When I first planned to write this new, 2016 Vegetarian Dining Guide (our 2014 vegetarian dining guide is also awesome, you should check it out) I thought about making different categories, like best vegetarian dishes by neighborhood or by ingredient or by course. But then I was like, why limit myself? I just want this to be an epic list of the 29 (It was going to be 25 but we got hungry) best vegetarian dishes in the city with no restrictions. Disclaimer: These are not necessarily healthy dishes. I consider carbs to be my very best friends. Also none of these dishes are titled “vegetarian plate.” Note to chefs: when you tell me you’re going to serve me “a composition of seasonal vegetable sides” I want to throw my plate in your face. And finally: none of these dishes are salads. Fuck salads. So here goes, all of your favorite vegetarian food writer’s favorite dishes!
You’re rolling your eyes. It’s tofu. And no one wants to eat tofu. Vegetarians only eat tofu because they have no other choices. But it’s time to Give Tofu A Chance. If you try the tofu at Thip Khao you will understand the level of greatness tofu can achieve. Chef Seng takes tofu and turns it into these crispy little golden nuggets of heaven that are soaked in a vibrant, balanced sweet and spicy sauce and dotted with crisp chopped scallions. This dish will turn anyone into a tofu aficionado.
Burrata is a good thing. When housemade ravioli is stuffed with burrata it is so good it doesn’t even need a sauce. Simply adorned with a few charred broccoli florets, this ravioli is positively dreamy. Savor. Each. Bite.
The puffy croquettes I sampled recently at Nido have an exquisite crunch on the outside, with an exuberant sweet potato filling. A whisper of heat give them an even more robust flavor, as does the accompanying smoky tomato sauce.
Making the paneer (housemade cheese) at American Tandoor is a lengthy, complicated process, which is probably why they it is so delicious. After the cheese is made it is marinated in a multi-faceted sauce comprised of spices like cumin, ginger, coriander powder, red chili, turmeric, garlic, and garam masala. Then, it is baked in a tandoor, a traditional clay oven. The result is hunks of cheese so tender they will fall off your fork, brimming with a sophisticated spicy, charred flavor from the marinade and cooking process.
So when you eat Daikaya’s veggie ramen you can’t help but wonder: what makes it so crazy good? Maybe it’s the shio broth, a warm, savory and almost creamy broth that is finished in the wok to give it extra flavor. Or maybe it’s the lovely, curly ramen noodles, imported straight from Sapporo, Japan. Or maybe it’s the rainbow of vegetables in the ramen: carrots, onions, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and a pile of crunchy bean sprouts. By the time you get to the bottom of the bowl, you will have decided it doesn’t matter why it’s so good, you are just so glad you got to slurp it down.
The bao buns at Nai Nai’s are filled with a shredded tofu and mushroom mixture that is laced with in a sweet and sour kung pao sauce, then topped with a smattering of crunchy chopped peanuts and green onions. The buns are soft and fluffy, the perfect vehicle for the hearty filling.
This gorgeous, sumptuous curry is bursting with all the flavors that make Thai food so damn good. Lemongrass, garlic, ginger, thai chilis, and thai basil all play a role in this irresistible curry, which is full of chunks of sweet pumpkin, peppers, and thai basil. Served on a traditional banana leaf with white rice, it is the shining star of Thai Xing’s tasting menu.
When Beefsteak opened I wrote Jose Andres a love letter. You can read it here. Beefsteak is a dream not only for vegetarians but for anyone who wants an awesome, healthy, earthy meal. The eden bowl is my favorite dish they serve simply because it has the perfect mix of colorful veggies like asparagus and green beans and edamame served over quinoa, drenched in a cool super garlicky yogurt sauce and a drizzled with a citrus honey dressing that adds an essential sweet note.
Anyone who thinks vegetarian food can’t be opulent, you need to try the cacio e pepe pasta at the Red Hen. Thick, housemade noodles are swirled in a melted pecorino romano and black pepper sauce that coats each individual noodle. It’s rich and silky and makes you feel oh-so-decadent. You won’t see it on the menu, but they always offer it. It’s their best kept secret that’s no longer a secret because everyone who has had it wants it again and eveery who hasn’t had it is clamoring to try it.
This dish has already been covered by 1000 food writers, but that’s because it really is as good as everyone says it is. The dish features a crispy housemade bread smothered in butter and cheese and herbs, and then topped with an egg yolk which is then mixed in and cooked by the hot cheese. It is a luxurious, creamy, soul-satisfying dish; and having been to Russia where Georgian food is very prevalent, it is also notably authentic.
Meat eaters: do not scoff at this dish it is unbelievable! The dish features tofu infused with strips of grilled nori, old bay, and other seasonings which is then molded into a patty and grilled. It has a complex flavor, with a distinctive seafood essence from the nori. The sauce and crispy vegetables are the perfect compliments to the “crab cake.”
I’ve never had pate, and I never want to. But I do want to eat Kinship’s vegetarian pate: it has a marvelous, intense, earthy flavor and a indulgent, buttery texture, making it perfect for smearing on warm bread.
