For the record, I’m not vegan. But like a lot of people my age, the more I’ve come to know about meat production and consumption, the less I’ve wanted to eat it. This new wave of eco-conscious millennials has given rise to a new kind of vegan—one that doesn’t sport socks with sandals or hemp dresses—and with it, the kinds of restaurants they actually want to eat at.
In LA, vegan restaurants have been catering to the health conscious for decades. Sun, sea and space led to a healthy living that’s been an integral to the city for decades, so when judging the best new vegan city in the world, LA doesn’t count. The grit and grime of the dense urban metropolis has been no place for the health conscious, be it in Hong Kong, Tokyo, London or Berlin. Trying to find a restaurant in any of those cities where the vegetarian option isn’t just a token—probably cheese-based—dish is like trying to catch Pokémon with no internet. But not in New York…
NYC is full of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Just to put it into perspective, there are nearly 1,000 spots across NY compared to around 400 in London, 240 in Hong Kong, 196 in Tokyo and around 80 in Paris and Berlin. And they’re not just winning on quantity. Michelin starred chefs have been throwing in the proverbial towel and going veg-only. Like John Fraser, the chef behind Nix – the all-vegetarian spot on the Upper West Side. Carpaccio and stir-fry appear throughout his menu, but there’s not an animal in sight.
In the Lower East Side, Amanda Cohen’s vegetable only restaurant, Dirt Candy, is booked out three months or more in advance. Its interior overhaul in October 2015 transformed her place into a sleek, meat-free restaurant that attracted crowds from Chelsea, the Upper East and locals alike.
The OG on NY’s vegan scene has to be Angelica’s Kitchen. Serving up plant-based cuisine since 1976, this spot is all about delicious and sustainable food. Angelica herself still holds down the kitchen, pushing out new dishes inspired by what’s seasonally grown 40 years on. But it wasn’t always this way. The likes of Angelica’s Kitchen have had to sit through decades of beef burgers and fries long before people started to get behind this kind of eating. And now even fast-food chains are catching on. Chloe Coscarelli and Samather Wasser’s fast food restaurant, by CHLOE, launched last year and is already NY’s fastest growing food joint with more locations in more cities opening monthly. Its 28-year-old co-founders have basically created Shake Shack for millennials, and catering for the growing number of vegans across NY and LA.
If you’re looking for fancy options, then the city has those in abundance too. Café Clover looks every bit like a Chelsea dining establishment, and nothing like a vegan café, but its menu is made up of healthy lentil, quinoa, sweet potato and avocado bowls that can be topped with your choice of tofu, fish or chicken. For upscale pan-Asian vegan food, look no further than Blossom Vegan who have also opened a number of spots across the city. The Chelsea location, inside an old townhouse, is always packed so book ahead.
Café 79 and Blossom du Jour both have Uptown locations and without heading up to Harlem it’s the best you’ll find in that part of town. In Harlem, no one does vegan soul food better than Brenda Beener, who stopped eating meat over 25 years ago. She opened Seasoned Vegan with her son, Aaron, after a pop-up at Lee-Lee’s Bakery kept the crowds lining outside for days. Her food riffs off the Southern-style food Beener knew growing up but the chicken, riblets and gumbo have all been replaced with vegetable-based versions.
In Brooklyn, not-overly priced vegan spots are abundant. M.O.B in Boerum Hill have live music and huge communal tables that spill out into the sun. At Dao Palate in Pospect Heights, the mix of Asian flavour influences and the Zen-like space make it one of the most popular spots in Brooklyn for meat eaters and vegans alike.
Maybe other cities just need to catch up with New Yorkers, let go of their “meat and two veg” mindset and start embracing the flavour and energy you get from food that is fresh from the ground. But chefs, from Michelin starred to street food vendors, should also be looking at how they can embrace nature more in their cooking and help shake off this old-school obsession we’ve all got with meat.
The Amuse Residency NYC was made possible by SIXTY Hotels