy bread that is ubiquitous in Ethiopia. And yes, there is plenty of excellent Ethiopian coffee here for an after-meal pick me up.
The Butcher’s Daughter
The eatery serves up admirable takes on pesto pastas, pad Thai, and even carbonara using zucchini noodles and cauliflower pizza for vegans who are also gluten-avoiders too.
Vegan soul/Southern food? Yep.
This über-popular East Village eatery is helmed by chef Shenarri Freeman, who serves up instant non-meat/non-dairy classics like black-eyed pea garlic pancakes, Southern fried lasagna, and smoked grits. This is just good food that happens to be vegan.
Délice & Sarrasin
Located on Christopher Street in the West Village, it’s somehow easy to stroll by this jewel-box-sized spot and not notice it. That would be a mistake.
The Gallic-accented eatery makes incredible vegan-friendly crepes that are great any time of day. They have also expanded the menu to serve vegan takes on French classics like coq au vin, coquilles St. Jacques, and boeuf bourguignon.
Chef Amanda Cohen’s Lower East Side eatery seems like the root that helped blossom the dynamic vegan and vegetarian dining scene in New York City.
Cohen has a real talent for being able to coax out the flavor of anything that grows from the earth. Vegetables here are treated like A-list celebrities. The menu changes seasonally and, at the moment, it’s prix fixe only—$90 for a five-course tasting menu (an extra $50 if you want wine).
Eleven Madison Park
The vegan cause was sent swooning when Swiss-born superchef Daniel Humm announced that his über-lauded fine dining restaurant Eleven Madison Park would go totally vegan. And thus, it became the most expensive and the most heralded plant-based eatery on the planet. Ten courses will set you back about $335 (before wine), but it might be the most exquisite vegan fare you’ll ever treat your taste buds to.
The food offerings at 12-seat Lower East Side Fat Choy is so good that staunch carnivores wouldn’t miss meat for a second. They might not even think about the lack of animal protein in their meal.
This vegan Chinese restaurant has a short menu, so bring a few friends and order pretty much everything. It’s all good, including the buddingly legendary fried scallion-topped rice rolls.
Govinda’s Vegetarian Lunch
Everywhere from Prague to Rome to, well, India, there’s a Govinda restaurant. Owned and operated by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, otherwise known as the Hare Krishnas, this Downtown Brooklyn vegan restaurant (305 Schermerhorn St.) is in the windowless basement below a Hare Krishna temple.
The very affordable food is vaguely Indian and comes on orange plastic trays. Each day there are various offerings: pick at least three and then graze your way to culinary enlightenment.
It’s kind of hard to imagine eating Mexican cuisine without cheese. Then again, vegan cheese technology has come a long way since the ‘90s when it was un-melt-able and flavorless. Enter Jajaja (pronounced HaHaHa), a vegan Mex spot with locations in Two Bridges, Hudson Yards, Williamsburg and the West Village.
The nachos here are excellent and slathered in that (very good) fake cheese, plus there are satisfying takes on chiles rellenos and variations on the theme of tacos.
Head to the southwest corner of Washington Square Park around lunch time during weekdays and you’ll be met with a 50-person line. It all leads to Thuri Kumar and his legendary and lauded dosa cart.
This Sri Lankan dosa slinger whips up some of the best south Indian crepes outside of India. He’s become an iconic fixture in the park. Grab a dosa, park yourself on a bench, and commence your feast. And it’s all meat and dairy free.
Join the vegan cult at this awesomely named Bushwick vegan deli. Seitan’s Helper doesn’t necessarily worship seitan, the popular meat substitute, but expect to find it in its hedonistic sandwiches and wraps.
Veggie and faux meat-stuffed sandwiches include the huge Monstrosity, loaded with “ham,” “salami,” and “mozzarella.” It’s devilishly good.
Former punk rock drummer Brooks Headley was the pastry chef at erstwhile upscale Del Posto and then left his post to open this vegan burger place (119 Avenue A) in the East Village. It has caused a sensation, even among animal eaters, since day one.
It’s not just the burgers here that are great—various sides, like the burnt-broccoli salad, are fantastic. Easily one of the best vegan restaurants in NYC.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.