Queens is home to two kinds of people: New York natives or transplants that know Brooklyn is overrated and overpriced (Manhattan already so for decades).
Queens attracts people who want to live a more comfortable New York City experience – one that better balances work and life due to its lower cost of living. Read more on the topic in my post: New York Glorifies Personhood but Does Not Prioritize People. I’ll begrudge Brooklyn and minimize Manhattan but you’ll never hear me quaver over my love for Queens. I must admit though – the vegan Queens food scene has some catching up to do. When compared to Brooklyn and Manhattan, there are nowhere near as many all vegan restaurants in Queens. Seriously. Happycow search it and you will find vast virtual swaths of Queens 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. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve gone to most of these – they’re that good. When it comes to real deal ethnic cuisine at a reasonable price, Queens is hard to beat. You’ll find food from all around the world and you’ll have more than one choice for each.
Thanks to the incredible diversity of people, the authenticity of the food here is second to no other borough. This isn’t an overstatement. It’s actually just a statement.
Now on the vegan Queens gems grouped by neighborhood.
$ = meal under $10
$$ = meal under $15
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. The major conduit that roughly bisects Queens, Steinway street, 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.
The vegan Astoria scene is the most developed out of all of Queens, but you still need to know where to look for vegan food in Astoria. Here are our best picks!
$ King of Falafel and Schwarma (gluten-free options)
King of Falafel and Schwarma has this name for a reason and many challenge his throne. I’ve eaten here a ton of times.
The King has now opened a storefront right on the corner of the Broadway subway stop – a block away from his original location. You can’t miss the storefront or rather truck front sticking out from the building. Sam and I poked inside on a particularly frigid day and discovered there was quite a bit of seating – and table service! Although we’d be more than happy to serve ourselves, the addition is quite nice and not a bit pretentious. The server even handed us the hot sauce and tahini sauce, instead of the tzatziki – a correct vegan guess.
We split the massive falafel plate and the deliciously simple lentil soup. The falafel was better than I remember, and the soup was hearty and fresh – you could see that they sprouted the lentils first before cooking them. The soup and many other items are only available at the Broadway brick and mortar location.
While not the cheapest falafel, it is hardly expensive for NYC standards. There are two new locations, but this was the first. Now the truck sits by the Astoria – Ditmars Boulevard subway stop, and you can enjoy two locations.
Get: Falafel sandwich or Falafel platter with all the tahini sauce, available at both locations.
Note: Broadway location takes credit card. The truck is cash only.
$ Brooklyn Bagel (gluten-free options)
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. They have a super soft middle and chewy outside, 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 – vegan cream cheese then was an abomination.
Brooklyn Bagel changed everything for me. 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. Sam suggested we take a look inside and low and behold – they had their own line of vegan cream cheese. Possibly one of the best decisions of my vegan career – thanks to the Sam.
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 Yorker heaven.
We tried the classic cinnamon raisin with plain tofu spread and it was a dream come true. The everything bagel with spinach tofu still reigns supreme though.
Get: Anything, but my favorite is the everything bagel with spinach tofu cream cheese. They also have gluten-free bagels with their own separate toaster.
Note: Three locations in Astoria – on Broadway, 30th ave, and Ditmars Boulevard.
This spot is a close runner-up to Brooklyn Bagel. If the latter is an A+, then NY Bagel is an A- at most, B+ at worst.
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. Ample seating is available inside and out.
Get: Everything bagel, toasted, with spinach and artichoke cream cheese.
$$ BareBurger (gluten-free options)
This local Queens chain has exploded into an international franchise that now offers a plethora of vegan options. The idea was farm to table food, organic whenever possible, with an emphasis on customizing your every topping. It all started in the heart of Astoria.
Originally I had not wanted to include Bareburger since they used to feature 6 kinds of animals made into burger form while offering an underwhelmingly bland vegan burger – not anymore. Not only do they serve fewer animals now, but there are more vegan burgers than there are nonvegan burgers (gasp), vegan cheese, and vegan milkshakes! We suspect someone involved with the direction of the rapidly expanding business happened upon some plant-based trend charts.