These are the best latkes I have ever had. The mini, crunchy latkes are topped with mounds of shredded celery root and crowned with a crispy sunchoke shard. It is a brilliant trifecta of root vegetables, all sweet and savory and earthy.
So I know that everyone thinks that the palak chaat is the best dish at Rasika, and I admit, it’s pretty awesome. But what I obsess about is the dal makhani. Lentils are an oft overlooked ingredient. Something we think of as a side dish. Something “healthy.” For Indians, lentils are both mundane and pedestrian. The dal makhani at Rasika defies all of these lentil stereotypes. The lentils are cooked with butter and an array of spices like turmeric and garam masala and cumin. The dish has an unbelievable depth of flavor, and a vibrant warmth in every sense of the word. All you need is some naan to mop it up with.
Funnel cake usually invokes memories of overly sweet fried dough cakes doused in sugar that you used to stuff your face with at your local carnival when you were a kid. Well, the carrot funnel cake at 701 takes the basic elements of a funnel cake, fried dough, and turns it into an elevated, fining dining dish. The fried dough made is made with carrots and then served with burrata, carrot puree, pickled ramps, and gooseberries. It’s ridiculously good. Sweet and crunchy and creamy from the burrata and then a burst of tartness from the ramps and berries. It’s on their menu under “sharing plates” but believe me this one dish you don’t want to share.
I always get this dish when I go to Oyamel. Chef Colin King takes his earthy housemade tortillas and stuffs them with Chihuahua cheese and delicate, woody Mexican truffles. Dunk the triangles into the sour green salsa that comes with the dish and enjoy.
I love rice. I also love garlic. The fried rice at Izakaya Seki is the perfect marriage of these two ingredients. Or perhaps marriage is the wrong word: this garlic and rice concoction is less innocent and more like a torrid affair. You need it and you need it bad.
This Adam’s Morgan Korean joint has a plethora of awesome Korean dishes, but their highlight is the spicy tofu casserole, which is served in a steaming pot with a side of rice. The dish is hot and heady, with soft pieces of tofu and veggies that have soaked up the flavor of the broth.
This elegant tart is the perfect vegetarian main course. Golden house made pastry is filled with a deeply savory blend of maitake mushrooms, spinach, and kale, crowned with a fried egg and then piled high with a mound of shredded nutty Parmesan cheese. The dish looks like an edible snow-capped mountain. It is as pleasing to your palate as it is visually appealing.
This is the agnolotti your dreams are made of: ethereal sheets of pasta soaked in a luscious, cacio de roma and black pepper sauce and topped with a whole egg yolk. It is so sinfully silky you’ll want to bathe in the sauce and lick yourself. Yes, I went there.
It’s the simplicity of this dish that makes the buns so damn good. The doughy, fluffy buns are carefully, expertly filled with a wonderful, slightly sweet, soft leek filling. Erik Bruner-Yang, you always know the way to my heart.
Historically, I have not always loved congee (basically Asian porridge). But, I had never had the congee at Sushiko. This congee is thick but not too thick, liquidy but not too liquidy, and has a wonderful velvety texture. It basically melts on your tongue. The black truffle takes it to a whole new level, adding a richness and earthiness and passion that will fill you with contentment.
Crispy, salty, greasy and awesome. Visually dramatic, these puffed up pancakes are Peter Chang’s claim to fame.
24. Fish Taco’s Elote
Elote is Mexican corn on the cob, often sold by street carts in Mexico. At Fish Taco, the ear of corn is grilled, drenched in a sweet and savory charred corn mayo sauce that is absolutely sublime, sprinkled with chili powder and cheese and cilantro and served on a stick. It’s messy and finger-licking good. Don’t make the mistake of sharing one. You must get your own.
These are pancakes like you have never had them. The pancakes are full of pieces of okra and then laden with sweet creamed corn and smoked parmesan. The dishes showcases the chef’s talent in not only highlighting contrasting flavors (bitter and sweet and salty and nutty), but also in using ingredients that one would never imagine together, but some how function in perfect harmony. The dish is wonderfully imaginative and an ode to the season’s bounty.
Everyone likes thin crust, wood-fired Italian pizza. So do I. But what I really love is a hardcore American deep dish pi. District of Pi’s Berkeley pizza is my ultimate pizza. The thick dough is layered with melted cheese, thick, chunky tomato sauce, briny olives, zucchini, peppers, garlic and onions. Hands down my favorite pi in town.
Kolokithokeftedes is the Greek word for zucchini fritters. The fritters at Kapnos are crispy patties, served with a cool, minty, garlicky Greek yogurt sauce. I could eat them all day long.
Fried foods are always good. These fried artichokes are especially fantastic, not only because you get to enjoy the slightly sweet, slightly sour, slightly nutty, slight earthy flavor of artichoke, but you also get to indulge in the crispy breaded exterior that enrobes the artichoke. Plus, you can pretend you’re being healthy: artichokes have a ton of antioxidants!
There are truffles. And cheddar cheese. And elbow pasta. ‘Nuff said.