Hidden Gems in Downtown Manhattan: A Guide to Sustainable and Ethical Dining
It is no secret that this past year has been unbelievably difficult for our global community. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to reevaluate what we can do in our local communities to make a positive difference. Quarantine highlighted many dysfunctional elements of our government, one of which is economic inequality.
From February to April, the U.S. economy suffered a massive decline, as 22% of small businesses closed and over 20 million people were put out of work, resulting in America’s highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. This doesn’t take into account how the pandemic disproportionately affected minority populations. 41% of African American-owned businesses, 32% of Latin American-owned businesses, and 26% of Asian American-owned businesses went bankrupt. Female-owned businesses also experienced, on average, a 25% drop in business activity. During this challenging time, it is essential that we support local businesses in order to improve the overall health of our economy, as well as to combat systemic inequalities within our economic structure.
Before we all start rushing to our street-corner market or favorite pizza place, we should address another pressing issue highlighted during the pandemic: climate change. One of the main contributors to climate change is factory farming, an intensive agricultural system designed to maximize the production of animal-based food products. Factory farming is the leading cause of methane emissions worldwide, contributing approximately 40% of the world’s annual methane production. Even though this is the result of massive industrialization, we can decrease the demand for factory-farmed goods by eating less animal-based products.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma that vegan foods are unappetizing, leading many people to eat animal products with every meal. To overcome this prejudice, I’ve listed five absolutely remarkable, entirely plant-based local restaurants, four of which are minority-owned. By giving one of these places a try, you will support local business owners with fantastic cuisines and even better causes. If convenience or affordability is your concern, don’t fret. We’ve got you covered. You can make a positive change to our struggling world simply by treating yourself to a memorable meal at one of these five locations:
Blossom, 72 University Place:
Blossom is without a doubt the crème de la crème of vegan dining. It was founded by Pamela Elizabeth, a true pioneer of the vegan food industry and a woman of color breaking down racial, gender, and food stereotypes, and Ronin Seri, a renowned vegan chef and entrepreneur dedicated to delivering healthy and eco-friendly dishes. Elizabeth and Seri certainly do not fail to deliver on their promise to surprise and satiate you with a refined vegan dining experience. With locations on the Upper West side and on University Place in Greenwich Village, Blossom reimagines classic Italian and American dishes with a plant-based twist.
From artisan flatbread pizzas and pastas, to gourmet sandwiches and savory vegetable plates, everything on the Blossom menu is a prominent wow-factor, and many of their dishes can come either nut-free, gluten-free, or soy-free. They offer dine-in and takeout options, making it the perfect place for a quick lunch with friends, or a luxurious formal dinner. They have also recently expanded into a catering service. It is on the pricier end of vegan restaurants (appetizers are about $15, entrees about $25), but certainly more affordable than the average upscale Manhattan restaurant. The price will be well-worth the experience.
Urban Vegan Kitchen, 41 Carmine Street:
Urban Vegan Kitchen is another one of Pamela Elizabeth’s eight vegan restaurants in Manhattan. Located just off of 6th Ave in the West Village, UVK is the perfect spot for a fun night out with some friends. Their menu features a wonderful assortment of vegan comfort foods, from savory, flavor-packed burgers and “chick-un” sandwiches to personalized burrito bowls and a vegan French toast that is absolutely to-die-for.
They are partnered with “Support + Feed,” a foundation that delivers warm, home-cooked vegan meals to children, struggling families, homeless and abuse shelters, and LGBTQ+ centers in marginalized communities. You can donate either through their website or when you order/pick up your food. The restaurant sets the perfect vibes for a fun and comfortable Saturday night, with artistically-creative decor, lively music, and a wonderful staff that prides itself on service with a smile. UVK is a truly fantastic restaurant with mouthwatering, homestyle food, and an even better mission.
Beyond Sushi, 229 East 14th Street:
Beyond Sushi is one of New York’s most popular vegan restaurant chains, and another proud partner of “Support + Feed.” They have five locations throughout Manhattan, with their two downtown sites located on Mulberry Street in Nolita and East 14th street in Union Square. Their versatile menu offers a wide range of East Asian-influenced plant-based dishes. While they are best known for their signature sushi rolls, their dumpling platters, soups, and salads are all absolutely delectable. Every dish they offer has its own unique personality that comes to life through a sensational combination of robust flavors.
Made almost entirely from fresh fruits, organic vegetables, and whole grains, Beyond Sushi’s food is indubitably one of the healthiest fast-food options available throughout New York City. In spite of the fact that they are almost always packed to the brim, their service is quick and efficient. There’s very little to lose when trying Beyond Sushi; a quick and affordable meal that is delicious and nutritious simply cannot be beat.
Red Bamboo, 140 West 4th st:
Located just one block from Washington Square Park, Red Bamboo is an innovative and creative \ restaurant that combines flavors from all over the world. Owned by an Asian-American family, it originated as an Asian and Southern fusion, but the owners have expanded into scrumptious vegan comfort dishes from many different cuisines. Some popular dishes include their “fish” tacos, jerk-style skewers, and their Philly “cheesesteaks.”
Music icon, Janet Jackson, shared on The Tonight Show that her personal favorite item is their chicken parmesan, closely followed by their butter-pecan ice cream. Due to COVID-19, they are currently only offering take out and delivery. Nonetheless, Red Bamboo offers perfect meals to enjoy at home on a cozy Sunday afternoon. Their homestyle cooking paired with your favorite Netflix series is the ultimate Netflix and chill. It is extremely affordable, as nearly every meal is $15 or less.
Whipped—Urban Dessert Lab, 95 Orchard St:
Of course, we must save dessert for last. Whipped — Urban Dessert Lab in the Lower East Side is a groundbreaking minority and women-owned vegan ice cream store. They are the world’s first oat-milk soft serve shoppe. Their speciality treats feature creamy, luscious oat-milk ice cream as a base with various flavorful toppings. Two of their most popular hand-selected fusions are the Cinnamon Apple Crisp, which is a vanilla base coated in cinnamon-spiced crumbles and topped with a cinnamon apple drizzle, and their Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel, a velvety cream base topped with pretzels, chocolate, and peanut butter sauce.
Aside from their tasty treats, you can create your own cones and cups with any of their six sweet sauces and eight crunchy crumb coatings. Their ice cream dishes are extremely affordable, as they are no more expensive than your typical ice cream store. Located just off of 1st Ave, Whipped is the perfect spot to enjoy some remarkably rich ice cream as you walk down one of Manhattan’s prettiest streets, or sit back and relax with a treat in the beautiful Roosevelt park.
Delicious vegan food can be found all throughout downtown Manhattan, especially near Washington Square. Enjoying a phenomenal, affordable meal while supporting a local business and investing in ethically-sourced products is the ultimate win-win scenario. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is; step outside your comfort zone and try these incredible restaurants. They are sure to revolutionize your ideas on what it means to eat plant-based, and your contribution to their businesses will improve both the economic and environmental health of our community. The world could use a little extra love during this time of stress and uncertainty, and you can help make it a better place simply by going out for a mind-blowing meal.