I’ve been vegan since what feels like the dawn of time. When I first went vegan in 2009, the term “plant-based” hadn’t even been invented, and I was certainly on the fringe. Impossible crumbles didn’t dot menus; melty, gooey cheese didn’t top my pizza; and that buttery, flaky croissant that I can grab on my corner wasn’t an option. Back in those dark, early days, I was relegated to a sad, sometimes dressingless, salad or maybe, if I was lucky, some dry tempeh on top of brown rice or a premade frozen black bean burger. It was hard out there for us plant eaters. Now, 13 years later, I’m drowning in a delicious, satisfying, and often indulgent sea of options. Bring on the double cheeseburgers, raw lasagnas, and animal fries. To show you the range of possibilities, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite places — in New York City and beyond. Whether you're new to the vegan game or a seasoned vet like me, there’s never been a better time to go veg.
Forever a polarizing meal. Is it the most important of the day or an afterthought? Something simple, like oatmeal or an acai bowl, or an over-the-top BEC? Good thing there are options, no matter what kind of first-meal-of-the-day type you are.
If you’re in Brooklyn and looking for something with a bit of Mexican or New Mexican flair, your best bets are Ursula and Guevara's. At Ursula, you can sample some of Eric See’s infamous breakfast burritos since he makes a vegan version filled with pinto beans, green chiles, vegan queso, and hash browns; you won’t be missing the meat. Not too far away, you can try the excellent vegan riffs on Mexican pastry classics like conchas and dulce de leche donuts at Guevara’s. Maybe even try one of their signature Guava Cinn Lattes, made with oat milk.
Across the river in Manhattan, Orchard Grocer is my go-to spot. At this tiny Lower East Side deli, it would be a mistake not to grab one of the city’s best croissants. You can get it plain or sandwich-ified in The Miles, made with JUST scrambled egg, housemade seitan bacon, Violife provolone, scallions, and mayo.
A little further afield in Philly, a great place to start the day is Batter & Crumbs, where you can get favorites like the classic coffee cake and cherry cheese danishes, made 100% from plants. Or if you’re into something savory, try the McReeky, a vegan version of a sausage and egg McMuffin.
If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly jolt of a.m. caffeine, Jack's Stir Brew Coffee in New York can make all of their signature organic espresso drinks with almond or oat milk. The real bonus, though, is that their entire pastry case is vegan. Grab a vanilla-infused Dirty Harry latte and a cheddar kale scone, and breakfast is solved.
On the lunch front, there’s no shortage of salad-bar options. Major chains like DIG, Sweetgreen, and Honeybrains are all on Caviar, but if you want to try something a little more mom-and-pop, look to Bushwick’s Hartbreakers. It’s from the team behind neighborhood favorites Champs Diner and Screamer’s Pizza. The food is fun with nostalgic favorites such as seitan-based chik’n tenders and melty housemade cheddar-topped animal fries. For something lighter, try the ever-changing and seasonally inspired Big Salad from Canal Street’s Dimes or a DIY Hot Bowl from Le Botaniste.
In Los Angeles, let Kitchen Mouse cater to all your lunching and brunching needs. Almost the whole menu can be made vegan. Echo Park’s Honey Hi is another vegan-friendly option where dishes like the Miso Bowl can be made with avocado instead of chicken.
This is a hard one for me to narrow down. Back in those early days, my options used to be some pretty uninspiring avocado or cucumber rolls or heavily edited Chinese food; now I can get just about anything delivered to my door. What do I choose? The vegan-ified comfort classics from Modern Love in Brooklyn, like the Classic Mac & Shews, made with cashew cheddar, crispy tofu chick’n, and garlicky sautéed kale. Or an Ultraviolet pizza from Portland’s Virtuous Pie. It’s topped with pesto, cashew mozzarella, tomatoes, kale, and caramelized onions.
If it’s a special occasion, I’ll treat myself to a luxe meal in by ordering from Planta Queen (there are locations in both New York and Miami). Some of my favorites are the eggplant nigiri, made from broiled miso-marinated eggplant, and the kelp noodle-based pad thai slaw. In LA, the perennially packed Crossroads Kitchen is on Caviar; no need to stalk the reservation page for an opening because you can have the famous tagliatelle Bolognese and the almond ricotta-filled zucchini blossoms delivered right to your door. In Chicago, your best choice for a special meal is from Matthew Kenney’s Althea. Treat yourself to one of his signature dishes, like the MightyVine tomato zucchini lasagna, made with sun-dried tomato marinara, basil-pistachio pesto, macadamia ricotta, and herb oil.
Historically, lots of international foods have been vegan friendly, but now you can find not only options within, say, a Chinese or Japanese menu, but entire plant-based international restaurants. In Brooklyn, try the mushroom tibs at Ras Plant Based Ethiopian, where they use button mushrooms instead of the more traditional beef or chicken in their recipe. Or go Mexican at Jajaja and grab some birria tacos, where the “meat” is shredded banana blossoms. Spicy Moon has an entirely vegan take on Szechuan food, and the dan dan noodles come topped with Beyond Beef Crumbles or plain, with just the delicious, spicy sauce.
Sometimes people get confused with the “vegan” title, thinking it means “health food.” This is certainly not the case. If you’re in the mood for something less virtuous than, say, a kale-cashew cream Caesar, try New York’s Lekka Burger. Their patty is made with just five vegetables and a handful of grains and spices. I’d highly recommend getting a strawberry shake as well. If you’re in L.A. and in need of a veggie burger fix, Burgerlords is where I’d look. They make a few different styles of burger, one that’s beefier, and an original that’s made from a whopping 30 different kinds of veg. When all is said and done, they look almost exactly like a burger from In-N-Out.
If you’re in Portland, I’d look at the aptly named Vegan Junk Food. They do burgers but also surprising things like the Taco Bell-inspired Crunchywrap Superior, which is a flour tortilla wrapped around a crunchy corn tortilla stuffed with black beans, cheddar cheese sauce, soy chipotle crumbles, shredded lettuce, and tomato. For dessert, get a slice of Dream Cake; the flavor changes weekly.
Vegan sweets have also come a long, long way in the past decade, and now there are many vegan-specific bakeries and creameries throughout the country. I’ll be forever loyal to the Lower East Side’s Erin McKenna's Bakery. The bakery, entirely free of the top eight allergens, was founded in 2005, and now has locations in Los Angeles and Orlando, too. I’m a sucker for their iced lemon tea cake and anything with a cookie crumb. If you’re in Brooklyn, Clementine Bakery is there to cater all your treat needs. Their cinnamon roll is always on my list, but you can’t go wrong with the scones either.
If you’re after something frozen, Manhattan’s Chloe's Soft Serve Fruit Co. is entirely plant-based. It’s beyond your average frozen yogurt shop since they make all their soft-serve entirely from fruit, water, and a little bit of cane sugar. And I’m always grateful when there is a Van Leeuwen nearby. Although far from entirely vegan, their options are beyond your average chocolate and vanilla. There is always something new to try, such as the Vegan Oat Milk Churros and Fudge or the Vegan Cookie Crumble Strawberry Jam.
Go forth with your new knowledge. Being vegan or vegan-curious has never been easier — or as tempting.