Interestingly enough, we’ve also learned that Bareburger is partnering up with Mexican chef Rudy Ramos aka Vegicano on Instagram to create an entirely vegan Bareburger restaurant. Apparently, he will have free reign in designing the menu.
Get: Any of the vegan burgers (black bean is my favorite and has improved dramatically over the years), but you can also come here for a chance to try the Impossible burger or the Beyond Burger, the latest in imitation meat burgers. There are gluten-free vegan buns too.
Note: tons locations throughout the tri-state area, with 12 in Manhattan but since you’re looking in Queens, there are 4: one on Ditmars Blvd, one near Broadway in Astoria, one in Long Island City, and another in Forest Hills.
Finally, if you’re looking for all vegan restaurants in Astoria, Jujube Tree is an Asian fusion restaurant with lots of imitation meat. It opened after we left New York, so we haven’t been able to try it yet. But we’ve heard on good authority that it’s delicious!
Vegan Queens: Elmhurst
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 of Elmhurst and Broadway, expect to see 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.
Note, this is a self-service only, no-frills spot. Figure out what you want before getting in line – 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 the 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 a 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”
Vegan Food in Jackson Heights
Why is this my most-traversed neighborhood?
I used to live here but unfortunately, I had 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 so plan on bringing friends. One of our favorites and possibly one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Queens.
Get: Samosa, masala dosa, chaat, any of the dozens of vegan options.
$ Afghan Kebab and Grill (gluten-free options)
The business is still kicking despite having new owners. Some argue (on yelp) that the place is now less authentic because the new owners aren’t Afghan. Well, this is New York – nobody cares where you’re from if you make delicious food.
The lunch specials are still my favorite, although all my friends have enjoyed other dishes as well. The fried samosa-like things are delicious as well.
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. If you want to make it gluten-free, hold the bread.
Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in Queens: 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 the 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 bicycle derby.
$$ Green Zenphony (ALL VEGAN!)
Scratch the phony – all the food here is Zen.
After being a here a few times, with our last as a send-off before returning to Madrid, we can confidently say this is a must-try for vegan food in Queens. We have devoured many items, and honestly, I don’t know how one could go wrong here. The shark fin soup was brothy and rich. The vegetable skewers were perfectly grilled. And the sesame chicken was fantastically textured.
The food is particularly beautiful too, so we have to share that.
One of the handful of 100% vegan restaurants in Queens. The pure joy of all vegan-ness had our veggie booties poppin’.
They have a great lunch special (all under $8) and a huge menu of mock meats galore.
Last but not least, they locally source some incredibly creamy vegan ice cream and probably the best vegan New York style cheesecake we’ve ever had – it comes from a local vegan bakery in Queens.
Get: Veggie roast pork, sesame veggie eel, dumplings, dragon roll, sesame chicken. Lunch deals for under $8. Ask about their gluten-free options.
$ Red Pipe Organic Café (Vegetarian, many vegan options, gluten-free options)
Red Pipe is an all-vegetarian restaurant in Queens that has seriously upped their vegan game. All their sandwiches are vegan, and they don’t explicitly state it anywhere. That shows confidence in their product.
We were super impressed with how well they used the vegan cheeses. The counter people clearly knew what they were doing – turns out the one making the sandwichs was vegan. The other person wasn’t but professed an enjoyment of these cheeses as well.
They have several non-dairy milks available for no extra charge (yes!) They will also gladly tell you which baked goods are vegan, as many if not most are. They have juices and smoothies too.
We spent a lot of time here getting ready for our temporary move to Spain. And we spent a farewell lunch during our most recent visit back home to New York City.
They also have live music every Thursday at 8 pm.
Get: delicious coffee, sandwiches, baked goods. They also have gluten-free vegan cheesecake! Ask about other gluten-free substitutes for prepared foods.
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 in the latest update). We’re pretty excited to check out more spots when we’re back. Anything vegan Queens that we missed or that we should definitely check out next time we are in Queens?