I was in New York for a few days in the middle of August this year and – my first time in NY as an eager plant-eater – I was keen to see what the big apple had to offer in terms of healthy, whole plant-based foods. I was lucky enough to stay with a friend, so I didn’t eat out every night, but also enjoyed some simple meals at her apartment. Healthy food is expensive, I discovered. Probably not so surprising for most people, but visiting from Switzerland, a notoriously expensive country for eating out, I did have some naive hopes that I could have my açai bowl and eat it too (while feeling good about the price). Regardless, here are some places I ate at and would definitely recommend if you’re in NY or planning to visit. They are not all fully plant-based, but they all have good plant-based options.
The food: The name already gives this away – sushi, but 100% plant-based sushi. When I mentioned this to my friend she wasn’t very excited – vegan sushi probably conjured up images of boring cucumber rolls and not much else. Well, there was not a single cucumber roll in sight. The menu had only wonderfully unusual and creative sounding rolls, such as „Sunny Side“ (black rice, braised fennel, sun-dried tomato and avocado topped with butternut squash and almond pesto), which all look like works of art – on your plate and hung up on the walls as large printed images. It was tough making a choice but I went for the „Spicy Mang“ (black rice, avocado, mango and English cucumber topped with spicy veggies and toasted cayenne sauce) and also tried some of my friend’s „Chic Pea“ (black rice, roasted eggplant, artichoke and English cucumber topped with saffron chickpea purée and parsley with tahini sauce). Besides the 8 different kinds of sushi rolls they also serve soups, side salads such as seaweed and kimchi, rice bed salads (bowls of black rice topped with greens, various toppings and sauces), rice paper wraps and noodle soups. Besides my fabulous rolls I also had a “green root” noodle salad (green tea noodles, seaweed salad, roasted almonds, sesame seeds, parsley and cilantro with ponzu sauce), which was absolutely delicious. It was a great meal that was almost as pleasing to the eye as to the taste buds. You might be thinking this sounds like some seriously expensive sushi, but it was amazingly affordable: I paid only around $13 (water was free) for the meal. In Switzerland you would probably get 6 measly little cucumber rolls and some water for that price.
Location: I was at the Midtown one (62 W 56th St.), but there is also one at Union Square (229 E14th St.) and Chelsea Market (75 9th Avenue). The Midtown one was quite small and looked more like a takeaway place, so not exactly a fancy venue or anything, but it was relaxed, bright and full of colorful, mouthwatering pictures of sushi rolls.
The food: This place is all about natural, organic, macrobiotic food in traditional Japanese style. I had to look up what macrobiotic means, but it’s basically a nutritional philosophy that revolves around balanced, seasonal and unrefined food to promote physical and spiritual health. The food at Souben is all about fresh vegetables, grains and plant protein, such as beans, tofu and tempeh. I went for the Macro Plate, which is an “ideal balance of steamed greens, vegetables, brown rice, beans and hijiki seaweed” with a sesame vinaigrette. I have to say that the food was tasty and the whole atmosphere very calming. It was around 2pm when I ate there, so there wasn’t much of a hustle and bustle and just knowing that I was eating something health-promoting and based on traditional principles made me feel good. I might mention at this point that I’ve been suffering from chronic stomach problems for several years now and 99% of the time I have symptoms in the evening, before, during and/or after dinner. On that particular day, I was symptom-free after lunch all the way till I went to bed. Coincidence? Maybe. But either way, it was an interesting and beneficial experience.Location: There’s one in Soho (210 Sixth Avenue at Prince St), which is where I went after some Soho shopping, and another one at 326 East 6th St, between 1st and 2nd Avenue).
Rating: 8/10 (My meal didn’t excite my taste buds quite as much as the one at Beyond Sushi and the overall style of the place felt a bit muddled to me somehow. The atmosphere was good though and the servers friendly).
Franchia Vegan Cafe The food: Korean, vegan and delicious. That’s all you need to know. Among other things there are kale dumplings, salads, noodle dishes and something called bibimbap – a popular Korean rice dish (choice of white or brown) with vegetables, tofu, tempeh or soy “meat” and various sauces. I went for the Kale and Brown Rice Noodles in Black Bean Sauce, which was an absolute dream. I ate it in a slow, semi-meditative state, enjoying each blissful bite of deep, satisfying flavour. (The extremely relaxed tempo had more to do with my lack of chopstick skills concerning the slippery noodles, but added to the zen-like experience. About half way through though, once my white shirt was already spattered in black bean sauce, I admitted defeat and shamefacedly asked for a fork and spoon.) To accompany my meal I sipped their Organic Lotus Tea, which was wonderfully soothing. They have a very interesting selection of teas, which I would definitely recommend checking out if you’re there.
