Year in Review: Twentysomething Really, Really Great Vegan Eats of 2014

East Williamsburg

Oh, snap. I was 96% ready to post way back on New Year Eve’s, and then a new project took hold and I had to push it aside. It’s now more than halfway through the month and I need a break from all my other work, so let’s dust this off.

The end of one year and the start of another calls for reflecting and writing, tra la la la la, la la la laaaaa. While 2013’s late SE Asian travels blew this past year away, flavor-wise, it did see me visiting four states (with pop-ins at the Newark airport) and eating doughnuts in every single one of them, so that was a big plus. So, I sat down with a notebook and flipped through my freaking Instagram,  and jotting down the positively memorable, seriously appetizing, craveable meals and bites of 2014. The first go was a pleasantly quick (massive) list for such a subjective game. They’re all personal and selfish and yeah, delicious. To tell you the truth, I originally broke this down into a top ten and the legit honorable mentions, but I’ve decided to go collective and share even more love. I’m talking curries, tacos, pizza, doughnuts, sushi and that summer of vegan ice cream.

Most memorably, I spent an entire month this summer in NYC and hit up quite a few new-to-me spots. Frankly, the list is dominated by Brooklyn, with a few brief stops in Las Vegas, Austin, Seattle and some proper love for a popularized Portland. It surprised me the most that the listing isn’t half-populated by vegan tacos in Austin, which can only mean thing: WE HAVE TO GO BACK (which don’t fret, is happening within the next few weeks).

If I had to pick my crazy wild, can’t-stop-thinking-about-them favorites and (location permitting) regular haunts, I’m calling it: Bunna Cafe and The Sudra. Hands down, that’s where I wish I was heading for dinner. Or lunch. Or way better yet, all things happy hour.

The requirements:

  • All vegan
  • Any city
  • Personally enjoyed within January 1, 2014-December 31, 2014
  • Not homemade
  • Ordered/purchased at a professional establishment/operation
  • Listed in fairly no particular order

The cities in particular consideration:

  • Portland, OR
  • New York, New York [Manhattan + Brooklyn]
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Seattle, WA
  • Austin, TX

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK: Feast for 2, Bunna Cafe

bunnagetsconed
Feast, Bunna Cafe

This former pop-up opened up its own spot in East Williamsburg in early 2014 and is easil myy favorite eatery within a short walk from my siste’rs apartment in Bushwick. It offers soulful, aromatic, entirely Ethiopian cuisine, plus, a legit low-key bar (which there can never be a shortage of). Once upon a time, I really wanted to try Bunna at a long-ago Vegan Shop-Up and their food wasn’t warm yet, so I brushed it off and probably ate a doughnut from a certain truck outside. In retrospect, how impatient I was, because my first experience at the easygoing cafe blew me away in terms of ambience and most importantly, those striking, warm flavors of our versatile feast. I regret not making room in my life for them sooner.

New York’s vegan eats I  really held my attention this summer, more so than ever, and Bunna became an obsession.

Outside the Staten Island Ferry

Speaking of, if you’re spending time in Bushwick, check out this map of Bushwick’s vegan-friendly eats, and please feel free to send more my way to add. My sister resides in this neighborhood and I’m shocked every visit at the number of new vegan-loving spots, most recently being Little Mo’s.

PORTLAND, OREGON: Poori Plate, The Sudra

Back in Portland, a brand spanking new coworking space became my home base at the start of the new year, which corrected another mishap in my dining habits: finally hitting up (the then-newish) Sudra. This modern Indian spot from Sanjay of downtown’s Sonny Bowl cart has become my preferred go-to lunch and happy hour spot in the city. It’s also entirely vegan and really has its own vibe and menu, really reflecting on Portland meets fresh Indian flavors. Case in point: kale dosas, which let me assure you are a very good thing. My favorite meal has proven to be the Poori Plate with housemade mini flatbread, stewed black-eyed pea korma, spiced potato masala, dressed, shredded collard greens, pickled Anaheim chiles and house sauces, but I can I do mix things up with the dosa, pakora and Peacock salad. Whatever you pick, the fruity hot sauces are a must, and it’s always difficult for me to resist theor perfectly cooked, Tandoori-seasoned soy curls. You guys, SO MANY PLACES GET SOY CURLS SO WRONG.

