Zero-waste chef Max La Manna shares his favourite vegan eateries in New York City.
Love it or hate it, New York City has some of the world’s best restaurant destinations – and if you’re vegan you’re also in luck. Whether you already live in this overpopulated, hustle and bustle of a city or are visiting briefly to take in the sights and views, New York City has been infiltrated with an abundance of vegan restaurants that plant-lovers and carnivores alike must try.
Dining at ABCV is a true delight and an experience you don’t want to miss. It’s at the top of my places to go, but you may have trouble getting a table as it gets booked out months in advance. But if you’re lucky, you can try to sneak up to the bar and snag a seat. The immaculate white floor and pop of sporadic pink and yellow are strategically set in the concrete palace. The plateware is handmade and no two of the chandeliers are the same. Be ready to take your phone out and watch your Instagram dreams come to life because if Goop had a restaurant, this would be it.
Max Recommends: To start your experience (because it truly is an experience) try the green chickpea hummus and fall in love will hummus all over again. If you’re feeling out of sync, they serve a variety of medicinal tonics to help balance your hormones and energy levels too. The Avocado Lettuce Cups and Beetroot Carpaccio will be your number one most liked Instagram food post. Roasted Carrots, Nut Butter and Chili is a next level dish – remember when your parents would hand you a plate of carrots and peanut butter to munch on? Well this the adult version. Don’t forget to order the homemade Spinach Spaghetti, Garlic Crumble, Rocket and Lemon (but ask for no cheese).
If you ever find yourself in Chinatown, you’re not going to want to miss out on this. This restaurant has quickly won the hearts of many, including my own. Another difficult spot to get into unless you come early – so put your name down on the list and have a coconut coriander mescal cocktail at the bar (no straw please) while you wait for your long anticipated call. They don’t take reservations either, it’s first come, first served. The space holds about 30-40 people tightly, but it’s worth it for the food they dish up.
Max Recommends: Order the nachos – this dish is an absolute must. Beetroot and sweet potato empanadas will have you asking the server for another round, but be sure to ask for less salsa this time – I think they overdo it to be honest. Quesadillas are the go-to in this spot, especially with the coconut cheese pouring out in every bite. Mouth-watering dish after dish and I haven’t even mentioned the tacos yet! I love spice, and although my dosha (ayruveda) says I should minimise my intake of spice, I still go for the buffalo flower tacos – lightly battered cauliflower tempura styled, shredded carrots & celery and apple blossoms – it will have you coming back again and again. Oh, and I totally forgot the best part – mini churros and warm caramel sauce.
You may have to take a hike all the way to Bushwick, Brooklyn, but surely you won’t be disappointed by the simplicity that each dish has to offer at Bunna Café. On certain nights they have live music and a coffee ceremony. For a moment in time you will feel like you are removed from the craziness of Manhattan and transported to little Ethiopia. If you want an experience and a night of fun, please do go and afterwards there are a few dance spots nearby that offer late-night dance music to burn off those calories.
Max Recommends: This is an easy one because pretty much there’s one (massive) plate that you share from – order the feast size platter that offers nine options. If you are gluten-intolerant, don’t worry they have you covered. The warmed vegetable stew is packed with so many flavors and it sits on a massive table-size spongy bread called injera. If you want to experience the real way to eat this food, drop your knives and forks and eat with your right hand. This is customary. In the traditional setting, the first bite should be offered to the one who sits across from you or your loved one. Don’t be shy; you’re not really in Manhattan anymore.
Perhaps you’re looking for a quick bite to eat in SoHo or on the Upper East Side – this fast-casual plant-powered restaurant has you in and out in a jiffy. The simplicity of choosing your base (grains or greens), which is beautifully displayed in front of you, will bring you a sense of ease and comfort knowing that your food is being handled by the wait staff who wear white lab coats.
Max Recommends: I’m a DIY (Do It Yourself) bowl type of guy, so of course this gives you the freedom to create the perfect bowl for your Instagram story. Start off by choosing your base – (the professional move) tell the staff you want a mixture of quinoa and salad. Now, pick a topping – the vegan Bolognese or coconut curry peanut sauce are the best in my opinion, add 3 garnishes – seasonal vegetables, gentse kimchi, and root vegetables, and to top it all off – basil oil or saffron aioli.
The words ‘fun’, ‘sensual’ and ‘vegan’ typically aren’t found in the same sentence, but this Michelin star restaurant will have you thinking otherwise. Just south of Union Square, Nix is easy to miss, but keep an eye out for the neon orange lettering. Each dish is well thought-out and includes inviting flavours of ‘light’ and ‘bold’ in every bite. Now, this place isn’t entirely vegan (it’s mostly vegetarian), but most of the dishes can be modified.
Max Recommends: Nix offers a variety of seasonal dishes so I typically ask the bartender – because that’s the best place to sit in the house – “what’s on the seasonal menu?” The spiced eggplant, pine nuts is a great way to start this experience. Sweet potato & ginger dumplings, snap peas, miso & scallion oil, and spicy tofu, hedgehog mushrooms, kale & Szechuan pepper are highlights – from the presentation down to the last bite.
Beyond Sushi is beloved by many, especially by my non-vegan friends. Beyond Sushi definitely has expanded over the years and was one of my first vegan restaurants when I decided to make the change to plant-based living. It’s difficult to order at Beyond Sushi when you have a menu that is stacked with exceptional dishes, from the coconut curry or chili mushroom soup, to the “Smoky Tom” dumpling (sun-dried tomato, spinach, roasted onions and smoked butternut squash, topped with lemon toasted panko, sumac and parsley) and the “Spicy Shroom” wrap (baby greens, soba noodles, spicy bean sauce, enoki mushrooms, shiitake, portabella, pickled ginger and cashews) finished with a shiitake truffle sauce – good luck ordering!
Max Recommends: This is a tough one, but don’t worry it won’t be your last time visiting this spot. Coconut Curry Soup with asparagus and kaffir lime chips, Fun-Guy dumpling – Braised porcini, shiitake, portabella mushrooms, baked tofu and spinach, topped with micro arugula and chili toasted panko finished with a spicy bean and shiitake truffle sauce. Don’t forget to order sushi! Spicy Mang roll – black rice, avocado, mango and English cucumber topped with spicy veggies. Whatever you order from Beyond Sushi will leave you and your tastebuds happy.
BONUS ROUND: GENERAL DEBS
This is not a vegan restaurant, but its has a plethora of dishes that are made vegan on the menu. They don’t advertise to be vegan by any stretch of the imagination, so be vocal with your server about your food choices.
Max Recommends: I love the simplicity of each dish. The inviting flavours explode in your mouth with every bite. To start I recommend the smashed cucumber, garlic, sesame, dill. Wood ear mushrooms, red onion, coriander, black vinegar. Sweet and sour eggplant, pickled chili, Sichuan peppercorn, coriander. The stir-fry long beans and garlic. And, of course, the Chinese broccoli – these are just the small plates!
On to the noodles: Regan Mian, sesame, pickled vegetables, black vinegar and the Dou Hua Mian, soft tofu, chili, scallion. And for the main, the one and only – Kung Pow Cauliflower, peanuts, chilli.