When I was living in Boston last year, I worked in a horrific vegan/vegetarian restaurant where everything was deep fried, loaded with salt, shoved into massive pitas, and despite all those efforts, still managed to taste like cardboard. This is why I went in search of the best vegan and vegetarian food in my new hometown of Manhattan. Surely, if any city could do vegan, vegetarian, and organic right, it would have to be New York City. With an adventurous spirit, I crisscrossed the island to find the tastiest and healthiest food I could. Here are my top five choices for locals and visitors alike who want to enjoy healthy restaurant food and demand the best.
Located in Manhattan’s ever-trendy Greenwich Village, Red Bamboo should be the first stop for any vegan visiting the city. The restaurant sits on West 4th street, where college kids from NYU, the bohemians of The Village, and wealthy urbanites all converge. As you enter, you step down into a warm, cozy restaurant with exposed brick walls, and bright furnishings. It’s just as inviting as the precocious and energetic owner, Jade Wong. Jade is New York through and through: Scared of nothing, willing to speak her mind, and not afraid to crack a joke; she’s everything I dreamed a true New Yorker would be.
Hearing that I write for a magazine, she insisted on choosing my meal. She promised to give me the best the restaurant had to offer. To start, she served the house-favorite Creole Soul Chicken. These homemade soy nuggets are fried in a panko batter with Cajun rosemary seasoning and are served beside a house-made smoked Vidalia dressing. Can I say that it tasted just like chicken nuggets? No. However, I can hold my hand to my heart and swear that it was better than any chicken nugget I’ve ever had.
Afterwards, Jade brought out BBQ Buffalo Wings, which are made from the same homemade soy protein, but this time lathered with a spicy citrus BBQ sauce and paired with vegan sesame ranch dressing and cut celery sticks. To quote Will Ferrel from SNL, “There is no word to describe its perfection, so I am forced to make one up. And I’m going to do so right now…Scrumtrilescent.” Bursting with sweetness, spice, and tang, the buffalo wings have a distinctive Asian influence.
After my meal, Jade was kind enough to sit down and chat with me, where she told me I was dining amongst celebrities. Red Bamboo regularly sees stars like Stevie Wonder, Katie Holmes, and P Diddy. Janet Jackson even went on Jay Leno praising Red Bamboo, telling Leno that she goes every time she’s in New York to order the Vegan Chicken Parmesan and the Vegan Butter Pecan Ice Cream. It seems I know what to order upon my next visit! 140 W. 4th Street. Tel: 212-260-7049. www.redbamboo-nyc.com
The mission of Pure Ktchn is to make fresh, healthy food that’s not deep fried, has no added sugar, no soy, and no preservative chemicals. In my mind, this meant a flavorless meal that would leave me hungry again in an hour.
As I entered the Hell’s Kitchen-based eatery, my fears grew stronger. Bright colored walls, the sounds of Regina Spektor on the radio, pastel-colored chairs, and leafy greens abound. The thought of should I even write about this place? crossed my mind. Looking at the menu, one thing did stand out: The King Oyster Burger. Nestled inside a whole wheat bun is a patty made from king oyster mushrooms, topped with carrot bacon, slaw, tzatziki sauce, and Korean gochujang. Perhaps I had judged this place far too quickly.
After ordering, I took my first bite. It was insanely delicious! You could literally taste every single flavor. The savory mushrooms, the spicy gochujang, the refreshing tzatziki…it all came together and worked perfectly.
I wanted to speak with the owner after that incredible burger. After asking if he was available, a handsome Hunor Sandor walked out of the kitchen to greet me. I noticed a distinctive accent in his voice and asked where he was from originally. He said Transylvania. In general, Eastern Europeans aren’t exactly known for being LGBTQ friendly, or vegans. So the fact that a sturdy straight guy from Romania decided to open a vegan restaurant in the heart of Manhattan’s gayest neighborhood was pretty impressive.
Throughout our conversation, Hunor told me that he and his wife aren’t just the owners, but also the chefs. They originally started a blog that aimed to somehow make healthy food more delicious. They didn’t want to travel down the typical path of adding as much fat, sugar, and salt to their food until people find it edible. They wanted to serve healthy meals and make them tasty. Their philosophy worked, and before long the blog turned into a food delivery business, which then turned into their restaurant on 46th Street.
Towards the end of our chat, his wife brought out smoothies for us. It was their best-seller, the Berry Blast, complete with banana, fresh berries, dried goji berries, almond milk, and “I added some CBD oil for you. It’s very popular these days,” she said with a smile.
I have never done drugs before and knew nothing about CBD oil other than it has something to do with pot. I furiously googled it and discovered it has no psychoactive properties and apparently is great for relaxing the body. Slowly, and cautiously, I took a sip. It was quite good, with a strange earthy-minty flavor I couldn’t quite distinguish. I later read that that is the flavor of CBD oil. For anyone else out there who hasn’t had it yet, I have yet to feel any side-effects, so I think the controversy is a bit overblown.
Other menu items that Hunor says are his favorites are the falafel bowl, the pesto bowl, and the mysterious Black Magic Bowl: A smoothie bowl made with banana, blueberries, maca powder, activated charcoal, basil, and almond milk. It’s topped with bee pollen and goji berries, and is the thickest, smoothest, deepest black color I’ve ever seen. I ordered one, for the sake of journalism of course…and I found myself staring it, lost in the silky onyx potion. And the flavor was just as captivating. Earthy, fresh, sweet, and smooth, it’s truly a feast for the eyes and the soul. 352 W. 46th Street. Tel: 646-755-8502. www.purektchn.com