Years ago, my friend Sera, who was already a vegetarian, decided to go vegan. And I admit, I wasn’t sure how we could do one of our favorite things – eating out at new restaurants – with these dietary “restrictions.” Good news: It was totally fine, great in fact, as long as the only vegan option wasn’t cauliflower steak.
Vegan dining in New York has come a long way since then. settings like modern love (Willemsburg)† Spicy Vegan (Central Haarlem)† Bunna Cafe (Bushwick) and others have held the fortress for years, but I’ve also seen more options pop up in restaurants that aren’t explicitly vegan: at Musket room in NoLIta there are two equally delicious versions of the tasting menu: omnivorous and vegan. And at restaurants like Shukette in Chelsea and Semma in the West Village, where several menu items contain no animal products at all, meat-eaters and vegans can easily coexist, yes, even thrive. (Both restaurants work to avoid cross-contamination between non-vegan and vegan cooking surfaces.)
Share Injera, Sticky Rice Dumplings, Queso and more
In 2020, Sera and I celebrated her sixth year of meatless life at Variety vegetable† the Ethiopian vegan restaurant in Crown Heights, where the spicy injera is served on colorful platters with a feast of flavors: a tomato-based, mushroom-based version of tibs, traditionally a beef stew; yellow split peas cooked with onions and jalapeños; and brown lentils with fragrant fenugreek.
A few weeks ago we ordered the whole menu and two canned wines from Fat Choy, Chef Justin Lee’s “kind of Chinese (also vegan)” restaurant on the Lower East Side. It’s a good thing we were the only ones in the restaurant for most of the meal – a consequence of getting there super early – as the noises we made about crunchy cucumbers in a slightly sweet ginger “leopard” sauce, sticky rice dumplings and tender rice rolls with black vinegar would have deterred other diners.
For my birthday dinner this year we went to Cadence, Chef Shenarri Freeman’s acclaimed Southern-influenced restaurant in the East Village. Eating there will make the unconvinced realize that veganism isn’t a constraint, but rather an exciting challenge Freeman takes on and then surpasses: good creamy grits are good creamy grits no matter what, and a sandwich slathered in buffalo sauce is still still satisfying even when the “fleshy” interior is a cluster of oyster mushrooms. The potato salad? Just as good as your meemaw’s – sorry!
Sera is moving next month, but she has promised to eat with me at least once a month. (And when I visit her, I’ll keep an eye out for a future Metro North food guide. Send me your tips!)
At some point I know we’ll be hungry for really good queso, which is what we both miss most about living in Georgia, and I’ll take her to the newly renovated yellow rose in the East Village. She can try the veggie-focused chalupa with cotija and crema (available in a vegan version), the chips with vegan queso, and the little gem salad with cashew ranch dressing. And she won’t begrudge me the divine delights of the decidedly non-vegan beer queso or the beef barbacoa tacos on soft, fluffy corn tortillas—because how could I ever resist? And that’s about friendship.
In other news…
I enjoyed your posts last week in response to the Theater District newsletter. Three readers emailed me to express their love for Marseille† (“Nice atmosphere, good food, reasonably priced and they know you have a show nearby,” wrote Ron H.) And Tiffany B. called the wine and cheese bar Casellula on West 52nd Street “one of the very best in pre- or post-theatre!” And by the way, Or so will open again next month! Keep the questions and suggestions coming: email me at wheretoeat..
Pete Wells rated Rolos in the Ridgewood section of Queens, where a group’s impressive menu Gramercy Tavern vets can’t be easily summed up, and residents worry it could spell yet another wave of gentrification in an old working- and middle-class neighborhood.
Openings: The popular Asian-influenced restaurant in Miami KYU opens Wednesday in NoHo; Marlow Bistro reopens as a full-service restaurant near Morningside Heights; and the Michelin star restaurant noma will pop up in Dumbo from May 16 to 20, serving a very exclusive group of dinners.
Brett Anderson reported on Afghan restaurateurs in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC, who are working to support the latest wave of Afghan refugees.
Our California restaurant critic Tejal Rao wrote about Chef Matt Horn’s Horn Barbecue and Kowbird in Oakland, California, and how the restaurants fit into West Oakland’s barbecue scene and the legacy of black businesses.
Christina Morales reported on the increased social pressure created by the rise of suggested gratuities in every corner of the food industry, including cafes and fast restaurants.
Email us at wheretoeat.† Newsletters are archived here† Follow NYT Food on Twitter and NYT Cooking on Instagram† facebook† YouTube and Pinterest†