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There’s a new guard of vegan restaurants in New York

Tonburi, aka seed caviar, at Eleven Madison Park. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Gary He

Pulled pork sandwiches. Lobster rolls. Fish tacos. Almost any dish you can think of has gone vegan courtesy of an enterprising cook. And if that plant-based version doesn’t exist today, someone is undoubtedly working on it for tomorrow.

It’s a dynamic time for the global market for plant-based foods, which is projected to reach $166 billion by 2030, up from $29.4 billion in 2020, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. In New York, chefs are bringing new energy to vegan food options. With more than 1,400 restaurants and food venues offering vegan dishes, according to Tripadvisor data, New York City is ranked among the top destinations in the U.S. for plant-based foodies, a study by Meal Delivery Experts shows. Mayor Eric Adams is likewise pushing for a more plant-based diet at schools.

When Eleven Madison Park went all-vegan last year, it thrust the philosophy into the spotlight and got everybody talking about whether they would pay several hundred dollars for a meal without meat. Now, tasting menus and other meatless options are multiplying – and, at much lower price points, more accessible for those who are vegan-curious.

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The city’s newest, most high-profile cheerleader for plant-based food is Pinky Cole. The founder of the irreverent, Atlanta-based chain Slutty Vegan is opening her first outpost in the five boroughs on Sunday in Brooklyn. Its best sellers include the “One Night Stand,” an overstuffed vegan burger with bacon, cheese and caramelized onions. “New York is a melting pot for food,” Cole said. “Veganism has a permanent place in this race.”

Collard green wraps, and mushrooms and waffles at Cadence in the East Village. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Clay Williams

New Yorkers can currently find vegan food across a range of cuisines: Spicy Moon offers meatless Sichuan dishes, while Caribbean Aunts et Uncles in Flatbush has used hearts of palm to replace seafood in a remake of a classic bake and saltfish.

“We’re at a point where there is so much awareness of different cuisines and culturally rich foods,” says Ravi DeRossi. He’s the chief executive officer and founder of Overthrow Hospitality, which includes the popular soul food restaurant Cadence and the upcoming raw, vegan tasting menu spot Rabbit. People are becoming aware of how unsustainable their eating habits are, powering the market, he says. “It’s this simultaneous awareness and rejection that births innovation – taking things we know and creating them in a new way,” he says.

Amanda Cohen, who has been preaching the virtues of vegetable-based cooking since she opened Dirt Candy in 2008, is invigorated by the new guard. “For years, vegan and vegetarian restaurants were treated like evil stepchildren in the food world, and it’s about time that they take their rightful spot on the dining scene,” she said. “Some of the most exciting food in New York City is coming out of these kitchens.”

Here are 11 of the most notable restaurants to go beyond meat in New York City. Let the earthy journey begin.

Lounging at Aunts et Uncles in Flatbush. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Clay Williams

Cadence

This spring, the soul-food restaurant moved to relatively spacious new digs three times the size of its former sliver of a dining room, and decorated with plants and colorful, plushy seating. Chef Shennari Freeman also expanded the menu; along with her standards like potato salad and Southern fried lasagna, she’s added crowd-pleasing waffles topped with crispy fried oyster mushrooms; and collard greens wrapped around succotash in a miso broth. The new cocktail menu celebrates Black performers, with options like Mahalia’s Gospel, a mix of passion fruit, verjus and the apple-flavored aperitif pommeau de Normandy.

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Aunts et Uncles

Is it a bookstore or a plant shop or a lifestyle brand or an all-day (and sometimes late into the night) cafe? Actually, it’s a little of all of the above. Shirts and sweatpants hang from clothing racks next to coffee-table books in the front half of the space, but in the back is a party: Try the “Cryin Ryan,” which is roasted cauliflower topped with a spicy peanut sauce. Owners Nicole and Michael Nicholas do wonders with the texture of hearts of palm, disguised as a lobster roll in one dish and in the “bake and saltfish,” in which it’s sauteed in tomato and peppers and then stuffed into a freshly made bake.

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Double Zero

Sure, veganism is cool, but Gen Z still loves pizza. Enter Double Zero, a plant-based concept in the East Village, a mere eight-minute walk away from Cadence, that has menu categories called “Pizza,” which use cashews to make a tempting alternative to mozzarella, and “Not Pizza,” which are gluten-free. Sneaky good are the pastas, particularly the linguine arrabbiata, in which shiitakes take the place of bacon, and the pappardelle bolognese.

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Spicy Moon

The newer West Village outpost of the Sichuan restaurant is decorated with neon lights and beaded curtains and has the feel of a karaoke bar. Among the popular selections: dan dan noodles; vegetable wontons in chili oil; mapo tofu; and scallion pancakes. For many of the dishes, the spice level can be adjusted from one to nine. Save the chili oil from wontons and dip the pancakes in. The restaurant also sells jars of vegan chili oil (about $9) and spicy mayo ($15).

