Sustainable Dining in NYC

Julie Besonen

When it comes to eco-conscious diners, the old maxim about how you are what you eat has expanded to you are where you eat. Restaurants that are sustainable—a catchall descriptor that can mean anything from having a plant-based menu to sourcing local ingredients to producing zero waste—address the same goal: minimizing their impact on the planet. If that’s what you’re searching for in the City, read on for 10 great finds.

Courtesy, Clay

Clay

553 Manhattan Ave., Harlem, Manhattan

Clay is a stylish bistro with substance. Gustavo Lopez, its executive chef, takes care to buy fish, grass-fed meat and seasonal produce from small, local suppliers. The wine list focuses on natural producers, and the gin for martinis comes from Brooklyn’s Greenhook Ginsmiths. Pasta is made in house—one favorite is the bucatini with a rich short rib ragù. Chicken liver sweetened with preserved fig, the roasted half chicken and a crisped confit duck leg with smoked farro and collard greens are all unforgettable. The intimate dining room and bar are often packed with West Harlem locals, with room for overflow diners downstairs.

Courtesy, Crave Fishbar

Crave Fishbar

945 Second Ave., Midtown, Manhattan; 428 Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side, Manhattan

Crave Fishbar is a pioneer in sourcing sustainable seafood for its pair of upscale restaurants in Midtown and the Upper West Side. Chef Todd Mitgang and his team go beyond employing “sustainable” as a buzzword, partnering with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (which rates best choices for environmentally sound practices) and Billion Oyster Project (dedicated to restoring New York Harbor’s oyster reefs). Speaking of which, the oyster happy hour at the two spots is terrific, with daily selections discounted from 4 to 6pm. Menus at both locations are similar, with super-fresh sushi, Nashville-style crispy fish tacos, lobster curry and squid ink spaghetti with chopped shrimp among the highlights.

Dame. Photo: Evan Sung

Dame

87 MacDougal St., Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Dame touts top-quality grilled oysters and steamed clams, but it’s really all about the fabulous fish and chips. Ed Szymanski, the co-owner and chef, is British, commanding the know-how to break down whole, fresh, sustainably sourced hake. He and his partner, Patricia Howard, grew the business by holding a series of pop-ups selling takeout during the dark days of the pandemic, but there is no takeout (or delivery) at their brick-and-mortar hot spot in Greenwich Village. The 22 seats are fully booked Monday to Friday (closed weekends), so get on the waiting list.

Courtesy, Fat Choy

Fat Choy

250 Broome St., Lower East Side, Manhattan

“Kind of Chinese / Also Vegan” are the bywords at Fat Choy, a playful little spot on the Lower East Side. Step up to the counter and order everything. Yes, everything. The menu is brief, and you’d be especially sad to miss out on messy mushroom sloppy joes and sticky rice dumplings spiked with chili crisp. Fried cauliflower with creamy shallot sauce is another must. So are the chewy rice rolls with abundant greens, seasoned with the tang of black vinegar and the crunch of charred scallions. Recycling bins and Fat Tire certified-carbon-neutral beer boost the feel-good nature of visiting here.

JaJaJa Mexicana

162 East Broadway, Lower East Side, Manhattan; 63 Carmine St., West Village,Manhattan;450 W. 33rd St. @ Whole Foods, Hudson Yards, Manhattan; 119 Kent Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Plant based and plant filled, JaJaJa is a boozy, aqua-hued joint that evokes a Tulum beach café. The original Lower East Side branch sports a semi-enclosed outdoor patio under a thatched roof; three other locations dot the City. Vegan nachos come smothered with mock chorizo, black beans and turmeric queso fundido; add on chunky guacamole if you like. Beet and pumpkin empanadas, coconut queso quesadillas and churritos with coconut dulce de leche are also fantastic. The extensive selection of tequila and mezcal contributes to the party scene.

Lekka Burger

81 Warren St., Tribeca, Manhattan

The popularity of Amanda Cohen’s clever vegetarian fare at Dirt Candy built the platform for the success of Lekka Burger, a cheery vegan diner in Tribeca. Plant-based patties look like medium-rare beef but don’t taste beefy, as they’re mostly made from portobello mushrooms, cannellini beans and onions. They’re sandwiched in squishy buns and topped with your typical American condiments (ketchup, mustard, pickles) as well as global options like spicy peri peri sauce or coconut chutney slaw and crunchy papadam. The crisp, crinkle-cut fries are worth ordering as well. For a fast-casual operation, its beer and cocktail department is impressive; so is the waste-disposal program, with a recycling and composting station in back.

Courtesy, Ras Plant Based

Ras Plant Based

739 Franklin Ave., Crown Heights, Brooklyn

The vegan Ethiopian fare at this hip Crown Heights restaurant is as vibrant as the oversize murals plastering the walls. The owners, Romeo and Milka Regalli, have updated their grandparents’ recipes, using organic local ingredients wherever possible. Unfurl the spongy, slightly sour injera bread rolls to scoop up spicy red lentil stew, creamy ground chickpeas and a blend of peppers, cabbage, carrots and onions, among the five multicolored mounds included in the Mercato platter. The friendly bar scene showcases a wide variety of drinks to match the food.

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Rhodora Wine Bar

197 Adelphi St., Fort Greene, Brooklyn

The zero-waste philosophy at this cozy, low-lit wine bar is mostly behind the scenes. Everything is recycled, upcycled or composted, so nothing goes into a landfill. The wines, from Europe and California, are natural and from small farms. No single-use plastic is allowed. Snacky items like root vegetable pickles, cheese and She Wolf bread are local, and fish is tinned. The Fort Greene space is ideal for quiet conversation, overseen by a hospitable staff that receives 10 percent of profits on a quarterly basis.

Rosella. Photo: David A. Lee

Rosella

137 Avenue A, East Village, Manhattan

Rosella is the only sustainable sushi restaurant in the City, featuring untraditional fish like porgy and steelhead trout from New York. The wood-detailed East Village space is warm and lively, with servers offering tastes of unfamiliar wine and sake (some of it Brooklyn made) to help make up your mind. For sourcing, partners Jeffrey Miller (the chef) and TJ Provenzano adhere to fishing practices approved by Seafood Watch or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). To sample what’s on hand, try a chirashi bowl of sushi rice topped with a seasonal selection of sashimi and roe, avocado and tamago (Japanese omelet). Omakase and à la carte options are available.

Uncle Lou

73 Mulberry St., Chinatown, Manhattan

Manhattan’s Chinatown suffered a tremendous loss of business during the pandemic, and Uncle Lou made it a mission to help the community recover. Louis Wong, a longtime neighborhood entrepreneur, came out of retirement to open his first restaurant in late 2021, sourcing ingredients from surrounding produce stands, fishmongers and butchers. The brick-walled space is hung with paper lanterns and packed day and night; booking a reservation is advised. Order by number—more than 100 dishes are on the Cantonese-style menu—with favorites being pork wontons in fiery chili oil, delicate vegetable fried rice, chicken in garlic sauce and braised duck with mixed mushrooms.


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