Since moving to Spain, Brooklyn has been following me everywhere. I’ve seen the word Brooklyn more outside the borough than inside. Here in Madrid, it’s printed on t-shirts and hoodies, donned both by my students and city pedestrians. I’ve seen establishments named Brooklyn Pizza and Brooklyn Boxing. Lists of major cities like Paris and London include Brooklyn, eschewing NYC. To be fair, Brooklyn originally was its own independent city before it was consolidated in 1896.
Has Brooklyn replaced New York City in the international scene? I don’t know how you would measure this exactly but Brooklyn has become New York’s most recognizable brand. You want New York City cred, but with a hip edge? Just say you’re from Brooklyn, say your bar serves Brooklyn, or wear the word somewhere on your body. Even if you’re not from there, associating yourself with it means you know “cool.”
Despite the reputation, this borough does not have one face. Brooklyn has a multitude of neighborhoods, mostly colonized by transplants. Visiting my friends in Brookyln required a separate, dedicated day per friend. It’s that spread out and varied in terms of livability.
Fortunately for you, I’ve done the plant based legwork of exploring Brooklyn’s vegan budget options, literally. I’ve clocked seemingly endless hours of travel to see my friends who were stubborn enough to insist on living in the more costly (rent, anything you buy is more expensive) and less advantageous, in terms of mass transit layout, Brooklyn. Consequently, I can confidently tell you there are a plethora of vegan options, with just one caveat. Almost all of them are overpriced and pretentious. Why pay nine bucks for a veggie banh mi aka Vietnamese sandwich when I could grab something just as good in Queens for half the price?
I digress. Since we’re not talking about why Queens is better here, without any further vitriol, here are my go-to spots, frequented before or while visiting friends whom refused to travel outside the borough (an all too common symptom of living in Brooklyn).
$ = under 10 – you can get a meal for under $10
$$ = under 15 – at a lot of these places you can still eat for under $10 depending on what you order
$ Oasis – Omni, Vegan options
This will literally be your oasis in the constant hipster sandstorm that is Williamsburg. At the heart of the neighborhood beast, North 7th street and Bedford Ave, tactful tattoos, generously sized ear gauges, bicycle mounted high water cuffed jeans, and thickly spectacled mustached faces assault your senses, threatening to drown out your unexamined mediocrity.
I must thank my Polish American and native New Yorker friend, born and raised in Greenpoint, for saving me and my hunger during our college days. She’s always been a fan of the quick and cheap but quality eats. This place never seems to close, and with such regular turnover, the falafels come piping hot and crispy fresh.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the best cheap falafel in North Brooklyn (that I know of). Nowadays it kicks the chickpeas out of Mamoun’s in Manhattan (didn’t always). It used to be the dollar more, much heartier brethren of the two. Now that they’re the same price, Oasis wins. While you may be tempted to get two, one will suffice, as these plant pockets come extra stuffed. Poise your taste buds for a pickled punch. Red cabbage turned purple, red onions turned pink, and many more vinegary bits will blast your brain waves into higher frequencies. Expect a post-meal sour burp or two.
Want some extra mileage from your food with minimum cost? Ask for a schmear of babaganoush, a smoky eggplant spread that’ll cut through the layers with a snappy tang. Hummus works too, but you’re eating falafel (both are chickpea based} that’s just redundant.
$ Two Boots – Omni, Vegan options labeled
Two Boots has locations all over (see our Manhattan vegan guide for a full writeup), but I particularly like this spot. It’s got a small space for the counter and a more spacious dining room in the back. This is especially helpful for those mid-winter pizza munchies while you plan your next trek through the arctic tundra that are New York’s winter streets.
The two vegan slices are the Earth Mother and the V for Vegan. The Earth Mother has a thick whole wheat crust, is cheeseless and salad-like, while the V for Vegan is crispy, cheesy, has two kinds of pestos, and is covered with red onions and artichokes.
You know which one to get.
It’s also worth noting that you can call in advance and order a whole vegan pie with whatever your plant-based heart desires on it. Share with friends or devour the whole thing yourself.
$ Vinnie’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled
Once upon a pizza time in Brookyln, all we had was Vinnie’s. An old friend to the vegan vanguard, they always had inspired vegan options. This spot has limited seating and is usually full, but if the line is only a few persons deep, chances are a spot will open up while you wait. If you can’t snag a seat, get it to go, take a stroll to McCarren Park and mow down that slice while lounging on the grass.
They boast a fine selection of vegan slices and the counter service was always happy to share the details. The best, consistently good slice is the eggplant parmigiana slice, a go-to staple of mine. It tastes and feels like it should, but it ain’t as cheesy as your dairy laden brethren. Also check out their daily vegan specials, like the tomato basil slice, although I generally always craved the eggplant slice afterward.