Location: 12 Park Avenue. I would recommend a reservation, as I wasn’t able to get a table the first time I wanted to eat there, which was for lunch on a weekday. I had no problem getting a table at around 6pm though on a Sunday evening, when I needed an early meal.
The food: This Vietnamese place serves up a large variety of dishes – both with meat and vegetarian. I hadn’t researched this place, but met up with some friends here, one of whom had discovered this place while on a particularly bad date. The menu has a section of vegetarian dishes, such as Curry Tofu and Bamboo Steamed Vegetables (which could be paired with a side of brown rice for a healthy plant-based meal). Under the section labelled “Noodles” you’ll also find some fully veggie options, such as the flavor-packed Rice Vermicelli with vegetables, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and a delicious sauce, which is what I went for. It was a huge bowl and I wasn’t able to finish it, but at the same time it was a very light meal, not making me feel sluggish at all.
Location: 93 University Place (near Union Square)
Rating: 7/10 (The meal itself was delicious, but I’m taking points off because the atmosphere wasn’t particularly warm or modern or exciting, and also due to the fact that there weren’t as many interesting plant-based options as at the previous restaurants.)
Whole Foods Takeaway Since I was staying only 5 minutes away from the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle and have been a fan of this place for years, I came here at least three times – maybe four. It’s perfect for a yummy and nutritious takeaway and what better place to enjoy it at than Central Park, which is literally across the street. (The first time there we ate at the food court area inside, however, as it was just too ridiculously hot and humid to venture outside).
The food: While the takeaway area is quite large, with options such as sushi, sandwiches, wraps, pre-packaged salads and a warm buffet, I always made a beeline straight for the cold buffet area where I’d start with some greens – a mix of spinach, rocket and mesclun and add things like quinoa, seaweed, beans, different kinds of hummus, grilled veg and drizzle some balsamic on top. You pay by weight and my large box was between $8-13 (once, after a particularly impressive amount of walking I carbed it up a bit more by adding a whole wheat bagel).Location: 10 Columbus Circle is the one I went to and there are two more: 250 7th Avenue and 95 E Houston St.
Rating: 8/10 (It’s invaluable for putting together a healthy meal according to your preferences without having to be fussy. I did, however, have some extremely smoky baba ghanoush once, which completely ruined everything it touched, and the quinoa lacked flavour. In terms of veggie choices for on the go, you can’t beat it though, in my eyes).
This chain was also conveniently located, so I ended up coming here three times during my stay. Besides the actual food I enjoyed the atmosphere in there, even though it was only a take away place. It’s super clean, colourful and fresh – you can see and smell the ingredients they use and everything in there exudes health and positivity.
The food: Açai bowls! There are six different kinds: PB Açai, Amazing Green, Protein Revolution, Almond Butter Bliss, Aloha Açai and XO Coco. I tried the first three and they were all incredible and beautifully decorated with fresh fruit and toppings such as cacao nibs and hemp seeds. If I had to pick a favourite it was probably Amazing Green (acai, almond milk, avocado, banana, blueberries, hemp granola – this stuff is so good! – hemp seeds, kale and spinach). It had just enough subtle sweetness and I loved the green colour and the feeling of additional virtue due to the fact that I was having my greens for breakfast. The peanut butter was, in one word: indulgent. If I’d have to fault it I’d say there was too much peanut butter (if that’s even possible!).Besides açai bowls this place also has wonderful sounding smoothies and juices as well as health shots, vegan lunches such as the Macro Bowl, sushi, Jackfruit Tacos and a Kale Quinoa Burger – I have to admit, though, that I was too much enthralled with the açai bowls to have the attention span for much else – and interesting baked goods (vegan matcha baked donuts anyone?).
Location: There are quite a few, so I’ll only list the one I went to: 979 Eighth Avenue btw 57th and 58th – check out their website for locations near you.