Queens is home to two types of people: New York natives and transitory transplants that know Brooklyn is overrated and overpriced. Queens was where I earned my New York chops and the place I called home.
I’ll begrudge Brooklyn and minimize Manhattan but you’ll never hear me quaver over my love for Queens.
Queens is not glamorous. You won’t find nearly as many unlimited brunches, beard barbers, or vintage clothing stores as in Brooklyn. Even in the hippest of neighborhoods, eight out of ten mustached Queens residents aren’t trying to be ironic (I think).
There will be a surplus of thrift stores and ethnic foods to peruse to your heart’s content – on the latter Queens is hard to beat. You’ll find real deal authentic cuisines from around the world and you’ll have more than one choice for each. I used to work in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world (see below).
Saying you can find everyone from all over the planet here isn’t an overstatement. It’s actually just a statement. That’s why the authenticity of food here is second to no other borough.
I must admit though, compared to Brooklyn and Manhattan, Queens has the least all-vegan spots. Seriously. Happycow search it and you will find vast virtual swaths of 100% vegan vacancy. Yet that doesn’t mean the borough isn’t vegan-friendly. If you’re willing to do some intra-borough traveling, you will find some unforgettable, delicious food that’s mostly unintentionally vegan.
Now on the gems grouped by neighborhood. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve gone to most of these – they’re that good.
Astoria is a curious mix of new and old. While Astoria has changed quite a bit, the area still stubbornly retains a very old layer of grit. I think Steinway Street, the major conduit that roughly bisects Queens, best exemplifies this. I used to live on the northern tail end.
A quick glance around and you’ll simultaneously see stores closing, stores opening, and long-standing stores with faded dirty signs reaching 10 plus years of age. There are so many spots to eat but most are nothing spectacular, especially considering vegan fare. Your best bet is to grab this all to go and make your way to Astoria Park to lounge as you gaze over the East River.
$ King of Falafel and Schwarma
King of Falafel and Schwarma has this name for a reason. While many may challenge this throne, I do recall a former roommate from LA who couldn’t handle any temperature below 65 degrees braving the NYC arctic tundra for a morsel from the king’s own hand. While not the cheapest falafel, it is hardly expensive for NYC standards. The tahini sauce here will punch right through your chickpea covered taste buds. There are two new locations, but this was the first.
Get: Falafel sandwich or Falafel platter with all the sauce
Note: Cash only
$ Brooklyn Bagel
You haven’t truly experienced the New York food scene until you’ve had a bagel with cream cheese.
Forget all the fancy toppings and sandwich mockery that trendy vendors try to push on you.
A New York bagel is simple. A super soft middle and chewy outside, they taste great alone, but reach astronomical heights of taste bud pleasure with a generous schmear of cream cheese. After going vegan I didn’t give a second thought to bagels.
Brooklyn Bagel changed everything. Down the street from my last apartment, this ironically named bagel shop doesn’t actually exist in Brooklyn but has three locations in Queens and one in Manhattan.
I don’t know what their secret is, but damn the vegan cream cheese here is so good that I don’t miss the mammary stuff one bit. It’s tofu based with the perfect consistency and taste – creamy yet thick with a subtle tang. With four flavors including plain and a dozen kinds of bagels, you’ll think you’re in a vegan New York heaven.
Get: Anything, but I my favorite is the everything bagel with spinach tofu cream cheese.
$ New York City Bagel
This spot is a close runner up to Brooklyn Bagel (I know, ironic). If the latter is an A+, then NY Bagel is an A- at most, B+ at least. They beat out Brooklyn Bagel with their hours and often if it had just closed, we’d go here. Stick to the basics – toasted with vegetable tofu cream cheese, and you’re all set. There are lots of excellent places to sit inside and out.
Get: Everything bagel, toasted, with spinach and artichoke cream cheese.
This neighborhood is one of my favorite spots in Queens as everything I want to eat is located within a few blocks. I must express that this is not your picturesque New York postcard. Not that it doesn’t have its own beauty, but it’s not exactly the sparkly New York shown in the movies.
Groceries and bodegas abound, running the gamut of East and South Asia. In the summer, outside one of the supermarkets on the main intersection, expect a slinger of young Thai coconuts piled high on a cart. 1.50 will get you a coconut sans top (hacked off via machete) and handed to you with a straw. It’ll be my stand-in until we make our way to Southeast Asia.
One of my all time favorite sit down restaurants and favorite Thai spot. With a vegetarian section on the menu and some requests to withhold specific ingredients, you will have some delicious vegan Thai food. As long as you avoid the typically American choices, like pineapple fried rice and sweet sour something, you will be very pleased.
Get: Papaya salad (hold the dried shrimp!), eggplant with Basil, massaman curry. Seasonal desserts: custard pumpkin (winter), mango with coconut sticky rice (summer).
Note, this is only self-service, no frills spot so know what you want – no finger twiddling at the cashier. They’ve got work to do and no time for your thumb up your butt.
The hand pulled noodles are the star of the show – you may even see them hand pulling them. Have them as stir fry or in a soup. Avoid the veggie dumplings – they take too long and have hardly any filling.
If you’re feeling adventurous and impatient for your food, try a small cold plate. For 2.75 you choose a series of cold items from a mini buffet counter – I have no idea what most of them are – just order stuff that looks like vegetables. There is a mushroom that looks like a shriveled ear that tastes awesome. One can get this dish immediately and nibble on it as they wait for their main order. Also, unlimited free oolong tea!
Make sure you properly clean up after yourself or you will beckon the stare of death from the (presumed) owner, who watches idly by.
