While the most well-known NYC vegan havens are the East and West Villages in Manhattan, healthy, vegan-friendly fare can be found in the outer boroughs as well. Astoria, Queens, my childhood stomping ground, has always been known for its diverse and delicious restaurants. Growing up, the majority were Greek and Italian (not impossible to find vegan fare in these cuisines, but mostly cheese abounds.) However, in the past few years the neighborhood has further diversified and modernized, making it quite vegan-friendly. I'll take you on a short food tour of 30th Avenue, a major shopping/eating strip, with a couple detours along the way.
Get off the N train at the 30th Ave stop and you will
first encounter Sai Organics, a top-rate health food store with a
multitude of vegan take-out options, including pastries and muffins,
sandwiches, soups, fresh juices, salads, and organic fair trade coffee
with soy milk. The store is run by friendly people with a Zen attitude
and they proudly announce that their bathroom is open to all humans
whether customers or not, a welcome change from the typical New York
Continue up the avenue with the street
numbers increasing, and you'll come across a strip of fruit and
vegetable markets. The produce isn't organic, but the products are
always very fresh and quite reasonably priced. The variety is excellent
My next snack stop is usually Mama's, the new self-serve
fro-yo spot which recently opened in Astoria. This is the only of its
kind I've encountered which has 3 or 4 non-dairy sorbets among the
various yogurt options. Judging by the taste and appearance, I'd say the
flavors come from real fruit and the sugar content is low. Grab a few
self-serve squirts of the various flavors (pomegranate and mango are two
of my faves), then head over to the toppings bar, where a ton of fresh
fruit is accompanied by nuts, seeds, carob chips, coconut flakes, and
mochi, a chewy Japanese treat made from rice. You pay for your
concoction by weight, so feel free to sample as many different toppings
as you wish!
Next up is one of my favorite establishments,
Brooklyn Bagel. There weren't too many foods I missed when going vegan,
but a chewy NY bagel with a schmear of cream cheese was definitely one
of them. Brooklyn Bagel has the solution, with 5 varieties of tofu cream
cheese (plain, chive, veggie, walnut raisin, and recently, spinach)
paired with a variety of bagels including many whole-grain options
(whole wheat everything is my favorite.) I'd suggest going for the
mini-bagel, as the "normal" sized bagel is roughly the size of my head.
Additionally, they usually offer a vegan soup option, have a full salad
bar, and soy milk for coffee.
Hang a left at Steinway Street and
you will come to the strip of Middle Eastern restaurants and grocery
stores between 28th Ave and Astoria Boulevard. Middle Eastern food is
tricky: on one hand, shwarma and shishkebobs abound, and sometimes I
avoid these places because of the meat smell and possible
cross-contamination between the meat grill and the falafels. On the
other hand, Middle Eastern cuisine has a ton of healthy vegan options,
such as hummus, tahini, falafel, fava beans, and a host of interesting
salads. There are also some Middle Eastern pastries resembling the Greek
baklava which are made with sugar and vegetable oil rather than honey
and butter. Turkish Delight is another vegan treat which can be obtained
on this block, as well as very reasonably priced nuts and dried fruits.
One advantage is that most of these restaurants cook the food on grills
that you can see when you walk in, so it's pretty easy to figure out if
your pita is being grilled right next to a lamb chop.
Astoria is also home to several Thai and Indian restaurants, also on 30th Ave, where there are quite a few vegan options. I've yet
to discover a specifically vegetarian restaurant in Astoria (if I'm
wrong, please let me know!) but these various snack shops keep me well
satisfied when I teach dance in the neighborhood. It's always a pleasure
to go somewhere where you can get some healthy, yummy, unique munchies.