It’s so wonderful to see them so right.

Poori Plate, The Sudra

Heaps of bonus points for a unique cocktails, mocktails and rad beer, wine and shot pairings.

Back to the Big Apple:

VARIOUS/POP-UP, NEW YORK: Yeah Dawg, Yeah Dawg!!!

Yeah Dawg!, Yeah Dawg! at The Seed

Here’s another pop-up that I resisted trying on past visits that finally happened during a long afternoon spent at The Seed. I was admittedly wary of a gluten-free vegan sausage, but I am quite the sunflower eater these days and was actively going out of my way to try new eats during my summer stay. Seriously, I so rarely eat hot dogs ⸺ let alone on a bun ⸺ but I was in New York! I only have childhood memories of spitting gross hot dog bites out, but I’m so glad that I went for it. This savoury vegan greatness was topped with BBQ potato chips, housemade pickles, jalapeno and coconut bacon, becoming one of the best things I’ve tried in a long time.

Highly recommended & a must for my next shop-up visit, for sure.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: Angel Curry, In The Bowl

Angel Curry, In the Bowl

If you’ve ever asked me about vegan food in Seattle, I’ve likely looked you in the eye, inquired about your stance on curry, and if you answered in the right way, In the Bowl becomes my insistence. I’ve never been anywhere else in the US that serves such fiercely flavorful Thai curry. The Angel Curry has been listed under House Favorites for years, and was one that I’d ordered eons ago on a business trip to Seattle. Okay, this is dramatic, BUT, it changed my life, being one of the first legit curries I found myself enamored with. I hadn’t ordered it since then, and during March’s “Northwest Pickle Tour“, it was an indulgence from brine that did not disappoint those culinary memories. Fresh, tender tofu, colorful veggies, bed of vermicelli and spoonful after spoonful of hot and dreamy, rich and spicy coconut broth.

PORTLAND, OREGON: Salt & Pepper Tempeh, Departure

Salt & Pepper Tempeh, Departure

Departure is another spot that I don’t make it to as often as I like (even if the vibe isn’t exactly my comfort level, the food wins). I may have only experienced it once or twice this past year, but with Gregory Gourdet wow’ing on Top Chef and it’s standing as a Portland Vegan + Tourist Dinner Priority ™, I would be remiss if I didn’t include it. I could rave about every item I’ve ever ordered here, from the shredded brussels with fresh mint and basil, to the nooch-adorned sushi rolls, but the flavors and textures that stick out from my most recent visit this summer belong to the Salt & Pepper Tempeh. Oh, it’s hot thanks to all those fresh chiles, yet well balanced and just damn good. I find myself wanting *this* tempeh on my grain/greens/sauce bowls across town. What else can compare?

I mean, I want this tempeh for breakfast tomorrow, for crying out loud.

Washington Square

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Masala Dosa, NY Dosas

The cart, the legend: NY Dosas

What an iconic spot! I’m growing quite the record here, but this is another new classic vegan spot in NYC that was on my radar for years and years and years, but didn’t actually make an appearance in my real life until this past summer. The travesty!

During my late teens/early 20s, I was thrilled enough that I connected on the right subway lines via the LIRR at Penn Station to arrive at West 4th, where I’d practically run to VP2 and Red Bamboo to get my soy chikin’ on, frolic off to Mamoun’s, or hit up some even more legendary vegetarian Chinese in Chinatown while to and fro my Fung Wah bus back to college in Boston. Fast forward to the summer of 2014, with dosas making rather striking appearances in my life in recent years. The timing and cravings arrived. Just between us, it took me three tries to actually locate the cart during its actual open hours, and it was hard to leave. It was a bittersweet visit, during the last few days of my long stay, and the experience (in addition to one more dinner at Bunna and a bag of bagels) were at the top of my bucket list. Oh, it was the highlight of my day. Seemingly simple. Truly epic. I sat there, reading in Washington Square Park and devouring my messy lunch, smile on my face, bite after flavorful bite.

