Trying to find cheap vegan food in NYC that’s not dollar pizza or prepackaged indigestion?
It’s New York’s metaphorical needle in a haystack/back alley dumpster. The Big Apple bursts at the seams with the best of the best (for a premium) and the worst of the worst (for a slightly smaller premium).
Try asking New Yorkers for a suggestion and watch as everyone clamors to opine on the best cheap eat and how it’s a better deal than everything else. Yet rarely will their choice reflect something that isn’t covered in cheese or stuffed with mystery meat that will permanently anchor your stomach like the USS Intrepid in Hudson Harbor.
Now try asking vegan New Yorkers and you’ll learn how distorted their sense of “cheap” is. Just because something is under $20 doesn’t automatically make it a deal. Case in point: Blossom Du Jour’s $9 crap wraps are no bigger than a pack of playing cards (I’m not kidding).
A vegan Manhattanite’s existence doesn’t need to be spent in Whole Foods during the day and lurking inside questionably decorated, overpriced vegetarian bistros at night. We’re here to show you there are alternatives – you just need to know where to look. Sam and I have a combined 10 plus years of scouring this concrete jungle for its plant friendly corners.
These are our favorite spots to get delicious cheap vegan food in NYC that meet our sole core criterion – the sweet intersection between appropriate price and given quality.
$ = meal under $10; $$ = meal under $15
Looking for cheap vegan food in Brooklyn? Read our guide here.
Looking for cheap vegan food in Queens? These Queenies have got your back – read our guide here.
Veren’s Picks for Cheap Vegan Food in NYC
$ Vanessa’s Dumpling House (East Village, Chinatown, also Williamsburg in Brooklyn) – Omni, vegetarian options labeled
When hanging in lower Manhattan, Vanessa’s was always my pre-bar destination. In NYC, most bars do not serve food, let alone have vegan options (other than five dollar French fries). Usually, I ditched dinner plans with friends and met them at the bar after. Over the years, I recruited dinner dissenters and this became a ritual. Even on our last night in NYC, right before our going away party a few blocks down, we came to Vanessa’s, allies in tow.
When it comes to tasty and filling food, you’ll be cold-green-juice pressed for better-priced veggie options. You can get it greasy or you can get it steamed. There’s something for everyone here, so bring some friends.
The experience at Vanessa’s is that of a typical Chinatown spot, including the staff’s general disdain for their customers. To their credit though, their menu takes everything up a notch. Virtually every section of food has a veggie option. I’ve never ordered the rice bowls, but I’ve tasted them, and for 5 -6 dollars you’ll be very happy.
Get: My go-to order is veggie dumplings, cold sesame noodles, and a plain sesame pancake. I’m a sucker for handmade noodles (check out my budget guide on Queens to see why).
$ Dumpling Man (East Village) – Omni, vegan items labeled, gluten-free options
If you’re living in NYC and don’t know The Dumpling Man, then I don’t know you. The veggie dumplings here are unrivaled (yes they are better quality than Vanessa’s and priced accordingly). You can literally see them made right before your vegan eyes.
Over the years of my patronage, I have witnessed two constants. First, the cashiers are always young, white, and speak Mandarin (presumably all NYU students). Second, the dumplings are made in the open, for curious eyes to see, by what I perceive as the foremost professionals in the art of dumpling making.
They are completely disinterested in you, focused instead on churning out handmade dumplings, one at a time, at an incredible speed we can physically witness but never fully comprehend. Take a front-row seat for the show or sit at the long counter with stools in the typically tiny but long space.
Now onto the dumplings. The smoked tofu filling with shiitake mushrooms will provide the most savory and satisfying vegan dumpling you’ll ever sink your teeth into. The homemade wrapper is super soft and chewy. I prefer them steamed, as it allows the nuanced layering of flavor to shine. If you want the extra mileage (i.e. more filling), order those suckers seared – the extra oil does the trick. I know omnivores who frequently order these willingly.
