Home Featured Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition

Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition

written by Sam and Veren June 15, 2019
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 semi-permanently anchor your stomach like the USS Intrepid in Hudson Harbor.

Now ask many vegan New Yorkers and you’ll learn how distorted their sense of “cheap” is. Something under $10 in Manhattan isn’t automatically a deal. Case in point: Blossom Du Jour’s $9 bland crap wraps are no bigger than a pack of playing cards (I’m not exaggerating).

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. My partner 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. Also right after we left NYC, the St. Marks Vegan Food Court had its soft opening – make sure to check it out and tell us about it!

Washington Square Park Arch

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 – soft, fluffy, and with great flavors like maple glazed. They also have serve 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

$ Superiority Burger – vegetarian

Like the space, the menu is small, but that’s great for us indecisive types. Everything is under $10, even the big version of the Superiority burger, which comes in at an easy $9. Most of the menu is vegan, though items are not labeled, which is a bit annoying the first time you go!

However, staff is happy to help and let you know the couple of items that are vegetarian only. Otherwise, you can get everything in a vegan version (including vegan cheese and sauce). 

The burger itself is a perfect fast food style burger, with a soft, seedy bun and all the desired toppings. These aren’t meant to mimic meat, so expect very vegetable burgers. Get it with a side to round out a meal (the burnt broccoli salad is delicious) and take it to eat in Tompkins Square Park just down the street.

Our friend Ivy remarked that although the portions seemed small, they were surprisingly filling.

Pro tip: Check out their daily specials on social media if you’re deciding when to go. Monday evenings they offer their special tofu fried chicken – get it while it’s hot!

Get: the Superiority Burger made vegan, Burnt Broccoli Salad

$ 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 evening meal events and met friends at the bar after. Over the years, I recruited many 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.

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

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.  For many it may be the freshest falafale they’ve had. 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 with omni friends.

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

$ Tompkins Square Bagels – omni with vegan options

For a more in-depth review, see section Alphabet City.

Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants near Union Square

Union Square and its surroundings are a strange mix of trashy cheap chains and exorbitantly expensive crap chains. Your best vegan budget bet? Avoid them all and check out our recommendations.

$$ Peacefood Cafe – all vegan, gluten-free options

Note: Two locations – we also went to the Upper West Side one.  Definitely worth trying. See our review below.

$$ Beyond Sushi at 14th st – all vegan, gluten-free upon request

See review below – multiple locations

$$ 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 with vegan sour cream and cheese for a buck extra. 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 made vegan.

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in West Village

The West Village is pricey. Most vegan restaurants in the West Village like Delice and Sarrasin and Urban Vegan Kitchen are well above our price range (with $13 desserts, you can imagine the entree prices). Below we list our go-to spots for the vegan on a budget.

West Village, NYC - AlternativeTravelers.com

$$ By Chloe  – all vegan, gluten-free options

Multiple locations, see SoHo review below.

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

$$ 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.

Mamoun’s – omni, vegetarian options labeled

Multiple locations, see East Village review above.

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in Greenwich Village

Also really expensive like most Manhattan neighborhoods, we recommend veering away from here if you’re looking for cheap vegan food in NYC. Although there is one place we can recommend on the periphery.

$$ Vish – vegetarian – everything is vegan but serves eggs

This new Israeli-run spot replaced Maoz and that’s a good thing. Vish is a massive upgrade. I’ve tried Maoz – it’s like if Subway started making falafels – not terrible food, but not terribly good either, and with a fake freshness to it in a sterile environment.

That’s not the story here at Vish.

The new gracious owners reeled us in with a hummus sample that they proudly proclaimed was the best hummus ever. And to their credit, it’s definitely top tier. We’ve tried many a hummus, and I make hummus myself quite often, taking in tips from people from all the countries I meet that make hummus. Vish’s hummus is definitely worth a try if you’ve never had freshly made hummus.

