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Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition

written by Sam and Veren February 18, 2018
Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition

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).

Ask 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 ask vegan New Yorkers and you’ll learn how distorted their sense of “cheap” is. Something under $20 isn’t automatically 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 in New York’s existence need not 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 the appropriate price for 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.

Vegan in the East Village

While there are vegan restaurants in the East Village, they’re not cheap. We usually go to veg-friendly spots for vegan food downtown.

Washington Square Park Arch

$ Vanessa’s Dumpling House – Omni, vegetarian options labeled

When hanging in lower Manhattan, Vanessa’s was always my pre-bar destination for some solid vegan Chinese food in NYC.

Most bars in New York do not serve food, let alone have vegan options (other than five dollar French fries). Usually, I ditched expensive dinner plans and met friends 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).
Note: has locations in Chinatown, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Dunwell Doughnuts  – All Vegan

Don’t think you can find vegan donuts in Manhattan? Think again. Head right down the block from Dumpling Man for Dunwell’s latest location.

They had just opened their St. Mark’s location (there’s one in Bushwick) just before we left NYC for Spain. Their donuts are LEGIT. They also have amazing ice cream.

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.

Get: any donut flavor that tickles your fancy.
Note: other location in Bushwick

Mamoun’s – Omni, vegetarian options labeled, gluten-free options

An old guard of the cheap eats institution – this spot saved many a vegan in the East Village for years. 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. Their St. Mark’s location recently moved a few doors down to a bigger, nicer space.

Get: The falafel sandwich, of course.  Falafel plate is gluten-free without the pita, as are grape leaves. Careful with the hot sauce – mostly heat, little flavor. But the best budget falafel isn’t in Manhattan.
Note: other location in West Village (multiple locations throughout the tri-state area)

Dumpling Man  – 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 NYC 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.

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.

S’Mac  – Omni, vegan items marked

S’Mac’s version of macaroni and cheese made vegan 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.

Get: Their veganized mac and cheese with virtually any topping combination you see fit.

Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants near Union Square

$$ Hotel Tortuga – Omni, Vegan items labeled, gluten-free options

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 (just a block or two over is a place that has guacamole for $14) 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 (or your stomach will hate you).

Get: unlimited salsa and chips, any of the vegetarian burritos (veganized for 1 buck extra)

$$ Beyond Sushi at 14th st – All Vegan, gluten-free upon request

See review below – multiple locations

$$ Peacefood Cafe – All Vegan, Gluten-free options

Multiple locations – we went to the Upper West Side one. See our review below.

Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in West Village

The West Village is pricey. Vegan restaurants in the West Village such as Delice and Sarrasin and Urban Vegan Kitchen are well above our price range (with $13 desserts, you can imagine the entree prices).

West Village, NYC - AlternativeTravelers.com

$$ Benny’s Burritos – Vegan section on menu with gluten-free options

Benny’s is a great vegan Mexican option in NYC. They have a separate vegan section on their menu with vegan burritos, tacos, and more. They even have vegan sour cream and cheese! It’s a lively, festive atmosphere where there always seems to be a birthday party going on. Great for a casual date, catching up with friends, or going in a group. Beware though that they do get packed on nights and weekends!

Get: butternut squash burrito and a margarita (no happy hour though, sadly). Gluten-free tortilla for $1 more.

Taïm  – Vegetarian, items with dairy/eggs marked, gluten-free options

Multiple locations, see SoHo review below

$$ By Chloe  – All Vegan, Gluten-free options

Multiple locations, see SoHo review below.

Mamoun’s – Omni, vegetarian options labeled

Multiple locations, see East Village review above.

Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants near Penn Station and Chelsea

$$ The Cinnamon Snail  – All Vegan, gluten-free options

Cinnamon Snail used to be only a food truck, but have now opened a new vegan restaurant near Times Square. Their food is so good that they have 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 and 40-minute wait to order during the food truck only days).

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.

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 – another fantastic option for vegan donuts in Manhattan 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.

Don’t leave without trying their signature pastry (hint: their name). One time we split it with a friend, who, with a first bite, incredulously exclaimed: “This is vegan?” You’ll think they put butter in it.

Get: any sandwiches and dessert – it’s all good. Gluten-free options here.

$ Brooklyn Bagel – Vegan options, has a gluten-free bagel

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 spread. Although a Cinnamon raisin with plain tofu spread is a classic.

Brooklyn Bagel - bagel with vegan cream cheese

$$ Beyond Sushi at 14th st – All Vegan, gluten-free upon request

See review below – multiple locations

Affordable Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in Midtown, NYC

Where to go if you’re a meandering vegan in Midtown. Believe it or not, there are vegan restaurants in Midtown Manhattan that aren’t exorbitantly expensive.

$$ Beyond Sushi at 56th st – 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.

These spots are tiny, with just a few tables, but turnover is quick.