You should know that the Sam ranks the following best to worst: Screamers (see Greenpoint section below), Two Boots, Vinnie’s. I do not disagree.
$ Vanessa’s Dumpling House – Omni, vegan options
As with Two Boots, if you want the full lowdown on the grubs at Vanessa’s, see our Manhattan vegan guide. I can, however, provide you with a location unique review.
Upon entering the Williamsburg outpost, you’ll notice something immediately, other than hipsters – it is way nicer than their Manhattan counterparts. You could take a low key date here if they’re like the Sam, who refuses to go to any establishment with white table cloths. The other locations, you could as well, to show off your budget vegan chops.
In general, go for the veggie dumplings, fried. While I prefer steamed, the only other offer is boiled, steam’s distant, drowned out flavor relative. If you’re looking for more than a snack, grab a plate of their cold sesame noodles as well, made in house.
A famous Alaskan once told me that he knew another place that was even cheaper than this. I knew exactly where he was thinking. And this “cheaper place” turned out to be a regular rat rampage that was consequently shut down by the authorities. You have to draw the line somewhere and not leave your dignity/hygiene on the wrong side. Moral of the story: cheaper is not always better. Period.
$ Screamer’s – All Vegan
Holy shit Screamer’s had me screaming. A plain slice, aka just a cheese slice, for $3 and vegan? Considering that it’s very common to pay 2.75 for a slice of NYC pizza, this is great and needs become a standard everywhere. Since the plant-based world doesn’t receive subsidies like animal products do, vegan food comes at a premium and arguably reflects the real cost of food. Sometimes though, this premium just seems too high and turns off a lot of potential customers, including myself. But with this staple, right out the oven, I’m impressed.
The slices? The crust is just as it should be – crispy at the bottom, chewy at the end. The spinach white slice was made with almond ricotta. Gasp! You’d never know unless they told you. The sausage had the right amount of salt, fat, and fennel. They even have a calzone(!) When I come back to Brooklyn, this will be my second stop, after Oasis.
$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled
Go immediately here after finishing your pizza at Screamer’s – they’re right next door. Van Leeuwen’s offers a variety of vegan flavors to assuage your animal free attitude. The interior has a nice wooden panel homely feel, a twist on Williamsburg hipsterdom and New York chic, minus the pretension.
Try the peanut butter chunk – it’s got just the right amount of peanutty-ness and doesn’t overpower the vanilla base flavor. Or try the chocolate: its cocoa density exceeds a neutron star, its darkness rivaling galactic black holes. Or even have them together, which we did.
$ Los Hermanos – Omni, Vegan options
Once you round the corner upon exiting the Jefferson Ave stop, you’ll notice this isn’t your typical Mexican food joint. Los Hermanos is actually a tortilla factory with a self-service front. The deli case inside contains literally dozens of food components waiting to be sliced, rolled, smashed, scooped, chopped, and diced on the prep counter behind it. What’s wholly guacamole impressive here is the veritable montón of ripe avocados they have stocked. These perfectly ripened, green buttery bad boys need to be on everything you order here. Everything here is fresh.
At Los Hermanos a half-dozen army assembles taquitos, cemitas, tostadas, and tacos non-stop. Virtually everything up for offer is a set of variations that can be done for each form. What you want really depends on if you want a corn or wheat tortilla, bread, fried or deep fried. Personally, I recommend getting at least a fresh (made daily), non-deep fried item with corn tortillas as fresh corn tortillas are rare and hard to find.
Here’s a pro tip: write your order on the card in Spanish, with the following: [insert taco, cemita, or tostada, etc] vegetariana sin crema o queso, con aguacate. Not only is it a nice nod to use the language that clearly all the employees speak, but it also reduces the possibility for confusion about your order. Also, every time I’ve ordered like that, they didn’t charge me extra for the avocado, which is listed as such. Once you grab your order, help yourself to lime wedges and red and green hot sauces.
Also, buy a pound of a fresh made tortillas for a buck. For a buck! I used to bike away with tortilla stacks dangling from my handlebars.
$$ Champs – All Vegan
We like Champs and technically they fit the criteria of under a $15 meal, kinda. But nothing here feels budget, with 11 dollar plates at the cheapest (of a pretty decent size, to be fair), and 8- 9 dollar milkshakes. Champs serves quality food and probably their prices reflect the aforementioned food premiums and New York rent prices.
With that in mind, within the grand scheme of New York, this is a good date spot for the alternative type. Like an old school diner, the inside is checkered with aluminum side tables in booths. Expect the alt-iest of alt when it comes to the servers; they don’t mess around when it comes to alternative style. Someone not wearing high waisted pants is the exception.