The best thing about this cheap vegan NYC food spot? We got full on splitting a salad hummus combo plate with an extra pita bread. Two people eating for under 15 bucks is possible here.

An assortment of toppings can go on your hummus plate, like chickpeas, tahini, “fava beans” (that looked just like black beans), mushrooms and guacamole. Though to be honest, this hummus holds its own and you really don’t need toppings. Nor should you ever put guacamole on hummus.

The staff is super friendly and our server made us feel quite welcome despite the fact that we walked up to the counter assuming this was self-service. There is a separate takeaway line.

Get: The hummus, duh.

Note: They’ve recently opened and gave us a lot of free stuff, so can’t guarantee that”ll be part of the regular service. 

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants near Penn Station and Chelsea

$$ The Cinnamon Snail  – all vegan, gluten-free options

Not so tucked away in the boisterous Pennsy food hall sits the legendary Cinnamon Snail, one of the first and not exorbitantly expensive 100% organic vegan food establishments to get a die hard fan base that wasn’t exclusively vegan. There was nothing else quite like it back in 2010. Nowadays house-made vegan comfort food is all the rage and you can find many restaurants specializing in such.

They started out as a food truck which I frequented for many years. A kickstarter or two campaign later after battling exploitative food trucks vendor laws, they’ve finally got their first brick and mortar spot (truck still operates for events). Considering your not so great vegan options and general terribleness of this area, this is a much welcome addition. A small army prepares your sandwiches and will churn out your order within 5 – 10 minutes, even if there’s a big line. Just make sure to decide what you want before stepping up to the cashier or you’ll piss off all the New Yorkers on their lunch break like a person in front of us once did.

We are glad to report the food here is still top notch. I love their food, and the proprietor-chef loves layering bold flavors. In the interest of differing opinions, however, the Sam finds it a bit too spicy at times. If this matters to you, order something that doesn’t have habanero or chipotle.

vegan-cinnamon-snail-burger-alternative-travelers

What should you get? 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 even have something for every type of vegan food lover. Totally Tofu? Seriously seitan? Tempestuously tempeh? They got you covered. Not into the faux meats? There’s always a vegetable option that’s not trying to imitate meats, too.

If there’s one gripe I have (it’s not taste) – it’s the user experience. The sandwich bread could be softer, and these real deal gluten-y French baguettes and Italian ciabattas are so damn chewy and piled high with saucy, flavor exploding chunks, that it’ll require your canine roots to tear apart. So expect your sandwich volcano to erupt at regular intervals, all over your hands and food tray.

If for some reason the sandwiches don’t appeal to you, one can easily make a meal of very indulgent sides. My favorites are the creamy baked ziti and kimchi tots – tater tots covered in sriracha mayo and kimchi. Kimchi fries are great but rarely vegan, and this is one of the only places I know that has anything like kimchi fries on their regular menu.

You can’t go without trying a dessert – another fantastic option for vegan donuts in Manhattan and they always get creative with the combos. While I go for simply glazed, the donut with raspberry and cheese is great – super soft, perfectly sweet, and the cheese oh-so-creamy.

Make sure to try 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, sides, and/or dessert – it’s all good. Gluten-free options here.

$$ Beyond Sushi at 14th st – all vegan, gluten-free upon request

See review below – multiple locations

$ Brooklyn Bagel – omni with 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

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

Affordable Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in Midtown, NYC

Where should you 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. 

Spicy Mang, Mushroom Madness, and others I can’t remember because I’m distracted by how beyond they are.

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

$$ 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 twelve bucks, right off Lexington Ave and 27th. That’s just unheard of these days. Just down the street, Terri’s offers delicious vegan sandwiches that come solo for $13-14, to put it in budget 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 or Beyond Burger for 5.50 more – a great option since I don’t ever want to go back to the pretentious Momofuku bullshit bar (see the end of this guide for our initial experience when the Impossible Burger made its first-ever world debut in NYC). Trying those products in Manhattan will not get cheaper than here.

