Munching my way around the Big Apple…

New York, New York. A sleepy little city bursting with glittering lights, towering skyscrapers, steaming hot dog kiosks, next level coffee, cool-as-fuck hipsters and like, a whole bunch of brilliant vegan food joints with serious VIBES. I paid my first visit a few weeks ago, and it did not disappoint. In between all of the action, I managed to eat some decent stuff; so here is my round-up of some of the best vegan shizzle in town.

Beyond Sushi, Chelsea Market
75 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

When a foodie dies (and goes to Heaven), they end up in Chelsea Market, the food court-cum-Mecca that houses the crème de la crème of New York food traders and casual dining. And they will never run out of divine things to eat—even if they don’t make it out of The Lobster Place (my GOD there was a lotta lobster to be had in that hall of dreams… lobster rolls, lobster bisque, fresh lobster, lobster sashimi). I realise none of that is remotely vegan so I will leave it riiiight there…

Beyond Sushi, however, boasts an all-vegan lineup of insane sushi to take-away. This is no joke. Each roll is made to order and meticulously crafted out of a handful of perfectly-chosen ingredients and topped off with its own specific accompanying sauce. Every detail is crazy-on-point; for example, their signature six grain rice is a blend of red rice, short-grain brown rice, black rice, rye berries, hull-less barley and pearl barley. That also means slow-releasing energy vs. the short-lived spikes from sticky white rice (which is looking so basic right now).

There are nine varieties on the menu, and you get six pieces per roll for $6.95. (The store also sells individual made-to-order pieces, as well as salads, wraps and soups; but the rolls looked good enough on their own for my lunchtime indulgence).

I perused the menu, and put in an order for Mighty Mushroom (six-grain rice, enoki, tofu, shiitake, micro arugula & shiitake teriyaki sauce) and Spicy Mang (black rice, avocado, mango, cucumber, spicy veggies & toasted cayenne sauce). After making my order, I quizzed the guy behind the counter on what the best combos were. He told me that Mighty Mushroom and Spicy Mang were indeed the best thing on the menu. Now either I have impeccable taste, or he was working his NYC charm (and definitely not trying to butter me up for a bigger tip).

I think you’ve got the message by now that this sushi was pretty special: each mouthful was a true “taste sensation” if there ever was one. It made me mourn all the average avo & crab rolls that ever existed and never got to know true sushi greatness.

Whilst we’re on the subject of sushi-kind, did you know that vegan sushi is still ‘real’ sushi? Sushi means rice cooked in vinegar and not raw fish. And skipping the fish means you get to sleep a little easier knowing you are doing the eco-friendly thing. (It’s uncomfortable reading, but if you were served a plate of fish sushi & sashimi alongside all the sea creatures and animals that had to die to get it to your belly, the plate would have to be 5 whole feet wide).

Back to Beyond Sushi. Just seriously go to one of their three locations if you ever go to New York City.

5/5 Big Juicy Apples.

Things to do in the ‘hood: Chelsea Market (obvs), boutique browsing in SoHo, bar hopping in the Meatpacking district, The Highline Park/urban renewal project.

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Chipotle
Everywhere

Chipotle probably doesn’t belong on this list—with its meat-tastic menu and USA ubiquity—but I needed something quick, filling and cheap before a dance class in a part of town that wasn’t overflowing with cutesy vegan bistros. So I got stuck into my first Chipotle experience.

In the U.S. at least, Chipotle is surprisingly vegan-friendly, since the addition of Sofritas to their list of proteins. Sofritas is/(are?) organic shredded tofu smoked with chipotle chillis, polblanos and their signature spices. Firm and flavourful, the fact that it’s not meat is arguably undetectable when added to your burrito/taco stuffed full of other tasty ingredients.

I went for three soft corn tacos, filled with black beans, coriander-lime rice, tomato salsa, guac (who can resist heapings of guac?), romaine lettuce and the afore-mentioned Sofritas. Aside from the taco formation, the combo of rice, beans, veggies and tofu is what I would eat for dinner on the reg; so it was quite a safe bet for me. I have to admit, I was expecting to feel more satiated and glowing than a heavily pregnant and oiled-up Mariah Carey (thanks to this Meme)—and this wasn’t that.

