The Vegan’s Guide: Best of 2011

Once again, we are at the start of a new year and with that, we must now initiate lift-off for the best list of 2011! From restaurants to companies to the most useful apps, I’ve compiled a comprehensive all-inclusive list of the latest and greatest contenders of the year.

Best Restaurant: Curly’s

A veggie burger never looked more sinful.

The Riff:

It’s delicious. It’s nutritious (or at least I like to trick myself into thinking so). It’s… Curly’s Vegetarian Lunch! This little hole-in-the-wall well deserves its place on the throne for this year’s best restaurant.

From the kooky decór to the gratis dinner-mat defacing (I prefer work of art ; ) ) with supplied crayons to the side to, uhof duh, the mouth-watering burgers, tacos, macaroni and rich dessert selections, this eatery will leave you wanting for nothing… except maybe an anti-aspirin. Nahh, you’ll just get mad-itis. But good itis. Mad good itis. ; )

The Raff:

The one caveat to Curly’s is how teensy it is. The bathroom is only accessible by going behind the counter (which makes me feel weird but special at the same time), and the whole restaurant can only seat about 20 people… which can get pretty crazy in turbo nomnom mode. Still, it just ends up making the place feel all the more exclusive. : ) Don’t you all go hitting up my spot at the same time now! Unless lunch is on you!

Runner-up: Buddha Bodhai

The Shrimp Rice Rolls I dream about every night.

The Riff:

The Bodai has been serving up heavenly kosher eatz since ’98, and thank god (lotsa divine repping in this graph, I know), because it really is the stuff that gastronomic dreams are made of. From saucy mock General Tso’s to crispier-than-a-fresh-perm Seafood Pan Fried Noodles, you can be sure no one in your party will go hungry. Unless, of course, it’s all for you… no judgements here!

The Raff:

The atmosphere is not what I would deem 5-star… but really, the food overshadows all that. Service is no frills, but Kent Zhang is undoubtedly the spanking image of a jolly Asian restaurant owner. Yeah, I said it… and I got the rep to back it up!

What always irks me is that they put the chopsticks right on the table… being the germaphobe I am, I almost always clean them with the sometimes complimentary tea.

Finally, the dim sum menu is only available till 3:30… I say this with great pain because it’s my favorite thing about them… and I have run myself silly on a few occasions just to meet that deadline. They are stubborn about it too (I missed it by one minute and if it wasn’t for my effective methods of persuasion, I wouldn’t have gotten my rice roll triumph that day!)… but I guess a few burned calories and risking life and limb on the tiny Mott Street sidewalks is worth the melt-in-your-mouth beef buns and deep-fried shrimp balls at the end of a smelly Chinatown rainbow.

Honorable Mention: Kate’s Joint

Did I mention I love Kate? Omnomnom

The Riff:

Vegan and punk rock go hand-in-hand at the KJ, where dark corners and Buffalo Un-Chicken Wings combine to create one slammin’ noshing pit. The Alphabet City staple serves up some finger-lickin’ good times with its wide array of couch-potato inducing fare, including but certainly not limited to: Nachos Grande, Disco Fries, a Southern Tofu Dinner for Two (so good, we’ve had it twice!) and a “Meat-Lovers” Pizza. With joints like these, who needs cheese? ; )

The Raff:

Their bathroom is probably the most graffiti-ed up loo I’ve seen in years (this is a hefty statement as I’ve been a NYer all my life… andd have seen enough despicable toilets to prove it!)… so if you live in the ‘hood, take a tinkle before you drinkle.

Don’t expect super great service here either… the last 3 times I’ve been there, I’ve been served by a nonchalant Ziggy Stardust gone bad dude, a wannabe hot-topic’d out Veronicas fangirl, and a slow-ass waitress more interested in the condition of her cuticles than getting me some water. If it wasn’t for their seductive southern charm (not talking about the humans here), I would probably not come again. But alas, the food beckons me!

Best Grab-N-Go: Terri’s

This sandwich takes the meatball for most filling.

The Riff:

Sometimes, you just don’t have time to wait around and sit your caboose down for lunch, or usually, breakfast (as a journalism grad student, I am all too familiar with the hollow sound my stomach makes come 11:00 a.m.). That’s where Terri’s comes in: this clean, sleek bar-style café has moderately priced healthy sandwiches and wraps that are absolutely scrumptious, and most importantly, won’t make you feel guilty at all. It’s proven: I’ve scarfed down a whole Meatball Sub and never looked back. Well… maybe for one of their Butterfinger Shakes. mmm.

The Raff:

I can’t say too much bad about this place… except that I don’t fancy their pre-packaged juices. They offer a wide array of freshly-made smoothies… so, why not spend 5 minutes for a Sunset Proposal or Green Power? It’s much worth it!

There is also no bathroom here, though they kindly allow me to use the sink, essential for getting my paws on the goods. Luckily, for desperates, there is a public toilet in the Home Depot a few stores down.

