While New York has no scarcity of excellent vegetarian food, actual vegetarian restaurants are in shorter supply, and categorically superb vegetarian restaurants are an even rarer breed. Or so it would appear if you limit your search only to places that specialize solely in steamed greens, brown rice, and tempeh manipulated into innumerable unspeakable forms. None of us at Fork in the Road are great fans of ersatz meat, cloying mystery sauces, or under- or unseasoned vegetables, and while we enjoy tempeh on occasion, we have much greater appreciation for a restaurant whose cuisine reflects a love of vegetables rather than a desire to make them handmaidens to myriad soy mutations. Our picks — with a couple of exceptions — reflect that bias, and naturally may differ from your own. As always, feel free to tell us your favorites in the comments.
10. Strictly Roots — Vegan Jamaican food in Harlem. True, there is a lot of fake meat on the menu, but vegan riffs on traditional Jamaican dishes like ackee — here it’s served with tofu — as well as excellent baked goods and a terrific veggie burger set it apart from the rest of the seitan crowd. 2058 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, 212-864-8699
9. Taïm — While it’s more of a takeout counter than a restaurant, this tiny storefront boasts one of the best all-vegetarian menus in town, thanks to its excellent falafel and smoothies. It’s also home to the Sabich, a pita stuffed to its breaking point with fried eggplant, slices of hard-boiled egg, and hummus — a glorious gutbomb that could convert even the most resolute of carnivores. 222 Waverly Place, 212-691-1287
8. Buddha Bodai — There’s no getting around the fact that this Chinese vegetarian palace is all about fake meat, whether it’s masquerading as chicken, pork, or shark fin. That said, it’s tasty, greasy fun, a perfect rejoinder to those who charge that vegetarian restaurants take themselves too seriously. 4296 Main Street, Flushing, Queens, 718-939-1188
7. Angelica Kitchen — An oldie but a goodie, beloved by generations of vegetarians for its blend of unapologetic hippie fare with inspired, contemporary interpretations of vegetarian staples like tempeh and tofu. Its dragon bowls are classics, and even Alan Richman, a carnivorous contrarian if ever there was one, deemed its split-pea soup Worth Ordering Again. 300 East 12th Street, 212-228-2909; 102 Lexington Avenue, 212-213-9615
6. Pure Food & Wine — Though we’re inherently wary of raw food and its elitist price points, we cannot deny the considerable charms of a restaurant that does raw food so well. Pure’s greatest triumph is transforming unswervingly healthy ingredients into dishes of considerable decadence — the lasagna, which substitutes zucchini for pasta, is every bit as lavish as its cooked counterpart. A true testament to the versatility of vegetables, and to the good that comes from actually seasoning them. 54 Irving Place, 212-477-1010
5. Bhojan — Ignore the disconcertingly slick decor and focus on what’s on your plate: superb Gujarati, Punjabi, and ashram cuisine that sings with complex, vibrant flavors. As a bonus, the sweets shop at the front of the restaurant sells excellent homemade mithai (Indian confections) like pedas and burfi.102 Lexington Avenue, 212-213-9615
4. Four Course Vegan — For the past seven years, Matteo Silverman has run this weekly dining club out of his Williamsburg loft, and while it’s not a traditional restaurant, it certainly offers food more than worthy of one. Silverman’s constantly changing menus are refined and imaginative — think tomato cumin bisque with pea shoot pesto and aleppo cornmeal croutons, golden beet tikka masala with fava beans and toasted cumin dressing — and, at $40, also an excellent value. 4coursevegan.com
3. HanGawi — While “Buddhist mountain cuisine” may imply deprivation dieting, there is absolutely nothing ascetic about this Korean restaurant, where both the food and setting are gorgeous and the staff is unfailingly kind. Everything, from the kimchi to the kabocha squash pancakes to the intriguing porridges, is pitch-perfect, and the $40, six-course Emperor’s Tasting Menu is a fantastic deal. And amorous vegetarians, take note: This is one of the best date spots in town. 12 East 32nd Street, 212-213-0077
2. Sapthagiri — Sapthagiri may be in Jersey City, but if you’re going to go all the way to Flushing, why not take a 10-minute PATH ride under the Hudson? Particularly when you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic array of Jain and Swaminayaran dishes: Grains and lentils get their due in the form of superlative upma, dosa, and idli, while curries sing of spice and chutneys are so addictive that you’ll wish they were served in soup bowls. 804 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey, 201-533-8400
And on to No. 1 …
1. Dirt Candy — We can’t decide what we love more: the ruinously addictive jalapeño hush puppies, the portobello mousse, the Emotional Overeating Awareness Month dessert specials, or the irreverent, pro-Canada ruminations that Amanda Cohen broadcasts on her restaurant’s blog. But we can decide that all of it makes Dirt Candy our No. 1 vegetarian restaurant. And if you don’t agree? Blame Canada. 430 East 9th Street, 212-228-7732
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