So grab an order, mix some vinegar and soy sauce with a tiny squirt of Sriracha (avoid the deluxe sauces, they overpower these delicate dumplings), and muster the courage to chopstick each loving lump into your gaping vegetabled mouth.
Get: the vegan dumplings. There’s a daily changing vegan AND gluten free option too.
$$ Beyond Sushi (Chelsea Market, Midtown) – All Vegan, gluten free upon request
Never has an establishment been so aptly named.
If you want to feel like you’re eating distinctly different yet decadent deluxe dragon style veggie rolls, look no further. With handcrafted maki rolls, sushi pieces, and other non-sushi items, these purveyors literally go beyond the conventional call of sushi. Expect a roll to be stuffed with many things, with lots of layers on top, and dollops of creamy sauces.
$$ Hotel Tortuga (14th Street) – Omni, Vegan items labeled, gluten free options
This recent discovery I have a friend to thank for. The place is cozy, small, and doesn’t take reservations. Expect it to usually be full, as there isn’t much else like this in the area for this price and level of veganibility (nearly all items can be veganized).
They have an extensive vegetarian section on the menu and can veganize any item at your request. Also, unlimited, self-serve salsa – the best idea ever for me, and the worst profit margin for them. Plus, they have vegan chorizo – though don’t get overzealous (your stomach will thank you).
Get: unlimited salsa and chips, any of the vegetarian burritos (veganized for 1 buck extra)
$$ The Cinnamon Snail (Midtown West, sometimes at pop-up events) – All Vegan, gluten free options
This food truck (and recently installed brick n’ mortar) has both an omnivorous and vehemently vegan fan base. The food is all organic, so expect a markup. But to the appreciator of finer things in life, every dollar spent and minute waited on line, is worth it (there always was a long line, 40-minute wait to order).
Due to some complicated NYC vendor license issues, the truck is no longer serving daily, so your best bet is to catch the truck at an event, like the Vegan Shop Up in Bushwick. Check out their twitter feed for regular updates.
So the food.
The stars of the savory show are the sandwiches. The Korean Barbecue seitan sub will drip through your fingers. The beast-mode burger deluxe will aggressively avalanche its way into your mouth. The toppings and names change now and then, but anything with their homemade seitan whether it’s chucked, chopped, or burgered, will amply satisfy.
And they have something for every type of vegan. Totally Tofu? Seriously seitan? Tempestuously tempeh? They got you covered. Not into the faux meats? There’s always a mushroom or eggplant sandwich too.
You can’t go without trying a dessert. Their donuts are fantastic and they always get creative with the combos. We had one with raspberry and cheese – super soft, perfectly sweet, and the cheese oh so creamy.
And you must try their signature pastry (hint: their name). One time I split it with a friend, who, with a first bite, incredulously exclaimed: “This is vegan?” It tastes that buttery.
Get: any sandwiches and dessert – it’s all good. Gluten free options here.
$ Brooklyn Bagel (Chelsea)
Check out the Queens guide for the full rundown. Basically, great bagels, great vegan cream cheese – your best bet for an authentic New York Bagel with cream cheese made vegan.
Get: Anything, but our fav is toasted everything bagel with spinach tofu cream cheese
$ Mamoun’s (West Village, East Village) – Omni, vegetarian options labeled
An old guard of the cheap eats institution. The quick turnover and constant line ensure you’re getting some seriously fresh falafel. But of course, prices have risen, and I was less impressed each of the last few times I ate here.
Still, it’s nowhere near terrible, rather just a slight stumble from grace. Last I saw their St. Marks location moved a few doors down to a bigger, nicer space.
Get: The falafel sandwich, of course. Careful with the hot sauce – mostly heat, little flavor. But the best budget falafel isn’t in Manhattan.
