There are pros and cons to being a vegetarian, and for a long time, giving up bowls of hot, steamy, noodle soup was a con: It was difficult to find a version in the city that wasn’t meat-based. Now, though, vegetarian soups have made their way onto ramen and pho menus all over the city. Just in time for the cold weather, here are five vegetarian noodle soups worth trying, delicious even if you’re an omnivore.
Pho Chay at An Choi, 85 Orchard Street, $9.50
We’d be inclined to put An Choi on this list just for utilizing the smartest noodle soup takeout Tupperware we’ve ever seen: Everything but the broth in one usable, covered soup bowl, and the broth in a separate container. All you need to do is pour, no giant bowl of your own needed. But carryout containers in themselves do not a top veggie soup make–so it helps that the slurping is good. The vegetable broth is light and redolent of fresh vegetables instead of additives like soy sauce, and it swims with the traditional mushroom and bok choy plus the unusual addition of fresh asparagus. The soup’s only weakness is the tofu, which has great texture but no taste.
Vegetable Broth at Minca, 536 East Fifth Street, $13.50
We’ll admit we were struck by the price of this vegetarian ramen when we first spied it on the menu at Minca: It costs more than many of its pork and chicken counterparts. But when our first bowls arrived, our wallets stopped complaining. Topped with cabbage, mushroom, bamboo, corn, seaweed, and an egg, we almost forgot there were noodles underneath it all. (Stick with the recommended wavy noodle, by the way.) But the soup doesn’t hide behind the toppings: The broth is savory and thick, and it can easily distract from all of accoutrements.
Wasabi Shoyu Ramen with Nitamago at Ippudo NY, 65 Fourth Avenue, $16
This bowl holds the distinction of being not just the most expensive on our list but also the one that will require the longest wait. But the heavenly tempura flakes decorating the top of the soup are reason enough to be patient. (Eat them before they get soggy.) The tofu is thin and sweet, though not crisp. Just be careful not to lean too close to your bowl–the wasabi-infused broth will bring tears to your eyes, and not just because it’s delicious.
Vegan Sansai Soba at Cocoron, 37 Kenmare Street, $13
If you’re looking for more than one vegetarian option, head to Japanese restaurant Cocoron. The spot’s menu boasts an entire page dedicated to vegan dishes–including four hot noodly soups–so you don’t have to resort to resigning to the only vegetarian dish on the menu. And don’t let the seaweed broth scare you; there are no fishy or otherwise ocean-y flavors here. For a filling lunch, try the sansai soba. The kistune, or deep-fried tofu, is cut into thin slices and served generously, and the bamboo shoots manage to stay crunchy even at the bottom of the bowl. Both supplement a nest of thin, cchewy buckwheat noodles in a delicate broth.
Pho Veggie at V-Nam Café, 201 First Avenue, $8
The vegetarian broth here hits just the right salty-sweet spot, and it leaves plenty of room for personalization: Try tearing up the provided basil leaves and adding a squeeze of spicy sauce. The soup is served with enough baby bok choy to make you feel like you’re meeting your daily vegetable quota, and it comes with a side bowl of crispy tofu or soy protein (go with the tofu), which means you don’t have to worry about those supplements getting soggy in the broth. Bonus: This is also the cheapest item on the list.