I first discovered how amazing vegan food could taste when I somewhat accidentally took a job as a hostess at Pure Food and Wine, a vegan pridelands with table service. I watched gorgeous works of vegetable art served to glowing customers day after day, and I read the restaurant’s book "Raw Food, Real World" cover to cover. Eventually, I wanted to give a plant-based diet a try.
I never became completely raw or vegan, but I began incorporating elements of the diets into my daily menu. Now I enjoy the delicious and often complex dishes that city’s vegan chefs create from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Since eating out is a big part of my life, I like that I can not only wine and dine, but also nourish my body with food that makes me feel great.
Here is a roundup of some of my favorite vegan options for any budget:
$5 and Under
- Homemade Granola with Soy Milk and Fresh Fruit, $5
WESTVILLE (Various locations; westvillenyc.com)
Westville is a great place to grab a quick breakfast on the go, and this breakfast is as simple as it is delicious.
- Strawberry Mint Lemonade, $3.21
TERRI ORGANIC (60 W. 23rd St., terrinyc.com)
This refreshing Norwalk pressed organic juice provides a nice alkaline boost. It’s both sweet and tart, and pairs wonderfully with a vegan triple berry muffin.
- Junior Maoz, $4.95
MAOZ VEGETARIAN (Various locations; maozusa.com)
This Belgium chain is one of my favorite imports. The Junior Maoz is a half-pita stuffed with falafel -- and then you have free reign to pack in unlimited toppings from the delicious salad bar. Almost all of the toppings are vegan and clearly labeled. I recommend the spiced carrots, mouthwatering roasted broccoli and cauliflower and herbed beets, but no need to stop there.
- Ice Cream Sandwich, $4.95
STOGO (159 2nd Ave., stogonyc.com)
Enjoy two delicious treats in every bite of this sandwich: Babycakes cookies and Stogo ice cream of your choice. You can choose from a variety of soy, hemp or coconut-based options. I love the peanut butter fudge.
$10 and Under
- Vegan Pancake Crepe, $6.50
ATLAS (73 2nd Ave.)
Enjoy a decadent breakfast with French flair any day of the week. I suggest the fruit fillings, but savory options are available as well.
- Nori Rolls, $8.95
BONOBOS (18 E. 23rd St., bonobosrestaurant.com)
This meal is as close to raw, healthy fast food as you can get. Build your nori roll by selecting one of the nut pates and then adding up to five vegetables. This fun take on sushi is served with salad to make the perfect light meal.
- Roasted Japanese Pumpkin Sandwich, $9
PEACEFOOD CAFE (460 Amsterdam Ave., peacefoodcafe.com)
This is one serious sandwich, stuffed with roasted pumpkin, caramelized onions, walnuts, vegan goat cheese and greens on a hearty spelt bread. Vegan doesn’t mean it can’t be filling—and tasty, and while the name Peacefood Cafe invokes thoughts of tie-dye and free love, I find the restaurant to have a cute, New England feel.
- Chicken Salad Salad, $10
TEANY (90 Rivington St., teany.com)
Teany is the perfect place to spend an afternoon reading with a cup of tea. Fuel up with their vegan chicken salad atop a veggie-packed plate of greens, chickpeas, hearts of palm, cucumbers, sprouts and tomatoes.
- Rice Milk Shake, $6.75
LULA'S SWEET APOTHECARY (516 E. 6th St., lulassweetapothecary.com)
This adorable store harkens back to the days of local pharmacies and soda fountains. Their creamy shakes are made of three scoops of vegan ice cream and rice milk -- all the flavor, none of the dairy.
- Tofu Scramble, $14
CANDLE 79 (154 E. 79th St., candle79.com)
I like this vegan twist on the classic diner breakfast. It’s got everything you would expect: “eggs,” potatoes, sausage and toast — oh yes, and there are even some greens to make sure you get some vegetables in your system. For a special occasion brunch, Candle 79 is your place.
- Feijoadinha with Smokey, $16
BLOSSOM (187 9th Ave., blossomnyc.com)
This spicy Brazillian dish even satisfies carnivorous cravings. Tempeh, beans, and squash come together in a delicious and hearty stew garnished with sweet potato crisps for a crunchy texture contrast.
- Malaysian Curry Stew from Wild Ginger, $13
WILD GINGER (Various locations)
This mild curry is packed with vegetables and soy for a protein boost. Its warming flavors make it comfort food.
- Hot Open Faced Tempeh Sandwich with Mashed Potatoes, $11.50
ANGELICA KITCHEN (300 E. 12th St., angelicakitchen.com)
This sandwich was my first tempeh experience, and it made me a believer. Angelica’s rich tempeh served on sourdough bread is far tastier than any meatloaf sandwich I have come across. Serve it with a scoop of mashed potatoes and you have a plant-based meal with heft.
- Classic Sundae, $16
PURE FOOD AND WINE (54 Irving Pl., purefoodandwine.com)
Sit in the garden and order the classic sundae, and you have the perfect summer evening. The classic sundae is one of the most decadent desserts I have ever enjoyed. Their delicious chocolate and vanilla coconut-based ice cream is topped with rich whipped cream, impossibly fresh banana, raw vegan chocolate and cherry sauce, and candied almond slices. You won’t believe it’s vegan.
Melissa is a NYC resident and workout junkie. She keeps motivated to stay fit and active by trying out new workout classes, signing up for races, and keeping an eye out for a fun fitness challenge. She hopes to complete the New York City Marathon for the second time in 2011. Read more about her healthy adventures in New York City at her blog fitnessnyc.wordpress.com.