Masala Dosa plate, NY Dosas

To everyone who’s raved in the past, and continues to frequent this cart: Thank You.

Dosa view, Washington Square

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Soy Vanilla Froyo Soft Serve, 16 Handles

This one makes me so happy!

Vanilla Soy Soft Serve, 16 Handles

If there’s one thing to mention about my experience with “New York’s Summer of Vegan Ice Cream”, it’s that blah, blah, blah, you should know by now that my own raves are limited to the realm of soy and coconut. Jules can charm with stories and cones from Van Leeuwen’s and Blythe Ann’s (formerly Lula’s), but I can wax on about how dang happy eating the Vanilla Soy soft serve at 16 Handles made me.

I’ve had my share of weird and lovely vegan soft serves, and this was the most on-par with those old memories of birthday cake vanilla meets lusciously creamy soft serve ice cream. Gosh, that alone was worth frequent pop-ins, but the experience made me downright giddy when topped with thick peanut butter and chocolate cookie crumbles. This flavor was available at the St. Marks/2nd Ave location (among others), and I also tried a nice coconut water sorbet at the Williamsburg location.

It’s one of many NYC vegan elements I want to find a way to make happen at VVCIII. To dream…(and some how make happen!)

Peanut Butter Appreciation Club, 16 Handles

PORTLAND, OREGON: Build-Your-Own Sandwich, Brass Tacks

Okay, this is really the SE Portlander in me talking, who definitely hit up and raved about Brass Tacks when they first opened a few years….and then forgot it exited. Oops.Fortunately, their housemade pickles and a new bike brought them back on my radar in 2014, and I’ve been making a point to return, albeit sporadically. Well, in reality, it’s the only place on this list that I visited within the past few days.

This women-owned deli offers from-scratch, delectable vegan options, including an array of housemade seitan “meats” and sauces, which are all frantically good. I’m a sucker for rustic ciabatta, and when it’s stuffed with housemade agave-smoked seitan ham, salami, pepperoncini, lettuce, tomato, fresh jalapeño, hummus, dijon & garlic aioli with sides of kettle chips and their award-winning house pickles, well, that sealed this deal.

Build-Your-Own, Brass Tacks Sandwiches

Real talk: Remembering that Brass Tacks exists has made me very underwhelmed with WF’s sandwiches, if you know what I mean.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Sweet Tree, Beyond Sushi

Spicy Mang, Beyond Sushi

At some point, I’d like to try every single item on the impressive Beyond Sushi menu, and while I’m at it on making a wish list, fly into town once a month and work in the ‘roll of the month’. Every single thing I’ve tried so far has impressed me. It’s all so fresh, eclectic, and precisely intriguing. For now, I’m giving my love to the “Sweet Tree”, which is one big, awesome bite after bite of multigrain rice, fresh avocado, just-cooked sweet potato, alfalfa sprouts and toasted cayenne dollop on top.

Outside the original location

Once you experience Beyond Sushi, it’s truly difficult to enjoy a mere mortal avocado roll again.

Mighty Mushroom & Sweet Tree, Beyond Sushi

 

Beyond Sushi

To Greenpoint!

BROOKLYN, NY: Vegan Daniela Spinachi,Paulie Gee’s

Paulie Gee’s, Greenpoint

Now, when people (okay, vegans on the internet) hear that I’m in NYC, and particularly if I post a picture of pizza somewhere, someone reliably chimes in that I NEED to check out Paulie Gee’s. Rest assured, I’m happy to. I attempted to go last year on some visit or another, and didn’t realize they were dinner early. So, it had almost happened, okay? I wasn’t in a huge rush because a) I remain digging on another Teese-offering shop and b) I was aware that they offered cashew ricotta, which my mouth and throat no longer agree with. Sigh.