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 12. 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!

$$ 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-Manhattanite-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

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

$ Ess-a-Bagel – omni with 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.

$ Tal Bagels – omni with vegan options

See Upper East Side entry below.

Cheap Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in SoHo

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

Update: there was a falling out between Chloe Coscarelli and the people she was working with (who apparently wanted to start offering nonvegan options), and is no longer involved in this chain. For this reason, many vegans feel conflicted about patronizing this establishment. We still include this as an affordable vegan option in the overwhelmingly crowded chic neighborhood that we avoid like the plague. Our original entry follows:

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 it’s that good.

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

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

Cheap Veg-Friendly and Vegan Restaurants in Lower East Side

Don’t think for a second that just because the wonderfully budget and vegan-friendly East Village and the Lower East Side share the word East means they have anything else more in common. LES is expensive, despite it’s dingy exterior. How expensive? Sam’s sister, who leaves near Allen St, frequents Duane Reade Pharmacy for dinner. That’s how expensive. But two spots are definitely worth your budget vegan attention.

$$ Riverdel Cheese @ Essex Market – all vegan

Every time I hear “but I couldn’t give up cheese if I went vegan!” I arrogantly reply “well, I’d bet you don’t love cheese as much I did.”

I’ve had this exchange countless times. Most “cheese lovers” are “cheese product” enthusiasts and rarely eat anything beyond what goes on nachos or sandwiches.

I’m being a pretentious ass because it’s likely true that I love cheese more than you. I have friends to this day who still don’t believe I gave up animal milk cheese, despite my being vegan for nearly 10 years – that’s how much cheese eating is associated with me. Back in my dairy days I always had stacked cheese chunks in the fridge, and not your typical American crap. I’ve been a cheese snob since the single digits, experiencing cheeses selected by my father to please my visiting French grandmother. Once a friend bought me a book on cheese categorized by descriptions that most “But omg CHEESE” proclaimers wouldn’t even know. So shut yer American cheese holes because now I officially don’t miss that sort of cheese and I know that’s very hard to believe.

So I must bow my cheesehead to Riverdel. While I’ve managed to try a lot of small scale, artisan-made cheese at vegan pop up shops over the years (like Cheezehound back in early 2010s) Riverdel is the first to collect it all in one place. The best part (besides the cheese), is that the deli counter displayed right by one of the main entrances to the Essex Market, and super hard to miss.

Display case of Vegan Cheese at Riverdel in Essex Market, NY
Riverdel’s veritable plethora of cheese.
Display case of Vegan Cheese at Riverdel in Essex Market, NY
And more cheese…
Display case of Vegan Cheese at Riverdel in Essex Market, NY
…and even more cheese.

“Are you sure these are vegan? Cus they look like cheese…” says my astounded nonvegan friend. Just like my friend, often passersby exclaim, quite audibly, either amazement or dismay.

“Cashew based cheese? That’s upsetting” exclaimed one upsetedly.

I’m glad that’s upsetting. It makes the vegan cheese taste that much better. This bold showcase really is a great example of passive yet actually effective vegan activism. Anything that normalizes veganism is vastly more effective than foisting imagery of animal cruelty on nonconsenting audiences.

Ok, so what about the cheese? Amazing, the best you’ll ever get to try. They have participants from across the country like Vtopia from Portland, and locals like Cheezehound, Dr.Cow but even the house-made cheeses by the Austrian proprietor Michaela Grob can contend with the rest. Personal favorites are the Riverdel one rolled in peppercorn, the Brie from Minneapolis, and virtually anything by Cheezehound (I first tried her cheeses at Vegan shop Up back in the early 2010s and immediately fell in love with both her and the cheese), but in particular, the Blue, the Mozz, and the Garbage.