But it’s worth a stop if you’re all outta veg options… plus the chain’s provenance and sustainability credentials are supposedly very good (despite being marketed the fuck out of). I wish other fast food chains would take a leaf out of their book in this department.

2.5/5 Basic Bitch Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood (Union Sq branch): Union Square night market, Wholefoods, Peridance Dance Centre.

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Champs Diner
197 Meserole St, New York, NY 11206

If you are vegan you will certainly know the struggle that is eating out with your non-vegan pals. It goes something like this: 1) you sit down, and quickly scan the menu for anything not containing meat, then 2) wonder what substitutions you can make for the ricotta/feta/cream/other unescapable dairy perpetrator, 3) feel like you’re being the biggest douche by being fussy and asking the waiter to go off-piste and 4) end up with a sorry-looking plate of rice and vegetables. Or you go to a vegan/veggie restaurant, which obviously delivers on the food part, but can be a little lack-lustre (or at least predictable) in terms of the setting and ambience.

Champs in Brooklyn made my life because it is a classic American diner, with cute retro booths, a checker-board floor, 1950’s Sundae glasses, a jukebox and a classic American diner menu… but everything is 100% vegan. 100% I say! So browsing the incredibly extensive menu was akin to being a kid in a candystore with a crisp $20 in your pocket and a serious thirst for sugar. We’re talking 8 different types of pancakes, 5 types of waffles, enchiladas, mac n cheese, salads, philly cheese steak, chili, wings, burgers, sandwiches, ice cream floats, milkshakes, sundaes, pie and veggie/grain bowls. All with clever vegan meat subs (well, apart from the desserts – ain’t nobody wanting pulled pork on their banana split). Suffice to say I was very excited to have so much choice because this pretty much never happens.

I probably should have jumped on the theme a little more and gone for a stack of waffles with chick’n, melted butter and syrup, but I was feeling wholesome and opted for the Soltero Bowl—crumbled chorizo, garlic sautéed kale, quinoa, onions, mushrooms with chunks of potato and smothered in sour cream. My friend went for another awesome bowl containing a shit tonne of mac n cheese (as well as some veggies etc.). Both dishes were as delicious as they were bountiful and set us up nicely with enough fuel for our long cycle around Brooklyn.

The best part is this is for sure somewhere that carni and herbivores alike can get on board with (my meat-loving friend gave it a big thumbs up and she is not usually very complimentary of vegan fare). This is just the ultimate all-day, lazy brunch spot.

4.5/5 Golden Delicious Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood: rent a bike and cycle over Brooklyn Bridge, take some amazing photos @ DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) have a wander around Williamsburg checking out the coffee shops & thrift stores (hipster central), Artist & Fleas vintage & craft market.

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Dunwell Donuts
222 Montrose Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11206

Dunwell Doughnuts is located on the road parallel to Champs, so try and save a tiny bit of space for a donut or two after your epic brunch. Or you can do what I did, and take a selection for later and carry it around in your bike basket all day.

So here’s the thing: Dunwell Doughnuts make… ALL VEGAN DONUTS. This is not a drill. They don’t even overly-advertise the “vegan-ness” of the donuts, they just make some of Brookylyn’s finest donuts (200 rotating varieties) that happen to be vegan. Okay, I’m going to stop saying donut now because I’ve said it plenty, even though you can never have too much of a good thing, right? ;-).

The shop itself is a dark respite full of ornate antique furniture and dark-paneled wood; more like a Victorian apothecary than a place to get America’s favourite dunkable baked good. The flavours are pretty cool: s’mores, key lime, orange-pistachio, crystallized ginger and PB&J. You can of course get a cup of Joe to go with your order: fancy French-press coffee is here to satisfy all your caffeine needs.

