#2 will blow your mind!! Lol jk. Full disclosure I’m not vegetarian. But I did work at a vegan restaurant for 7 some years. Consider me an avid vegetarian-ist, if that helps. In any case, we’ll start with the one I worked at: Angelica Kitchen.
1. Angelica (not “Angelica’s”) is named after an herb, not its female owner. Her name is Leslie. Ethically, AK is the real deal. Everything is vegan and I remember seeing with my own eyes the ratty white pickup truck that delivered locally farmed greens from upstate. Angelica’s (yes, even we erroneously call it that) is a health food restaurant. Ice is not served, nor even available on the premises because it slows digestion. For years there was no alcohol or coffee on the menu (unhealthy) and credit cards were not accepted (ethics). I met Cole from DIIV when he was hired here. Devendra Banhart worked there before me. Members of Akron/Family and Diane Cluck, too. OK, so you haven’t heard of those two and New York is a small world. But still Angelica remains the best and most deserving restaurant on this list. My favorite thing on the menu is the dressing. When you order, you’ll want to cheap out and get one of the basic combo bowls, and this will not be wrong. But do spend that extra dollar for another dressing, as they’re all magical thick purées of pure honest flavor.
2. The menu at Bliss is very similar to Angelica. So are the prices. The main difference is the location. Bliss is in the heart of Williamsburg where you’ll likely find yourself slightly more often than Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood. So in this case you’ll opt to visit Bliss. A few more conventional options exist on the menu such as a veggie burgers, tofu scramble for brunch, guacamole and burritos. The food is healthy and I’ve eaten it many times after moving to Brooklyn, despite it being simple enough to prepare myself at home. The Bliss Bowl is really a rip-off of Angelica’s Dragon Bowl, but it doesn’t matter.
3. Red Bamboo/VP 2. My vegan friends were excited about Red Bamboo when it opened 10 or so years ago. Now they say they don’t like “the fake meat thing” that much. Whatever. As a dining experience, this one is the most memorable and fun. Usually soy- and vegetable-protein makes for bland, chewy ersatz meat. Well, this place cracked the code. Even my carnivorous friends were wowed by the Buffalo Wings, which are served on awesome wooden skewers in lieu of bones. It’s one of those places that lists its dishes by their would-be corresponding animal type, but it’s all vegetarian. It’s popular, it’s unusual and it’s impressively tasty, and if the wait list is full at the small Greenwich Village location (across the street from the IFC film theatre), you can more easily get a table next door at “Vegetarian’s Paradise II,” which is directly beside Red Bamboo, preceded Red Bamboo, shares a kitchen and menu with Red Bamboo, and somehow has fewer customers. Branding. There is also another Red Bamboo in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is near Pratt art school (expect hotties) and where Gotye lives. Red Bamboo has much more of an asian feel to its menu than the previous two, and less of a health food vibe. We’re not even sure if the mock meatstuff is all that good for you, but it satisfies creatures while sparing critters.
4. Speaking of Asian food, Souen is another good choice. This one serves fish. On 13th street, it’s a good one to walk to if Angelica is full. Souen’s menu abides by an ancient 90’s code called the macrobiotic diet which involves a lot of brown rice, Japanese seaweed, and other stuff from the 70’s. Most of the menu is vegetarian, and all of it is Japanese. It’s one of a kind, and it’s the place to go for vegetarian sushi, if you like that sort of thing. A try it and see how your body feels afterwards kind of place. I took a girl there once but she denied it was a date and paid the check while I was in the bathroom.
5. Dig Inn. A newer chain of restaurants jumping on the farm-to-table bandwagon. This place serves tons of meat. But it always has a vegetarian entree available as well, and the veggies themselves taste the best out of all five restaurants. There are a few locations dotted around Manhattan—one on 23rd street, one on 55th if you’re stuck in midtown, and a few others. Food is cafeteria-style, which means it’s already ready already, which makes it fast enough for actual New Yorkers. All in all, it’s not unlike the hot bar at Whole Foods, but it’s a leg up from that. Bottom line—it’s affordable, plentiful, and it’s really delicious. Picture a big plate of southern style veggies prepared with just enough oil to make them fantastic yet not unhealthy. You will not find time to do everything when you’re visiting Manhattan, and Dig Inn will make more of your precious New York minutes.
Honorable mention goes to Foodswings. RIP-in-peace to this late-night grease fest with vegan milkshakes and cheeseburgers. I found it amusing and idiosyncratic that its menu was so egregiously unhealthful, among its peers. I used to go there a lot just become I’m lactose intolerant. And who says vegetarians want to eat like Madonna all the time?!