The classic Riverdel peppercorn works great, and I usually strongly dislike cheeses that are flavored or rolled in flavors. Here though, the cheese has the consistency of a densely packed spread, a mild rich creaminess that coats the tongue then gets cut through with the peppercorn bite. The Blue really has that tangy, funky moldy blue taste, (I suspect spirulina to give it blue splotches), and will please the most unappreciative cheese eaters due to its saltiness and fattiness. The Brie was one of my favs because it really had a subtle brie taste – kinda mushroomy/mildewy ripeness (I know, gross description but then cow’s milk brie is actually gross if you know what it is). While it looked nothing like brie, the flavor was getting there and it has the smoothest mouthfeel of all the cheeses I’ve tried. Though amazing and worth trying, the best brie/camembert I ever have had was actually at the VeganFest Berlin and now Nantes, France.

The Mozz has that spongey rubbery texture almost down perfectly, the flavor is mildly sour and tangy, and is served wet. Sure, it doesn’t probably taste like the real thing, but then that doesn’t matter if it just tastes this fucking good. And I know fresh mozzarella – my last goodbye to this cow’s milk cheese was me eating a three-quarter pound ball with a bouquet of basil, a couple of tomatoes, and an entire baguette. And I’m now telling you I’d gladly do this with Cheesehound’s Mozz over rubberized moo goo any day.

I could go on, but fortunately, they offer samples and there’s no minimum weight for cheeses so you can try before you buy.

They also have really good sandwiches that are surprisingly cheap, for around 8 to 9 bucks. They all feature vegan cheeses and meats you can find in stores more and more these days. My only complaint is that the bread, while of fresh bakery quality, is just too dense and chewy, and challenged my friend’s biting ability, with her uttering girly grunts of frustration as she first tried with incisors, and ultimately had to grind off a bite with her molars.

This is a vegan cheese shop first and foremost. I recommend just grabbing a selection, as one could easily try three cheeses for around ten bucks, or split with friends for around 15 -20 bucks. Then go to any of the bakeries in the market and grab a not-too-chewy loaf of bread to eat your cheese with – these are too good for grocery store crackers.

Get: a decadent sampler platter of 3 – 4 kinds of cheese for around 15 bucks, and share with a friend or gluttonize all yourself.

$$ Orchard Grocer – all vegan, gluten-free options

Orchard Grocer is one of New York’s all vegan groceries and the first in Manhattan. Aptly named and tucked away, this low key spot is inspired by classic NYC delicatessens. They’re clearly aimed at veg-curious and vegan Lower East Side residents, parked right next to MooShoos, an all-vegan shoe store.

Although they do have a lot of vegan specialty grocery, which until Riverdel, Orchard Grocer was the only vegan grocery store in Manhattan. Now the sandwiches from Riverdel are priced right for the quality but one really goes there for the cheese.

If you’re looking for specialty vegan products that are hard to find, they got you covered. More than half of the products I couldn’t recognize and wanted to try.

If you’re looking for a classic New York deli experience made vegan, look no further. They have a great selection of sandwiches, with exclusive vegan deli meats in all sorts of iterations. I was really missing my usual pre-vegan go-to, the Italian combo, and this did not disappoint. Arguably it’s better, as all the ingredients were way fresher than that prepacked Boar’s Head shit that is the default in every New York deli.

The breakfast sandwich is another New York staple that we’ve missed. Expect a chewy roll with melty sauce and cheese over sausage and tofu, and really hits all the marks with the NYC egg sandwich experience.

the breakfast sandwich from Orchard Grocer, New York
The breakfast sandwich.

You need to try out The Marlowe, a Rueben style sandwich. You’ll see tourists flocking to Katz but vegans come here for this purely nostalgic sandwich. The cold cuts are seitan based by BlackBird foods, and after having many vegan Reubens (some were quite delicious), this is by far the best. Most vegan attempts only have the sauerkraut in common. Here, it’s from the ground up designed to be a very Reuben-y experience; rye bread, beet-brined seitan that’s tender, chewy and juicy, (that is so much like pastrami in texture it had my friend double guessing himself), along with melted swiss, and tangy tart sauerkraut.

The Marlowe.