Get: the Spicy Mang and  Mighty Mushroom – two signature rolls for 15 total.
Note: additional locations at Chelsea Market, Union Square, 37th st,  Financial District

Beyond Sushi - A Vegan Restaurant in Midtown, NYC | AlternativeTravelers.com

$ Marty’s V Burger – All Vegan, gluten-free options

Now this is more of what vegans need in NYC. We had the pleasure of meeting Marty V himself, and we can report, the burgers and joint live up to their name – great vegan fast food.

You could get a combo deal, burger drink and fries for 10, right off Lexington Ave and 27th – that’s just unheard of. Just down the street is Terri’s – delicious sandwiches that come solo for 12 – to put it in vegan perspective.

The regular burger is a mix of seitan rice and black beans but you’d never know, as this sum is greater than its parts. Expect a soft seeded bun, mayo, crisp lettuce, cheese – a very fast food style burger. You can also try the Impossible burger for 5.50 more – great option since I don’t ever want to go back to the pretentious Momofuku bullshit bar (see end of this guide for our initial experience with the Impossible Burger).

Get: any combo as they’re all under 15, but the Classic Combo,  a Marty V burger with fries and drink is a solid deal for 10. The awesomely textured and delicious Crabby patty can be made entirely gluten-free with a gluten-free bun. The wings are gluten-free as well!

Marty's V Burger - A Fast Food Vegan Restaurant in Midtown, NYC

$$ Terri  – All Vegan, gluten-free options

Terri brands itself as “vegan fast food.” Here you’ll find a great selection of tasty and indulgent sandwiches, wraps, and salads. Most feature well known vegan products, like Tofurky and Daiya.

Expect a clean, take-your-lunch-break-here, atmosphere. Often Sam went here as a lunch treat when she worked in Midtown. Gluten-free breads and tortillas available.

Get: Bacon, Cheddar, Chicken Ranch or Thanksgiving sandwiches
Note: locations in Midtown East and Financial District

$ Ess-a-Bagel – Vegan options

A firmly established Bagelry slinging bagels in classic NYC style. They sport an array of 7 vegan tofu spreads, with extra non-typical ones like sun-dried tomato and olive.

Always expect a line, as this place is super popular, and their bagels are the star of the show. The wait won’t be long, as they are fully staffed and several people are toasting and schmearing bagels like it’s nobody’s business but theirs.

Get: A toasted bagel with vegan tofu spread, of course. They offer a plethora of other options, but you’re here for bagels.

Cheap Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in SoHo

$$ By Chloe  – All Vegan, lots of gluten-free options

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)!

Get: Mac and Cheese and a burger. The fries were a bit disappointing (think McDonald’s fries).
Note: locations near Flat Iron,  in West Village, Rockefeller Center, Williamsburg

Budget Vegan Guide to New York City: Cheap vegan food in NYC

Taïm  – Vegetarian, items with dairy/eggs marked, gluten-free options

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.

Get: the tried and true falafel sandwich, quite possibly one of the best tasting ones in all of NYC.

Affordable Veg-friendly and Vegan Restaurants in the Upper West Side

$$ Peacefood Cafe All Vegan, Gluten-free options

Peacefood is both a vegan restaurant AND vegan bakery in Manhattan with two locations – one in the Upper West Side, one in Greenwich Village near Union Square.

Their menu consists of salads, sandwiches, pizzas, focaccias, and a seasonal changing dinner menu as well as specials. It’s a cozy and affordable spot that’s great for a date night or going with parents (Sam went with her dad and they were both thoroughly impressed).

Their desserts are truly some of the best vegan desserts in NYC with a giant bakery menu that includes many gluten-free items!

Get: The cinnamon roll if they have it!
Note: additional location in Greenwich Village

Pot Pie at Peacefood Cafe, a vegan restaurant in the Upper West Side, NYC

Two Boots  – Omni, vegan items marked 

Two Boots is a great option for vegan pizza in the Upper West side. 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).

If you’re looking to buy a pie, there are even more options. They have an entire vegan section, with several presets combos. They use Daiya cheese, and before you fret, just know we aren’t the biggest fans of it either, but somehow Two Boots still manages to make damn delicious vegan pizzas.

Get: V for Vegan slice, Vegan Mel Cooley Pie.
Note: Many locations (check website)

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.

The Impossible Burger at Momofuku Nishi

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 just looking for some new spots for vegan food in Manhattan, 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?

Traveling to the Big Apple on a budget but still wanna eat all the delicious vegan food in New York? Eating out in NYC can be expensive - but it doesn't have to be if you know where to look. This vegan guide to NYC is the result of years of searching for cheap eats in Manhattan. We've got your back with delicious veg-friendly and vegan restaurants in NYC that don't break the bank! #VeganTravel #Vegan #nyc

Budget Vegan Guide to New York City: Cheap vegan food in NYC

*Editor’s note: This post was originally posted in January 2017 and has since been updated.

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