Finally, Jules and I made it there for a date night dinner, and ding, dang, derm: What a delight. It was quite the scene, with a considerable, ongoing wait for tables, hushed low-key lighting and cozy tables (which were very eaves-dropping appropriate). It’s quickly understandable, even before your food arrives, even if you had little to no idea that you’re entering a hot spot, that you’re entering a special place. Atmosphere aside, the point is pizza. Paulie Gee’s dishes out a wood-fired crust that brought back childhood memories of the “nice” restaurants in Brooklyn and Little Italy my family would go to now and then. It’s that rustic, tender, chewy yet thin crust, just lightly dressed with stellar, high quality ingredients. So Italian. I was not expecting to be so taken with, yet, there I went. For the record, Jules did enjoy a ricotta-topped pie, and they’ve since added a housemade vegan meatball pie (!). My adoration went to the “Daniela Spinaci”, with baby spinach, olive oil, fresh sliced garlic, mild aleppo chili oil and sea salt.

Our leftovers were consequently enjoyed on the bus and for breakfast the next morning.

Vegan Daniela Spinaci, Paulie Gee’s

PORTLAND, OREGON: Pad Kee Mao, Chiang Mai

Pad Kee Mao, Chiang Mai on SE Hawthorne

Since I’ve twice-over become one of those annoying people who passionately talks about traveling to Thailand and how the food here rarely compares, I’ve really had to stick to my standards when it comes the few Thai restaurants I do allot myself (and recommend to others!!). To cut to the chase, the vegan-friendly spot with the most authentic flavors and ingredients that I’ve personally experienced is SE Hawthorne’s Chiang Mai. Coincidentally named after the huge Northern Thai city I’ve spent two weeks biking around and getting my curry-on, Chiang Mai’s menu is familiar with veganizing dishes and keeping the flavor, makes delicious curries, Tom Kah (Jules’ favorite there) and the best rendition of Pad Kee Mao that I’ve come across in town. I was floored the first time I was came across their fresh green peppercorns. I even ordered this for my solo birthday night dinner this past September (the whole wife working in NYC thing). When do I ever order take out anymore, seriously??

Seriously.

PORTLAND, OREGON: Soy Curl Shawarma Fries, Gonzo Falafel at Base Camp Brewing

Vegan Shawarma Fries + Beer Sampler, Gonzo at Base Camp Brewing

It’s nice to see Portland making another appearance here, especially of the brewery and happy hour persuasion. Yet again, I only made it to the Gonzo cart for a single visit when it lived just down the street in a now-shut food cart pod up on Division Street, but I have since become a fan of its convenience and crave-worthy offerings at Base Camp Brewing. This “mountain” consists of a seemingly never-ending mass of hot hand cut fries, a trio of sauces (creamy tahini, tangy amba & housemade hot sauce), addictive pepperoncini peppers and Middle Eastern spiced soy curls. It’s totally made for sharing over a microbrew or two (or sampler).

And yeah, RIP Slabtown + Falafel House. You made this list in spirit.

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK: Falafel Wrap, Hazar Turkish Kebab

Hazar, Bay Ridge

Next up, we’re off to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where I found myself drawn in by lunch options while transferring between the bus and R train on my journeys to Staten. I’d read this Serious Eats piece on the neighborhood, which brought me right to Hazar and claims of “the best falafel in New York”. Nothing has come very close to the fond memories of my college-era falafel wraps of Boston and NYC, but I’m forever ready to test those taste buds. Hazar was easily the best falafel of my month and recent years ⸺ great crunch and herby falafel balls, generous size, surprisingly vibrant fresh veggies (the first thing that usually breaks my heart about falafel in Portland is the hunk light, pink tomato), creamy hummus, tahini, all wrapped up in warm, grilled bread.

I have such mixed thoughts on daring to top this any time soon.