I only ordered one (“why oh why?”, I lamented later), a classic maple-glazed bad boy. Which was sticky, springy and very more-ish. Kind of like crack a Krispy Kreme but with more substance and fluffier. I polished it off beneath a giant twinkly Christmas tree in Downtown Manhattan (after cycling over the bright pink and graffiti-ied Williamsburg bridge by sunset!), feeling very high on life and maybe some of that sugary goodness too. Highly recommended.

4/5 Apple Pie Donuts

Things to do in the ‘hood: See Champs above.

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Hale and Hearty
Multiple Locations

Hale and Hearty is a New York chain with over 30 locations to boot, specialising in chunky, comforting soups and mammoth salads. The place itself is all no-frills and speedy service, but the food carries its own and ten dollars will get you a nutritious and filling lunch. Which isn’t bad in a city where a latte will set you back $5.

The menu has plenty of veg and vegan options, and the emphasis is on slow-cooked one-pots and warming soups packed full of veggies and pulses, such as the Bourbon Butternut Bisque, Ten Vegetable soup or Three Lentil Chili. I sidled up to the salad bar and picked several ingredients (avocado, edamame, mixed leaves, carrot, quinoa, walnuts, cherry toms, seeds. carrot & ginger dressing) which were then tossed and finely diced and served in a take-out container. Portions were NYC-sized (i.e., big) and I couldn’t finish my salad despite it being very yummy. Nothing to really write home about, but I do really wish there was one of these branches on every corner in Amsterdam.

3/5 Grated Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood (Hudson Street branch): 9/11 Museum & Memorial, Century 21 Department Store

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Jungle Café
996 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

Saving the best for last because Jungle Café is LIFE and life is Jungle Café.

I was in the Greenpoint neighbourhood visiting my friend Grace (who is a total Brooklyn babe!) and she suggested we go to one of her favourite haunts, Jungle Café. Now, Greenpoint is perhaps a little off the trodden tourist path, but it is definitely worth a visit if time permits—if not for the perfect blend of bijoux-grunge buildings (industrial warehouses meet charming coffee spots, such as Café Grumpy where Lena Dunham’s Hannah from Girls worked), fucking fantastic panoramic river views (all that pollution makes for a better sunset don’t ya know!) then for Jungle Café alone. I basically knew I was in the right place when I saw a sandwich board suggesting it was about time I tried a broccoli taco. (I still didn’t though).

What is so great about Jungle café? It is another all-veggie, mostly-vegan find, with an à-la-carte menu as well as the mother of all-u-can-eat vegan buffet. It is the latter where it really comes into its own, as you may have guessed. Tray after tray of vegan amazingness: ground meatballs, tofu-tumeric scramble, rice cooked to perfection, so.many.curries, sprouted lentils, tender-cooked bok choi, spinach and cashew lasagna, marinated kale, Bombay potatoes, buckwheat pancakes, blueberry coulis.

If that wasn’t good enough, all the food is also sugar free and gluten free. You really can eat as much as you want because it is all plant-based and bursting with nutrients and therefore so freakin’ good for you! I think I tried just about everything over the course of four trips to the buffet (yep, four… the fourth trip was just embarrassing!).  For the set price of $16.50, I had enough food to tide me over for brekkie, lunch and dinner. I really challenge anyone to find more amazing vegan food for this price.

The café itself blended well into the rest of Greenpoint, brightly-coloured, unpretentious and clearly well-loved amongst the local crowd. On one wall was a photo collage of famous veggies, everyone from Gandhi to Pammie A; Johnny Depp to Lisa Simpson. And when one of our party ordered a hot chocolate, the waitress came over to explain how they’d spent ages finessing the ratios of cacao, coconut oil and cashew milk to make it the silkiest, richest cup of coco in town. (I had a sip, she spoke the truth). They also had an extensive range of juices and smoothies, but after stuffing my face I couldn’t really fit anything else in, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume those are awesome too.

Oh Jungle Café, it doesn’t get much better than this, and I will be dreaming of you forevermore <3.

5/5 Awesome All-u-can-eat Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood: finally trying that god damn broccoli taco, take in the views of Manhattan over the water, catch a hipster art fair.

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Thank you, New York. Until next time…

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