Millennial pink is the backdrop of Spicy Moon in the West Village. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Clay Williams

Ras Plant Based

Boldly colored murals decorate this Crown Heights restaurant, which offers a new take on Ethiopian cuisine like sambusas and tender mushroom “tibs.” Named after the largest market in the country, the mercato platter ($20) contains tangy Injera bread served with five individual dishes including slow-simmered red lentil stew, string beans with caramelized onions, creamy ground chickpeas, spiced cabbage and steamed collards. The piassa platter, named after one of Ethiopia’s oldest towns, is milder and consists of dishes such as savory beetroot, crunchy zucchini and yellow split pea. On a weekday night, the dining room and the outdoor patio are filled with pop music.

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Willow

This classy Chelsea boîte buzzes with romance, both between cocktail-clinking couples and for the upscaled meat-free menu (and banana pudding). Willow is most novel in its exploration of seafood – not surprising from the folks behind Beyond Sushi – where jackfruit “crab” cakes and New England “clam” chowder made with oyster mushrooms deliver spot-on re-creations of flavor and mouthfeel. But it’s the celebration of seitan that is most promising, whether in a strong (if not exact mimic of a) pastrami sandwich or in straightforward dishes like Porcini Chick’n Marsala and Lemon Pepper “Steak” that glorify the vegan staple rather than chop, crumble or disguise it.

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Planta Queen

The restaurant in Flatiron serves Asian-influenced food from sushi rolls and gyoza to udon noodles and wonton soup. The two-floor dining room sports a modern interior, dotted with tropical plants, with gentle, warm lighting. One of its most popular dishes, bang bang broccoli ($13.75), is breaded, fried and dipped in sweet chili and peanut sauce. The avocado and ahi watermelon filled spicy “tuna” roll ($15.75) has an additional hit of sweetness from toasted coconut. The udon noodle bowl ($25.50), a truffle and mushroom explosion, can quickly fill you up.

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Belse

New York’s largest fully vegan restaurant (200 seats spread over 11,000 square feet of whitewashed brick) feels like a plant-based answer to the Smith, the rowdy local chain of American brasseries with easy-pleasing menus geared toward groups. Share some apps, especially the grilled Caesar and charred broccolini with spicy chipotle aioli, a seasonal flatbread or two like mushroom pesto or Beyond Meat sausage fennel, and order a round of drafts from Belse’s on-site brewery and you have yourself a night – or brunch. Save room for the olive oil cake.

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Jerrell’s Betr Brgr

The vegan burger wars have been won, and the title belongs to Jerrell’s Betr Brgr. From lunch till late (4 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 a.m. otherwise), this sliver of a window-service kitchen in west SoHo slings a hyper-focused, 100% plant-based fast-food menu – burgers, waffle fries, oat milk soft serve and shakes – that will win over the most dedicated consumers of cow. The Supr Betr ($16), made with two Impossible patties and all the fixin’s (plant-based bacon, chili, jalapeños), is a glorious mess of a gut bomb and one of the city’s best cheeseburgers, period.

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Terms of Endearment

This Williamsburg bakery is a neighborhood gem where yogis and Brooklynites taking morning strolls go for a little pick-me-up. Behind the glass counter lay stacks of cookies, sheets of cinnamon rolls and rows of cupcakes. An olive oil cake sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with blackberries, lemon wedges and halved strawberries adorn a cake stand. Its menu contains everything from an egg sandwich and lox to omelette and salad. Served on a plain croissant, the B.A.L.T. ($13.50) is a mix of greens, sliced avocado, tomatoes, crispy plant-based bacon and Thai chili aioli.

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Le Botaniste

Billed as the only organic, plant-based and carbon-neutral restaurant in New York City, Le Botaniste has four locations in New York: Upper West Side, Midtown East near Grand Central Station, Soho, and its first location on the Upper East Side, which has so much 19th-century apothecary art and plants inside it first might resemble a flower shop.

But the food, served counter-style, removes any doubt: For lunch there’s a delicious soup of the day, which you can also pair with a half-portion of any bowl, whether the Vegetable Tajine, with quinoa and potatoes in a Moroccan vegetable stew; or the Tibetan Mama, with brown rice, coconut peanut-butter curry sauce and steamed greens. The best one, however, might be the Spicy Chili Sin Carne, a fortifying bowl of brown rice, three different kinds of beans, quinoa, its own non-meat chili, turmeric onion and sour cream.

Le Botaniste on the Upper East Side. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Clay Williams

JaJaJa

Walk into one of this growing chain’s four locations in New York, either the Lower East Side, the West Village, Williamsburg or Hudson Yards, and you may be taken aback by the playful take on Mexican food and warm, bright interiors by Clear Studios – light-years away from the stereotypical color palettes you might expect of vegan restaurants. The street taco section of the menu surprises, too: The Crispy Pescado uses a hemp and flax-battered piece of chayote squash, topped with a round red onion, to do a fine impression of a piece of fried fish wrapped in a tortilla. The desserts shine as well: A Coconut Leche Pie, made of cashews, almonds, vanilla, and dates, is a revelation. There’s also a small but sturdy selection of beer and mezcal cocktails, as well as a white wine from Mexico and a delicious cava from Spain.

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