Falafel Sandwich, Hazar

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK: “Spicy Slicey”, Vinnie’s Pizzeria

“Spicy Slicey”, Vinnie’s Pizzeria

I was torn on whether to include Vinnie’s because I make such a habit of stopping by for a slice, but that practice is exactly why it makes my list. This place puts me at ease. I know, I know, I’m picky, but it is so rare to find a pizza shop using a vegan cheese that isn’t Daiya these days, and I am one big fan of shredded Teese. The daily slices here are a nice combination of classic, like the Eggplant Parmigiano, and well, new-classic contenders, like the “Spicy Slicey” and whatever witty name they’ve given the vegan special of the day. I have taken pizza back to Portland from here so many times I’ve lost count.

Btw, I recommend that book.

Norbert’s Pizza, Bushwick

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK: Garlic Knots, Norbert’s Pizza

Garlic Knots, Norbert’s Pizza

Pizza talk, continued.

You probably caught on that I’m not a fan of the d-cheese (I’ve tried so far. It just ruins things.), which is Norbert’s vegan cheese option, so this inclusion is particularly notable. The thing is, Norbert’s main location is around the corner from my sister’s apartment, and makes these beautiful, large garlic knots, all slathered in olive oil and herbs, tossed in a pocket of foil and served with a side of straight-up chunky sauce.

Ugh, New York dough. Ugh. I took these home with me and ate them for dinner after a 9 hour layover in Seattle, no joke.

The newer (Little) Norbert’s Express:

Norbert’s Express
Inside Little Norby’s aka Norbert’s Express

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Fritto Misto + Cava, Eataly’s Le Verdure

Fritto Misto, Le Verdure at Eataly

Eataly’s Le Verdure, aka the “vegetable” restaurant inside the fancypants Italian marketplace, was another spot that folks kept recommending I try out on my next visit. And my next visit, and so on. My sister worships Eataly and I enjoy feeling extra Italian American, so it’s no surprise we finally made time Prosecco and dinner. Looking for something a little more more sophisticated happy hour vs. multi-course dining, I was instantly impressed by the arrival of an enormous plate of fritto misto. Better put as “MIXED FRY!”, or, Italian battered seasonal vegetables with lemon for squeezing on top.

Swoony stuff to nibble on and people watch over a glass of bubbles.

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK: Toasted Sesame Bagel with Tofu Spread, The Bagel Store

IMG_0450
Toasted Sesame Bagel with Tofu Spread + Peach Snapple, The Bagel Store on Metropolitan

We’re still in New York because there are a few more matters of the heart and stomach to discuss. It was after I was living in Portland for a year or so before I recognized certain pangs of culinary nostalgia and hunger: bagels. Sometimes I slip and sit down for a bagel around Portland after a few months of knowingly avoiding them. As filling as a bagel sandwich is, it never quite satisfies my stomach, and most achingly, my heart. The Bagel Store on Metropolitan isn’t by any means the closest bagel maker to my sister’s abode, but it’s well worth the extra 20 minutes of walking. It sell, my friends, my favorite bagel. Others have come close around the city, but never before had one crept into my heart and soul à la the Bay Shore Bagel Boss routine of my childhood. The thick schmear, the choice of flavors, the warm and inviting row of baskets after baskets of boiled, baked rings, and that cooler of OJ and Snapple. Be still my heart.

AUSTIN, TEXAS: Breakfast Taco, Cherrywood Coffeehouse

Breakfast Tacos, Cherrywood Coffeehouse

My experience with breakfast tacos in Austin, TX ⸺ let alone, consequent personal revolution of tacos as a concept and meal ⸺ was tender moment after moment of adventure and flavor. I saw the light.

I almost went with Wheatsville’s popcorn tofu-taco hybrid here or the puffy taco plate from Vivo (with a lovely, fruity margarita, sheesh) but Cherrywood’s crispy, shoestring potatoes really do rule everything. I remember those warm corn tortillas, saucy black beans, chunks of fried tofu, house salsa and such deliciously crunchy potatoes, and I want more.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA: Beer Battered Avocado Taco, Garden Grill

On the left: Beer Battered Avocado Taco, Garden Grill

As wow-factor as Las Vegas’ vegan dining scene across luxury casino and hotels has gotten, this business trip was spent eating multigrain bread with peanut butter and hitting up dining spots of a more budget-friendly understanding. That said, Las Vegas didn’t blow me away with any particular vegan meals, because I really wasn’t out there eating many.

