Veg Out: Healthy New NYC Restaurants

Julie Besonen

Now that the word locavore is in common parlance, we’re betting it won't be long before vegivore elbows its way into the lexicon, too. Driven by concerns for health and the environment, the movement has gotten steam from influential Mark Bittman essays ("flexitarian" is what he calls the diet), the Ottolenghi cookbook phenomenon and pioneering restaurants like The Fat Radish, ABC Kitchen and Narcissa. But it’s not just those last three: vegetable-centric restaurants have sprouted up all over New York City—charming, modern eateries where meat plays a more minor role. Here are five other newish favorites whose menus nudge veggies from the side to the center of the plate.

Beet açai. Photo: Nathan Perkel

143 Division St., 212-240-9410, Chinatown, Manhattan
Wellness and youth are in ample evidence at Dimes, whose name is derived from a play on the 1-to-10 scale of attractiveness. Young co-owners Sabrina De Sousa and Alissa Wagner fit that model and also bring substance, having variously worked at cool, smart restaurants like Lovely Day, The Smile, Five Leaves and Northern Spy Food Co. This Chinatown spot, on the edge of the Lower East Side, is about the size of a studio apartment, but employs mirrors to make it look bigger. The menu focuses on vegetable compositions, salads and grains, but the owners are not doctrinaire; there is a BLT with avocado at lunch and lamb meatballs and braised chicken with preserved lemon-apricot couscous at dinner. It's packed at breakfast (served all day from 8am–4pm), offering acai bowls, eggs any style and chia pudding with almond milk, raspberries and pomegranate seeds.

Photo: Casandra Giraldo

Ellary's Greens
33 Carmine St., 212-920-5072, West Village, Manhattan
Berkeley, California, comes to mind at Ellary's Greens, a health food café with exposed brick walls, lots of leafy plants and a relaxed vibe that could actually blend into any cultured college town. Overhead, light is gently filtered through green metal latticework; in back is a garden where herbs are grown to garnish some of the dishes. The menu is all-embracing, mindful of gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian diets, but also offers a bacon mac and cheese (albeit studded with kale). You can even follow the paleo regime vis à vis crispy roasted chicken breast with pureed seasonal vegetables. Freshly blended juices, smoothies and wheatgrass remedies are here for winter ailments. Of the baked goods on display, the almond butter and chocolate ganache cookie sandwich is so luscious you won't miss real butter, and for that, owner Leith Hill goes to the head of the class.

Photo: Noah Fecks

Little Park
85 West Broadway, 212-220-4110, TriBeCa, Manhattan
Andrew Carmellini is on a lucky streak, reeling diners into hip pasta specialist Bar Primi and grand French bistro Lafayette, while also holding aces with The Dutch and Locanda Verde, among others. Little Park, a classy 85-seat space at the base of the Smyth, a Thompson Hotel in TriBeCa, is a bit of a wild card with its intensely healthful approach. At breakfast are fresh-pressed juices, fresh-baked breads with housemade jams and spelt pancakes with roasted local apples, apple syrup and vanilla butter. Lunch features beetroot tartare with smoked trout roe, black kale ravioli with squash and pine nuts, and a celery root schnitzel sandwich, which might sound crazy but is absolutely delicious. Dinner offers a lovely variety of whole grain pastas, sustainable seafood and fire-roasted, responsibly sourced meats as well as a full roster of vegetarian choices. Carmellini can't be everywhere at once, so chef de cuisine Min Kong executes the menu.

Photo: Melissa Hom

160 Havemeyer St., No. 5, 718-782-3474, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Spanish for "seed," Semilla started out as a pop-up (then known as Chez José) in the former Lake Trout space before taking over the digs completely. There are just 18 seats around the U-shaped chef's counter, a communal experience that makes it feel like a dinner party. Jose Ramirez-Ruiz (an alum of Per Se) and pastry chef Pamela Yung (Room 4 Dessert, Roberta's) are creative souls, constantly playing with the 10-course, vegetable-centric, $75 menu. For those who are curious to check it out for drinks and snacks, stop by and take a chance on a free stool or two. There is no printed menu, but the sort of small, beautifully rendered compositions to expect include salt-baked fingerling potatoes with crème fraîche and nasturtium oil, rutabaga with cod mousse, quince custard and amazing fresh-baked bread.

Courtesy, Tessa

349 Amsterdam Ave., 212-390-1974, Upper West Side, Manhattan
Tessa has brightened the Upper West Side dining scene with a Mediterranean outlook. Executive chef Cedric Tovar (formerly of Bobo’s and Rosemary's) makes the kind of small-plates food people are crazy for these days, starting with dips of carrot harissa, smoked eggplant and tzatziki-like ricotta, cucumber and dill to be scooped up with lavash bread. Linguine with Tasmanian pepper, lemon and Parmigiano basil crunch is another light yet luscious course—and vegetarians have a wealth of other options. For those in need of protein, pan-seared fish, roasted free-range chicken and grilled strip steak are on offer, best supplemented with a side of roasted local heirloom squash with garlic and thyme or creamed spinach and Tuscan kale. Tessa's design is also à la mode: an expansive, low-lit bar and lounge where you can eat as little or as much as you want without a set amount in mind, and a 65-seat dining room in back for those who want a more conventional experience.