Runner Up: ‘Snice

Mind-noshingly satisfying!

The Riff:

A wholly wooden little café helmed by mostly NYU-art major undergrad types, ‘Snice is a great lo-fi locale to pick up a pressed panini or Philly Style Seitan sammich. They also have some of the most moist Red Velvet Cupcakes I’ve had the pleasure of imbibing. Washed down with some self-served wata with the latest issue of L Magazine from their communal shelf, and I can say, it’s not just ‘snice, it’s ‘sawesome (please excuse my cheeze : ) )

The Raff:

It’s always loud in here. I don’t know if it’s the free Wi-Fi or proliferation of mommies toting kiddies at lunch hour, but the cacophony of “yeah, I got drunk last night” and “Molly, do you need to pee-pee?” can get a bit outta hand. Then again, you are sitting on an unfinished wooden bench. With “Amy <3 Kelly” engraved in it. So yeah.

Honorable Mention: Maoz

Salad bar means a customizable lunch, different every time!

The Riff:

Maoz, the ubiquitous falafel pusher, is nonetheless a quick and convenient way to sate your hungry veggie-lovin’ palate. The salad bar is my favorite, and I load up on broccoli, chickpeas, corn n’tomato, pesto sauce and hummus to my greedy content. Plus, multiple locations mean you don’t need to slog down to an obscure locale just to get your falafel fix. Ah, how I love a vegan franchise.

The Raff:

There’s really no place to sit down… a few Maoz have little booths by the window, but this is really not an ideal dining setting. Thus, a grab-n-go mentality suits this place to a T. Also, you can’t really just buy a falafel sammich, you have to buy it with a drink and fries, making it quite annoying when you don’t want to pay extra for it. Otherwise, no gripes!

Best Dessert Spot: Atlas Café (on Tuesdays only)

A typical Atlas display on a Tuesday... mmm...

The Riff:

Every Tuesday, desserts from Vegan Treats make their exodus from their HQ in Pennsylvania (the one and only reason I would move there) to the Atlas display case you so droolingly see above. Since I don’t actually live in PA, this display case is really all I look forward to each week. Filled to the brim with whole vegan Strawberry Cheesecakes, Glazed Cinnamon Buns (these do not fit in the case and so sit snugly on top of it), Peanut Butter Bomb cupcakes (each peanut butter bomb product has peanut butter icing encased in an orgasmic chocolate shell drizzled with peanut icing) and DONUTS, AC is the place to be for any dessert-loving vegan.

The Raff:

Although I stress that Tuesday is the best day to go, other days are ok… though I have gone on a Friday, and to my chagrin, brought home a moldy muffin and stale slice of coconut cake in my unawares. Read my rant if  you dare.

The seating is also not the best– cramped and messy, with mismatched chairs. The menu is also gargantuan, I kid you not: endless, mindboggling writing-on-the-wall… I advise you to find your favorites and stick to them, as you really don’t know how fresh everything really is (here I speak of the entreés, not desserts).

Runner-up: CocoaV

A mix of Lemon Pecan Praline and Citrus Agave bonbons, a gift from Ray :)

The Riff:

Started by the owner of Blossom and Café Blossom, CocoaV was already blessed with the golden touch when it opened in 2009. Handmade bonbons, chocolate and baked goods are all available and kosher, fair-trade certified.  My personal favorite to date is the Lemon Pecan Praline… which has pop rocks in the citrusy middle. ‘Nuff said. Dun-well Donuts are also available on Saturday noons– but make haste, cause the stock is all but depleted in the matter of an hour. Voracious vegans!

The Raff:

Like many vegan specialty shops, the chocolates are expensivvveee. One bon bon is a shocking $2.50, and lasts about .0249 seconds to consume, if, like me, you breathe in your chocolate. So I now resort to chopping each one to pinhead size and slowly melting it in my mouth. Lasts me a day at least. : ) Around the holidays, chocolates also run out very quickly. Stock up!

Honorable Mention: Teany

Pretty and even prettier in my tummy!

The Riff:

Perhaps one of the most well-known vegan spots in NYC, Teany stocks items like *gasp* vegan croissants and cheese quiches that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The atmosphere is upscale casual, with cozy wooden-nooks and candlelit tables, perfect for a low-key date. This café’s pièce de résistance is its drink menu: stocked with NINETY EIGHT different kinds of tea from around the world, you can pretty much have a unique libation each time you come here. Provided you don’t go over 98 times in your life.

The Raff:

The hot entrées here are microwaved, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. Service is also not too friendly. After giving the waitress the wrong bill, I apologized, but she proceeded to talk about me quite audibly behind the counter. At least wait till I’m outta earshot, madam!


That about sums up our 2011 in vegan eats! Make the new year a leaner, meaner and greener one by trying out a new restaurant, or simply stealing a piece of my (vegan chao) pie.