Get: any sandwich, any product really. But for an NYC experience, try the Italian combo inspired Monty, the Reuben-esque Marlowe, or the breakfast style Bowery .

$ Tal Bagels – omni with vegan Options

See Upper East Side Entry right below.

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

Cheap Veg-friendly and Vegan Restaurants in the Financial District

While the Financial District may hardly feel like a neighborhood, you may find yourself here, especially as a visitor to New York. As much as I try to avoid coming here, fortunately when I do, there’s solid budget vegan options available.

$$ Beyond Sushi – all vegan, gluten-free upon request

See entry above.

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

For the full write up, see East Village entry above

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

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

Our best recommendation: take the 4,5,6 train directly to Marty V Burger. Anything in the UES that’s vegan will cost you more than a metro ticket plus Marty V combo and won’t be anywhere near as delicious…

..but if you have to stay.

$ Tal Bagels – omni with vegan options

Good fresh bagels with one clear advantage: open much later than other bagel spots. Not quite as good as Brooklyn Bagel or Ess-a-Bagel, but solid, nonetheless, and with three tofu cream cheese spreads: plain, scallion, and veggie. If you find yourself in the very expensive Upper East Side, a bagel and a beverage for 6 bucks will tide you over for a few hours.

Get: any bagel (those egg yolk yellow ones are not vegan), any vegan tofu based cream cheese.

Note: Has several locations.

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

See full review in Upper West Side.

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

While the Upper West Side is very different from its East side counterpart, it’s unfortunately very expensive as well. If we are sounding like a broken record, well, it’s true. That’s why you’re here reading our guide.

$$ 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. 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. Seems to be a potentially recurring theme as another presumably NYU student took her father here as well and were seated at the table next to me the last time I ate here. 

Their menu consists of salads, sandwiches, pizzas, focaccias, and a seasonal changing dinner menu as well as specials, that appeal to raw foodists, whole foodists, and vegan junk foodists alike. There’s expensive items but also cheaper items and one could easily have a filling meal for $15 and under as the menus offerings are truly myriad.

Their desserts are truly some of the best vegan desserts in NYC with a giant bakery menu that includes many gluten-free items! If you find it packed upon your arrival, take some baked goods with you.

Get: The cinnamon roll if they have it and the raspberry bars! It’s hard to recommend any one thing though. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the sandwiches, especially the Japanese pumpkin, and savory entrees like pot pie (pictured below).

Note: other location near Union Square

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

$ Van Leeuwen’s – Omni, Vegan options labeled

This is probably some of the best vegan icecream we’ve had in NYC. Super creamy, rich, and coats your mouth just like ice cream should. Some of the best flavors are the salted caramel, toasted coconut blondie, and the pistachio. What’s available by the scoop will vary, but you can depend on classics like chocolate and mint chip to be there waiting for you.

What’s their secret to amazing vegan icecream? I don’t know officially, but I think it has something to do with them not being entirely vegan. You need nonvegan help if you want to taste and compare a vegan version to know if it’s up to snuff.

Get: ice cream, of course. Budget it up by splitting a pint with friends – trust us it goes a long way. Splitting 2 pints with four friends we felt oversaturated. And some flavors are only available in pints, like Pistachio.

Note: two locations, one on Amsterdam ave and one on Columbus ave.

Cheap Vegan-friendly and Vegan Restaurants in Chinatown

Chinatown is a secret treasure trove of vegan eats. There are almost always vegan options available at Chinese restaurants, but why settle for vegetable lo mein if you can find an entirely vegan chinese restaurant!? Make sure you catch the right one – see below.

$ The Original BUDDHA BODAI Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant – all vegan

Hot damn I almost bo-died for this Buddha. This is an all vegan spot serving dim sum and a la carte dishes. Just make sure you’re at the right spot, and not nearby “Vegetarian Dim Sum Restaurant”, which is underwhelmingly mediocre.

While there are plenty of veggie dishes, the mock meats here are the star of the show. A popular favorite is the bbq pork, and oh my lord is it a stomach full.