Sam’s Picks for Cheap Vegan Food in NYC
I love all of Veren’s spots. But since I worked in Manhattan, I ended up going to more of the lunch-y options on my lunch breaks or after work. Some of these are all vegan, some just have some tasty vegan options, all of them are delicious and budget-friendly.
$$ Terri (Chelsea, Midtown, Financial District) – All Vegan
Terri brands itself as “vegan fast food.” Here you’ll find a great selection of tasty sandwiches, wraps, and salads, though since I have a thing against ordering salads out, I always got sandwiches (my favorite being the vegan Bacon, Cheddar, Chicken Ranch). When I used to work at a startup in Silicon Alley (ugh, I can’t believe it’s actually called that), if I was having a bad day I’d walk down here, get a sandwich, and people watch in Madison Square Park.
$$ By Chloe (Flatiron, West Village, SoHo) – All Vegan
Chloe Coscarelli was the first vegan chef to win a culinary competition on TV and now she’s taking New York (and the world) by storm, with four By Chloe locations, a bakery, and two more locations opening soon. By Chloe has a mean mac-n-cheese, yummy dessert, and some tasty burgers, but it can get insanely crowded (at least the Village location always was)!
$ Dunwell Doughnuts (East Village, Bushwick) – All Vegan
I’ve actually only been to Dunwell once as they just opened a St. Mark’s location (there’s one in Bushwick which is quite far from us in Queens) just before we left NYC for Spain. Their donuts are LEGIT. They also have amazing ice cream. They’re just down the block from Dumpling Man, but there’s no seating. If it’s nice out, you can do what we did on one of our last days in the city: get dumplings and donuts to go and walk to Tompkins Square Park for some great people watching.
$ Taïm (SoHo) – Vegetarian, items with dairy/eggs marked
Normally I wouldn’t consider a falafel sandwich that’s close to $8 to be budget, but considering the freshness and size of Taïm’s falafel sandwich, coupled with the fact that in SoHo there aren’t a ton of budget vegan options, I’m adding it to the list. Apparently, taïm means tasty/delicious in Hebrew, and tasty and delicious it is!
And if you don’t take our word for it, Zagat consistently includes Taïm in their top 50 best restaurants in NYC. So, yeah.
$ S’Mac (East Village) – Omni, vegan items marked
I used to go constantly covet S’Mac during my college years, especially when I lived just a few blocks away. When I became vegan, mac and cheese was one of the things I was most loathe to give up. Luckily for me, I’m clearly not alone in my mac and cheese obsession, and I’ve since tried many vegan mac and cheeses (Veren’s still may be my favorite, and I’m not just saying that for the girlfriend points). S’Mac’s version is coconut milk based, and you can taste it, which isn’t a bad thing. You can choose whatever you want to put inside it. Great place to go also with omni friends.
$ Two Boots (East & West Villages, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown East, Upper East & Upper West Sides) – Omni, vegan items marked
Two Boots is a great option no matter where you find yourself in the city. They’re not all vegan, but they have tons of locations, including areas where it’s hard to find cheap vegan eats. They usually have a few different types of vegan slices available, but you can call ahead and pre-order from a variety of different vegan pies if you know you’re going and you’re more than one person (or just a very hungry person).
One last note – it’s time to talk about the Impossible burger, part of a new wave of plant-based products meant to appeal to omnivores as a more environmentally sustainable alternative to meat.
Its Impossible-ness is served at several BareBurgers (a burger chain) and a few other locations in New York. Check the locations on Impossible Food’s website here.
The Impossible Burger harkens back to a nascent age of fast food when the food was actually real. However, outside of trying this particular item, we cannot recommend Momofuku Nishi, the place that first served the burgers in New York, and where we tried them last summer. Veren found the atmosphere obnoxious, and Sam was infuriated (still is) by paying a dollar extra for a vegan bun (it’s literally the vegan burger of the future, and vegans get penalized!). Plus, we’re pretty sure the fries came from the McDonald’s down the street.
Seriously, fuck that shit.
Whether you’re of the extremely budget conscious or looking for some new veggie dives, the aforementioned list will propel your veggie arsenal to new heights. Of course, New York moves at an incredible pace, with new places opening and closing within even 6 months. The positive is all the new places we have yet to discover.
What new (or old) spots for cheap vegan food in NYC should we try next time we’re in town?