Legendary doughnuts aside, one meal that did stand out were again, tacos (although, these were a month before Texas, to note). Garden Grill had their pop-up set up as part of the farmers market outside of the Whole Foods we’d been visiting for rations and research. Let me tell you, wherever it’s at these days, these folks are super worth tracking down, because dude, Crunchy Stone Brewing IPA-battered avocado, fresh cabbage, creamy dressing and Sriracha. It’s the type of thing that you eat and realize you have to face the harsh reality of not eating this once a day for the rest of your stay.

via NEW PALTZ, NEW YORK: Smoky Corn on the Cob Bar, Lagusta’s Luscious  

Smoky Corn on the Cob, Lagusta’s Luscious

We both adore Lagusta and her whimsical line of handrafted chocolate creations. This Smoky Corn on the Cob bar, grabbed from a Vegan Shop-Up in Brooklyn, was my parting gift to Jules.

I’ll let her sum things up, “If chocolate could kiss you this is what it would feel like”. 

Smoky Corn on the Cob, Lagusta’s Luscious

Chocolate break: I want to read and soak in Lagusta’s veritable words for days.

Lagusta’s Luscious, Vegan Shop Up

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK: Ice Cream, Ice Cream House

Double Scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip and Cookies & Cream, The Ice Cream House

Another success, after years of dreaming! It took us two attempts to find this enchanting Kosher Pareve ice cream shoppe open, and despite being the only two women without babies by our side, my boxes were checked in all the right ways. We perused cases of vegan ice cream cakes and contemplated soft serve, but the simplicity of scoops won out, and I went with cookies & cream and a scoop of my childhood love, some supernaturally green mint chocolate chip.

I was transported back to the mini chip Baskin Robbins treats of years gone by. One day, I shall return, and goodness, these are some sweet new memories to top.

Ice Cream House, Williamsburg
For Real

 

Dive in

There’s one more to go. Hold on, while I revisit my precious.

My last Vinnie’s slice, reheated on Staten island with some wine in a plastic cup, hours later

Yet another of ongoing “Spicy Sliceys”, Vinnie’s Pizzeria
Union Square Greenmarket

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK: French Toast Doughnut, Dun-Well Doughnuts

French Toast Doughnut, Dun-Well Doughnuts

From 2013-2014, I sampled doughnuts in Las Vegas, Chicago, Seattle, Portland and New York, and one reigns the new vegan classic: Dun-Well’s. It’s really saying something that their usage of “artisan” doesn’t annoy me, as much as it fits in a Portlandia sketch. The doughnuts are light and fluffy and the icing tastes like real! things! Plus, the coffee is usually pretty spot on (as much as it breaks Jules’ heart that they switched from BRC).

Shucks, I’m charmed.

In closing, I’ll share some photos from our final evening at Bunna, during the last few days of my summer stay. The very final night was spent at our go-to Bangledesh/Indian spot on 1st Ave, Milon, but that’s always for the smashing decor, atmosphere and Indian disco music to celebrate our consistently fake birthdays.

Bunna
The Pushkin aka “Ethiopian White Russian”, Bunna

So, this was fascinating (to some of us, in a good way): Vodka, Bunna {Ethiopian coffee brewed with cardamom and cloves}, roasted sunflower milk and coffee bean garnish

Bunna

 

More feasting, Bunna

Bonus:

Holiday in Cambodia, Pine Box Rock Shop, because cheers to one heck of an irresistibly named and rather sippable, fiery bloody mary (even if this vegan bar is kinda sorta sports bar come nightfall?!).

“Holiday in Cambodia”, Pine Box Rock Shop

So, let’s chat: What were YOUR favorite eats of 2014? 

What’s the latest and greatest in your city or travels? What’s changed your taste buds and dining directions heading into 2015? Do tell.

Or, did I procrastinate so long you’ve already moved on?

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