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Following on from our recent cheap and healthy eats in London article, we're skipping over to the other side of the pond for a root around Manhattan (and a quick dash over to Brooklyn) with food-loving budget travel expert and New Yorker Alex Robertson Textor...
Healthy, inexpensive grub in NYC - it exists
New York’s culinary scene is known for many things - gourmand excess, ethnic enclaves and, recently, a fascination with rich meat in some of its less healthy incarnations. What it’s not feted for are its cheap and healthy eats. This is a shame, because the city that never sleeps delivers some excellent inexpensive healthy grub as well. Here are ten recommendations, ranging geographically from the Upper East Side to Chinatown to Prospect Heights, including treats as varied as French Caribbean and Bukharan Jewish cuisine, fresh juices, and vegan ice cream.
Abraço Espresso (East Village)
A steal of a deal for the level of quality at hand, this delightful little box of a café offers a truly fabulous trio of seasonal savoury plates for $15 starting around noon. Abraço’s interior is so tiny that you’ll probably need to eat your frittatas or sandwiches on the street, but no matter. Finish off your meal of small plates with a slice of olive oil cake.
86 East 7th Street, New York. Closed Monday. Nearby: Tomkins Square Park, St. Marks Place, Astor Place
Up some nondescript flights of stairs in the Diamond District - hardly an auspicious place for healthy food of note - is this gold star of a half-secret. Taam-Tov specialises in Bukharan cuisine, the traditional food of Central Asian Jews. Start with a samsa, similar to a samosa, or an enormous hunk of lepeshka bread. Other highlights include Bukharan pilaf, manty (dumplings), and soups.
41 West 47th Street, New York. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Nearby: Rockefeller Center, Diamond District, Times Square
Teany (Lower East Side)
Co-owned by vegan musician Moby, Teany is an all-vegetarian café (and in fact mostly vegan-leaning) specialising in a broad line of teas. The edibles are delicious here as well. The sandwiches ($6-$8) are clear standouts and the vegan quiche ($9) and the goat cheese and artichoke salad ($10) are also big favourites.
90 Rivington Street, New York Nearby: Sarah Roosevelt Park, Bowery
Kaz an Nou (Prospect Heights, Brooklyn)
Our only Brooklyn listing, Kaz an Nou is a steal of a French Caribbean spot in Prospect Heights. Few items are heavy - even the menu’s fantastic Agoulou burger can be topped with a stunning avocado salsa - and there is always a vegetarian item on the menu. The salads, too, are ample. Note that Kaz an Nou does not have a liquor license. You’ll need to bring your own wine or beer.
53 6th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Dinner only. Closed Monday. Nearby: Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Atlantic Center
Lula’s Sweet Apothecary (Lower East Side)
A vegan ice cream parlour? Rather improbably, yes. Lula’s is a cultishly popular place among New York’s veganistas, though its appeal extends to red meat-eating, dairy-quoffing skeptics. Lula’s is not super cheap at $3.95 for a single scoop of ice cream, but as a dessert splurge it’s fairly reasonable.
516 East 6th Street, New York. Closed Monday. Nearby: Tompkins Square Park, Alphabet City
Taïm Falafel and Smoothie Bar (West Village)
This tiny West Village joint is loved for its falafel varieties - traditional, red (with red pepper) and a spicy harissa-spiked number (all $6.25). They’re great, but what’s truly exciting about Taïm Falafel is its exquisite sabich sandwich ($7.25), an aubergine-focussed delicacy with roots in an Iraqi Jewish cuisine. The fare here is pretty straight up Middle Eastern, and the signature smoothies are also worth a mention.
222 Waverly Place, New York. Nearby: Sheridan Square, Christopher Street
Candle 79 (Upper East Side)
The Upper East Side’s Candle 79 is an extremely rare bird, the sort of vegan restaurant that appeals broadly to hardcore carnivores. Some say it has to do with the kitchen’s extremely skilled deployments of seitan (a popular wheat-based meat substitute), while other fans simply wax poetically about the restaurant in spiritual terms. In any case, Candle 79’s eclectic menu is well loved. There are plenty of decently priced items, including the ginger-grilled tofu sandwich ($15), the seaweed salad ($15), and the grilled seitan chimichurri starter ($13).
154 East 79th Street, New York Nearby: The Met, Neue Galerie New York, Frick Collection
Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)
Mains at the extremely popular vegetarian Buddha Bodai chinese restaurant in Chinatown begin at $7.95, with dim sum menu items at $2.50. Choice items include the turnip cake - very hard to find in vegetarian form - and the meatless “ribs.” Note that the atmosphere can be boisterous and dinners can sometimes entail a wait time.
5 Mott Street, New York Nearby: Brooklyn Bridge, Church of St. James the Apostle
BabyCakes NYC (Lower East Side)
To those who would say that vegan pastries are an oxymoron, BabyCakes NYC disproves that theory. BabyCakes hawks brownies, cupcakes, sweet bread loaves, crumb cake, and cookies. For visitors who don’t have a sweet tooth, there are also biscuits and cornbread on offer. (For those travelling across the US, you’re in luck. There are additional BabyCakes outlets in downtown Los Angeles and at Disney World.)
248 Broome Street, New York Nearby: Tenement Museum, Little Italy, Chinatown
Rouge Tomate (Upper East Side)
Bypass this not-at-all-cheap organic/biodynamic restaurant’s main dishes and head straight for Rouge Tomate's cocktail and juice bar, where juices begin at $5 and max out at $8. The Green Tornado contains tarragon, spinach, basil, butter lettuce, and lemon juices. Less transparently healthy though no less delectable are the range of in-house sodas, which include a ginger ale and an apple sour (both $5). Cocktails rely heavily on in-house juices and begin at $12.
10 East 60th Street, New York. Closed Sunday. Nearby: Central Park, Bergdorf Goodman, MoMA
Alex Robertson Textor is a London-based New Yorker who specialises in budget travel and writes for magazines and websites around the world, including the New York Times, CN Traveler, ELLE and Gadling.com
Virgin Atlantic flies to New York five times daily. Check out the latest fares over at www.virginatlantic.com
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.