Get: Vegetable sauteed noodles or vegetable noodle soup. Optional: Vegetable cold plate to nibble while you wait.
Note: Cash Only
I would call this similar to Lao Bei Fang but if you want to sit down and have table service. They have a few vegan options but come for the noodles which I (along with Michelin guide, apparently) can highly recommend. The heaping bowl of hand pulled dial oil noodles, with a scoop of garlic and bok choy on top, I could eat every day.
If you dragged a friend along who’s not into noodles, the eggplant with garlic with a side of rice is a delicious alternative. Don’t bother ordering veggie dumplings or veggie buns as they never have them. Do order some cool cucumber salad to snack on while you wait for your glimmering heap of noodles that are oh so chewy, you’ll leave with a diamond cut jawline.
Get: Cool cucumber, dial oil hand-drawn noodles, eggplant with spicy garlic sauce (with side of white rice)
Note: Cash Only
Please excuse the name, but that’s the name. I feel uncomfortable writing it, but they chose it, not me.
The name comes from “Chinese Burger.” There’s only one option for us veg folk, but it’s worth it for the price and taste. For just a few bucks, (last I was there it was $2.75 – the website is down) you will be quite pleased with this crunchy and chewy sandwich of seitan (or soy?) strips with seaweed, cucumber, crunchy vegetables, and tangy soy sauce to get your tongue dancing.
They do also have some other circulating options, like delicious rice noodles, but you can’t leave here without having the chi… err, veggie sandwich.
Get: Veggie “Chinger”
Why is this my most well-traversed neighborhood?
I used to live here but unfortunately I have to sometimes leave my home and interact with people. I taught in schools here and had a 12 minute commute – walking. Consequently I gained an undesired recognition within the community (all lovely people – I’m just a recluse).
The solution? A distinctly separate work appearance so I could remain anonymous outside my job. Hair combed the other way, a less stylish pair of glasses – it’s amazing how easily you can hide in plain view (while briskly walking and avoiding eye contact) by tweaking key details in appearance.
That’s how much time I spent here.
But I digress – Jackson Heights grew my fondness for Queens. One of the most diverse neighborhoods in NYC and the world, you’ll need countless hours to explore and experience it all. While there are many places to grab a vegetable samosa or a fruity bubble tea, the following were my “bet your borough doesn’t have this, or as good, or as cheap” spots.
Hands down, belly up, some of the best, if not the best dumplings in New York City. An absolute favorite of mine. Since they’ve gotten a small write-up in the New York Times and Serious Eats New York, they’ve experienced a surge in non-Himalayan customers. Fret not, despite being a small spot, it’s rarely filled to the brim. Also take home some paratha, a delicious in-house made flatbread.
There is also a vegetable Thali, but Google that first as it’s more adventurous stuff. This is real deal Nepali food.
Get: Veggie Momos
Note: Cash Only
$$ Dosa Delight (vegetarian with vegan options)
Now don’t let the lack of decor put you off – the food is a dosa of delightfulness. Of course I recommend the many, many dosas. Most are vegan, with my favorite being the usual curried potato, chickpea, and pea stuffing. This place is about getting a whole bunch of things and trying them all – plan on bringing friends.
Get: Samosa, masala dosa, chaat, any of the dozens of vegan options, just order at least a couple.
Here you must ask to withhold the yogurt dressing to make the vegetarian options vegan. Plates (house lunch specials are $9.99) come with fresh bread, salad, and rice.
This is a great spot that I have thoroughly enjoyed with friends. Once they offered to uncork a bottle of wine that we brought; the server went next door to get a wine opener. Generally beyond generous.
With a choice of eggplant, cauliflower, or spinach, I’d recommend the eggplant, with the cauliflower as a close second. The rice on the side is seasoned and I’d pay to eat a massive bowl of just that. For me, I prefer plain rice to put saucy main courses over, but this rice I’ll make an exception for as it’s so delicious.
Get: Lunch plates: eggplant, cauliflower, sans yogurt dressing
Rego Park/Forest Hills
While there’s not much reason to be in this mostly residential neighborhood (other than to visit the famous Mark Anthony aka my girlfriend’s dad), there are veggie spots worth mentioning here.
If you do happen to find yourself in the area or want to make a trip, Flushing Meadows Park is the site of the old World’s Fair and is a great place to walk around admiring the old buildings and soaking up some sun (weather dependent, of course). I’ve spent countless hours here zooming on my bike like a one man roller derby.
$$ Green Zenphony (ALL VEGAN!)
One of the handful of all vegan restaurants in Queens. Admittedly, Sam and I were only here once, but the pure joy of all veganness had our veggie booties poppin.
They have a great lunch special (all under $) and a huge menu with mock meats galore. We’ll be back there soon enough.
Get: Veggie roast pork, sesame veggie eel, dumplings
$ Red Pipe Organic Café (Vegetarian, many vegan options)
This vegetarian, super vegan-friendly spot has several non-dairy milks available for no extra charge (yes!), vegan cheese options for sandwiches, and last I saw, vegan ice cream options.
There’s a lot to enjoy here and anything that is not vegan outright can easily be made so – just ask. They have juices and smoothies too. We spent a lot of time here getting ready for our temporary move to Spain.
They also have live music every Thursday at 8 pm.
Get: delicious coffee, sandwiches
We’re well aware that NYC is constantly changing, so with that in mind double check that places haven’t closed (had to take a couple off this list actually). We’re pretty excited to check out more spots when we’re back. Anything we missed or should definitely check out next time we are in Queens?