Ethical Eating: Vegan Restaurants

Julie Besonen

It's that time of year when resolutions are made and gym memberships climb. Atoning for holiday excess can also mean going on a detox diet, consuming nothing but plant-based food. Eating vegan is a temporary measure for some, but for many it's a die-hard lifestyle choice. This niche of vegetarianism strictly prohibits all animal and dairy products, including leather products and animal-tested makeup. In fact, New York is one of the easiest places in the world to be vegan, if you know where to go. Here are some of our favorites:

One of the most stylish vegan restaurants in the City, Gobo is dark, spirited and innovative. During the day, West Villagers stop in for light lunches and fruit smoothies from the organic juice bar. At night it's more about sampling beer and organic wine. The open kitchen whips up colorful plates like slow-cooked Malaysian curry and deeply flavored vegetable lasagna. There is a Zen-like approach to the food, but portions are ample, not monastic. Dishes are well seasoned and service is a well-oiled machine. For a vegan place, it doesn't come off as crunchy—except for the super-crunchy yam and yucca fries. The lively buzz and creativity of the spot wins over omnivores and softens feelings toward the somewhat pricey check.

Sacred Chow
Living up to its name, Sacred Chow has a spiritual bent, with a bubbling mosaic fountain that imparts a soothing background of tinkling water as you eat. There's also a mood of playfulness, with dishes like Mama's soy meatballs with spicy Sicilian sauce or a "hot diggity" soy dog with tangy sauerkraut. And who wouldn't want a "gym body"? (In this case, a fruit smoothie with bananas, toasted almonds, cinnamon, flax oil and soy milk.) A bohemian NYU crowd inhabits the red-hued, inviting space. For those with low-glycemic, gluten-free and wheat-free diets there are plenty of options. And with the (wheat-free, gluten-free) velvet triple chocolate brownie, you won't sense any sacrifice.

Candle Cafe
If you're taking a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art anytime soon, it's nice to know there's a 100% vegan restaurant—two of them, actually—nearby. Candle Cafe's original location is near 75th Street, and a second, bi-level branch—the more ambitious of the two—is on 79th Street. The incredibly loyal clientele keeps both places hopping at all hours. At the more casual, homespun 75th Street location, you can enjoy a tonic from the "farmacy," such as the immune-boosting, flu- and cold-fighting smoothie with ginger, orange, carrot, grapefruit and lemon. The menu is a kaleidoscope of ethnic favorites, from Southwestern chili to a Middle Eastern meze plate to an Asian-style ginger-miso stir-fry. The staff is friendly, making accommodations for special diets.

The East Village is rife with vegan options, but Counter is one of the most appealing, a bistro with real flair and a fully developed concept. The half-moon wine-and-martini bar features an interesting list from biodynamic, sustainable vineyards. The creative cocktail menu focuses on organic spirits, with sexy names like the Cosmic Striptease and Tie Me to the Bedpost. Proprietor Deborah Gavito has even gone so far as planting a garden on the rooftop of her nearby tenement building, which supplies the kitchen with ultra-fresh ingredients. The menu is seasonal and includes such treats as corn beignets with rémoulade sauce, Provençal vegetable stew and wild mushroom ravioli with fava beans. The space is dimly lit and romantic, a place where carnivores won't miss meat for a few hours.

Happy Buddha
Flushing is famous for having some of the best dim sum in the City. Happily for vegans, there's Happy Buddha, a modern, spiffy, spacious restaurant with a full array of mock meat. Prices are affordable and dishes are shareable. Dim sum (served from 11am to 3pm) includes mock shrimp dumplings, mock pork buns and sweet tapioca dumplings. At night expect a wealth of steaming soups, tofu specialties, clay-pot vegetable casseroles and flavorful noodle and rice dishes. To drink are teas, smoothies and organic juices, and to finish, vegan chocolate cake, tofu cheesecake and mango pudding. During the week it's a serene place to dine, but on weekends it's a jam-packed flurry of activity.

Vegetarian Palate
Just because vegans are health-conscious doesn't mean they don't like junk food from time to time, like the irresistible mock chicken nuggets, meant to be dunked in a hickory-smoked mustard sauce, found here. The menu at this no-frills Park Slope joint is anything but minimalist, with a ridiculously long catalog of Asian-centric items. It's 99.9% vegan—only the lo mein breaks the no-dairy rule. Wonton soup is pure comfort food, and if you stop there, you'll have room for a scrumptious banana split. For main courses there's mock beef, turkey, duck and seafood, tons of tofu and vegetable dishes, sandwiches and even paella. Service is patient and attentive, the prices gentle.