It’s tender, chewy, tangy, with a greasy crisp. If you loved the bbq pork back in your pre-vegan years, and haven’t had it in a while, this is pure gluttonous nostalgia. Maybe someone who recently had the pork one can tell the difference, but it’s a blessing for those who can’t nor care.

Steamed dumplings and buns are fantastic. Often I peruse international/ Asian supermarkets to find the best nonMSG dumplings, only to usually be disappointed with what I bring home. These were quite perfect – thick and chewy, but not mostly dough like some dumplings. And the filling of veggies and mushroom were tender and identifiable, instead of the usual shredded cabbage, or worse, the unidentifiable mush filling.

An interesting twist is the fried rice shumai which is served steamed. Also very chewy. If extra chewy is your jam, Buddha Bodai has got you covered. 

Get: bbq pork, any steam bun, dumpling or shumai. To up your budget game, come midday for the lunch specials (weekdays until 4pm), and all the Dim Sum is cheaper than evening prices.

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

For the full write up, see East Village entry above.

Cheap Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Alphabet City

So once you’ve hit the Avenue A – D, which is below 14th st but above Houston, you’re officially in this neighborhood. Here’s where knowing people who frequent other neighborhoods come in handy. A friend of mine (frequently featured in many photos on this website), works in Alphabet City, so a quick lunch bite is of prime importance, or affordable after-work drinks with some vegan snacks (lots of happy hours) is of prime importance. I share some of our adventures below.

$ KC Gourmet Empanadas – omni with vegan options

To the uninitiated, empanadas are wheat or corn-based pouches stuffed and baked or fried – depending on the country of origin. It seems empanadas can be found in all of Latin America.

Here they offer three vegan empanadas – the Vegan stuffed with mushroom, onions and peppers, the Fiesta with black beans and corn, and the Ultimate Veggie, with spinach, broccoli, cauliflower & carrots. The most memorable is the mushroom, with its chewy tenderness, subtle savoriness, and other veggies added to boost its flavor. I love beans, and a black bean empanada works great if it’s mixed with other veggies, which they do here. And then another frequenter is the broccoli one – it works, and tastes good, but doesn’t have the richness that black beans or mushrooms can offer.

They also offer a vegan tamale while supplies last!

Get: the Vegan, the Fiesta, the Ultimate veggie empanadas.

$ Tompkins Square Bagels – omni with vegan options

Partly why I love biking around New York City is that you can discover new spots serendipitously. While Google Maps can help you find anything at your fingertips, there’s something more special to me about happening upon a place.

I’m always looking for a new bagel spot to try – how other places are coming along with their vegan cream cheese? Not only that but also to see who really has the best bagels. Truth is, once you enter the top tier of bagelry, the disparity between the worst best bagel and the number one best bagel, is actually almost negligible when it comes to the decision of having a bagel versus no bagel.

Tompkins’s Square bagel is no exception to this, and their hand-rolled and boiled bagels are chewy, moist, and as flavorful as doughy white bread can get. You can always grab the seasoned bagels with garlic, onion, etc as per usual. They make their own tofu cream cheeses, and they rank up there among the best (in my opinion that’s Essa Bagel and Brooklyn Bagel).

They have a lot of seating, but it’s mostly a to go crowd here, so if you want to hang, grab a spot in the back.

Get: any bagel, any tofu-based cream cheese

Two Boots  – omni with vegan items marked 

Two Boots is a great option for vegan pizza wherever you find them. 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)

Cheap Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Hamilton Heights, Harlem, NY

A house sit brought us to this neighborhood and we were surprised at the number of vegan options. I used to live here about 11 years ago, and surprisingly, it hasn’t changed much as I thought it would. This neighborhood is still heavily Dominican, and due to rent control and/or stabilization, has resisted the NYC gentrification onslaught. Though the gentri-tentacles still manage to poke though here and there in the form of boring sports bars and actual sit-down coffee shops. The places we are mentioning here are likely a result of it as well.