The menu is big, but we mostly enjoy the breakfast items. I have yet to try a tofu scramble better than this place. The nachos are solid and you can expect similar style appetizers. It seems that vegan diner spots are a thing in the US, considering we found a western iteration of Champs in Salt Lake City. Vegan diners are so popular that a vegan server in Portland remarked that among them, Champs was just “okay.” Keep in mind – she’s been spoiled by the vegan mecca that is Portland.
Our only complaint with Champs is that they use a lot of vegan products, so while everything is assembled there, some lesser products unfortunately shine through, like certain melty fun called vegan cheese. Where they excel is in the house made foods, like their tofu scramble, nacho cheese, guacamole, and waffles/ pancakes.
$ Dunwell Doughnuts – All Vegan
With a smaller location in Manhattan, we felt we owed the flagship the proper review. This spot has a super old school retro feel, with black walls and an art deco radio the size of R2-D2. The donuts are great and standards like the glazed donut come with our seal of approval. Also, the size of the space here allows for some time to stop and enjoy some coffee with your donut.
There is not a hell of a lot I can say about Old Stanley’s. It’s a fairly divey spot with an unusual open design that serves vegan hot dogs for a couple of bucks. Sometimes after or during a night out drinking, sometimes you just crave some junk food. Considering that the same quality veg dog will cost you more than twice as much at other spots like Crif Dogs, this qualifies as a deal.
$ Father Knows Best (Bushwick)
This spot was introduced to me by a very stubborn Brooklynite of Scottish descent with a penchant for particularities, so expect a cool, quality establishment. There are a couple vegan options (such as tasty hummus) and I’m sure you can get a coffee here as well. They had live jazz Monday nights. Do expect Brooklyn portions though, and by that I mean the opposite of the geographic size of the borough.
BONUS: Vegan Shop Up
This is a pop-up shop that appears in Brooklyn monthly, at a minimum. In busier seasons, like the holidays and summer, it can happen twice or even three times a month at different locations – their website has all the up-to-date info. The original is at the Pine Box Rock Shop, a self-professed vegan bar. This is definitely a vegan sight to see, as all the vegans and the vegan-friendly come out of the woodwork in true New York fashion. Everything time I waltzed through here I wondered about every person and debated their apparent level of veganism – in my head, of course.
Veganism aside, if there’s one thing I can say without a doubt, everyone is sinking their teeth into some seriously plant-based thoroughfare. Tattoos and piercings abound, obscured by chunky knit wool in the cold months and skin boldly emblazoned in the warmer ones.
At Vegan Shop Up, you can scope out all that is going on the vegan scene. There are lots of vendors and it’s a great way to see what sort of products are out there and the direction plant-based foods are heading. Still, I cannot recommend every kiosk. Discretion is advised. I have however, tried some of the best vegan products that New York has to offer here. Some of the main (and my favorite) vendors are:
Cinnamon Snail – makes frequent appearances, where I usually went to avoid their weekday lines before their brick and mortar days. The lines are shorter here, instead of wrapping around the block.
Cheezhound – This is gourmet, artisan vegan cheese and it is amazing. Rich, creamy, spreadable, cuttable – whip out your finest wines. The best vegan blue cheese I’ve ever had was from here and it really brought out the old cheese fiend in me. The owner is a punky, leathery jacket-wearing, badass woman handing out samples and withholding the recipe with a smirk.
Spanky’s – The brownies from here are the best vegan brownies I’ve ever had, hands down. My previously incredulous Cinnamon Snail’d friend is a devout brownie worshipper and devoured two of Spanky’s brownies in one sitting. Spanky’s is confident in their product, always offering hearty sample chunks.
Why do their brownies beat all the best vegan endeavors? His desire to create food that appeals to non-vegans is the key, I believe. The owner actually isn’t vegan. His wife is severely lactose intolerant, and he wanted to create a cream cheese to go with her bagels she missed so dearly. He didn’t stop there, making butters, cookies, and now brownies. My happiest moment was when, as a regular customer, I couldn’t decide which of two kinds brownies to try, they gave me both for the price of one.
Yeah Dawg – Great, from scratch, vegan hot dogs with all the toppings. They make the hot dogs, think a hot dog artisan stuffing a casing with plant-based goodies. A bit expensive, but an impressive product nonetheless.
So there you have it – the best cheap vegan eats in Brooklyn. But as New York is exploding with new vegan eateries every day and Brooklyn is at the epicenter of NYC veganism, there are sure to be more that we haven’t tried (or possibly even heard of!) yet.
What vegan spots in Brooklyn do we need to try next time we’re in town? Is Brooklyn on your radar as a vegan hot spot? Share your thoughts in the comments below!