$ Uncle Tony’s Pizza – omni with vegan options

Tony wants you to think his pizzeria has always been here, having the typical counter space and limited seating. But anyone who’s lived in NYC for even just a year can tell the difference. Since when do pizzerias have checker tiled walls? This is a very West Village interior choice.

Their pizza prices are reasonably cheap, as a topping slice will run you about 4 or 5 bucks. But for vegans, there’s just one slice, and it’s surprisingly good. With vegan cheese (likely Daiya) with dollops of alternately tomato and basil sauce.

Clearly, it’s been trialed and error’d, as the choice to not do the usual dough, sauce, cheese in that order, is one that Two Boots also does with its vegan slices. So far only Screamer’s has managed to create plain slices that look like the real deal – when sauce and cheese meld together to look like one layer.

Not Screamer’s level, mind you, but well-intentioned. The only issue is they over reheat it and it comes out way too dry. So either ask them to only warm it up or get it to go and eat it at room temp. Also budget it up by coming on the weekend for the Pizza happy hour, where any two slices are five bucks. I grabbed four slices twice in one weekend and clearly, I’m not ashamed to admit this, as I just did.

Get: the only vegan slices but just warmed up or they’ll be too dry

$$ The Handpulled Noodle – omni with vegan options

For many of those not from New York, in the last 10 years, there has been this growing trend of eating hand-pulled noodles. They mean just that – noodles made and pulled apart by hand rather than machines. While you could find these deep into any Chinese neighborhood, it’s now become widespread.

According to The Handpulled Noodle, they differ in offering food from the region of Xinjiang, with noodles that are much thicker and less uniform in shape. We tried the classic “Lagman” hand-pulled round noodles, along with the knife shaved “Ribbon” flat and wide but still very thick noodles. Each can be ordered chopped into smaller pieces, with Lagman getting it’s own “Ding Ding” name when prepared as such.

the ribbon noodles from The Handpulled Noodle in New York.
The knife shaved “Ribbon” noodles.

Don’t expect your usual American Chinese take out flavors. Here they use cumin and tomato to create a sauce to flavor the noodles. Vegans can enjoy house-made seitan that’s juicy and soaked in flavor. Sam commented that it was very bready in texture, but I actually didn’t mind, as it added another texture to the noodles. The dumplings are house-made as well – very tender wrapper outside, with a similar mix of veggies as the noodles, inside.

If for some reason you came here not to eat carbs, they also offer salads, broccoli, and kale dishes. It’s a small spot, but there is some seating, and ideally, you want to eat the noodles as soon as possible, as they will gradually lose their softness as they cool down. But this key detail doesn’t stop people from ordering delivery as we witnessed the ceaseless revolving door of delivery persons.

Get: The handpulled noodles, of course.


Back when we originally wrote this 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, made its debut at the pretentious Momofuku Nishi restaurant (I still loathe that experience – burger was delicious though). Nowadays you can find this product at tons of locations, including local chain Bareburger (which also serves the Beyond Meat Burger).  Check the locations on Impossible Food’s website here.

However, many of these places offering the burger are not budget friendly.

Where are the cheapest spots to try the Impossible-ness? What’s the best deal for an impossible burger in New York City?

The Impossible Burger at Momofuku Nishi

Marty’s V Burger, for the win, offers both the Impossible and Beyond Meat Burger for an additional $5.50 as a substitute to any burger style. Honestly, it doesn’t get cheaper than this… 

…Unless you go to  White Castle for their $1.99 Impossible sliders featuring the aforementioned burger. Originally they debuted in New York but now have rolled out nationwide at the chain. So it’s not imperative that you try them in New York unless you won’t be by one ever again.


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 NYC arsenal to new heights. Of course, New York moves at an incredible pace, with new places opening and closing within even 6 months – make sure to double-check places are still open!

What new (or old) spots for cheap vegan food in NYC should we try next time we’re in town? If you have any favorites – please share!

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.

You may also like

%d bloggers like this: