While some vegetarian restaurants may be disappointing or just plain suck, there are more places that don't suck. I hope.
Here's the first half of my list of top ten favorite vegetarian and vegan eateries.
I don't look at Taim as a vegetarian eatery—I just call it, "BEST FALAFEL EVER!" Or in NYC. And aside from the sabich, which contains hard boiled egg (and is one of the best sandwich-like things you could ever eat) and some smoothies, I think most of the items are vegan. Few other places make falafels so light and crisp, or pita bread so thick, soft, and fluffy. The fried-on-the-spot french fries are also great, although best shared between two or more people (unless you're really hungry). The only downside is the lack of seating, although I've been lucky and have always been able to grab a stool or space on the outside benches. 222 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014 (at 7th Avenue; map); 212-691-1287
Related: Amy Ruth's, Cafe Mogador, Taim, NYC eats: so many, oh dear god, Merry Christmas + McDonalds, Random Russian Stuff, Pudding and Falafels, Tristan Week: Day 2 (Israeli Sandwiches and Mild Tipsiness)
I used to live just a few blocks away from Southern Indian restaurant Tiffin Wallah more than a year ago, but I only visited for the first time in May. It's too bad I didn't try it sooner since the food is tasty, inexpensive (nothing is over $10), and full of spices I'll never be close to being able to recognizing. I liked the uttapam, pancakes made with rice and lentil flour, like fat, savory, slightly chewy pancakes. I was a bigger fan of the rava masala dosa, a crispy, super thin rice and lentil flour crepe filled with mashed spiced potatoes whose flatness is made up by having the span of a large baby. The menu indicates what dishes have dairy in them; I figure the non-dairy dishes are vegan. 127 E 28th Street, New York, NY 10016 (near Lexington; map); 212-685-7301
Chennai Garden is another vegetarian South Indian restaurant. I mostly remember the appetizer assortment full of fried goodies, more specifically ali tikki, salmon pakora & bajjia, not that I know what any of those things really are. I'll go with "fritters, doughy things, things stuffed into dough." It's good for the indecisive, fried stuff-loving eater. Also good for the indecisive eater is the Chennai combo dinner consisting of iddly, medu vadai, vegetable, masala dosai, coconut chutney, sambar, and badam halwa. Don't know what that stuff is? Neither do I! Well, lots of lentil and rice flour-based things accompanied by sauces and whatnot, if I had to guess. You'll like it, assuming your taste buds aren't too sensitive. 129 E 27th Street, New York, NY 10016 (near Lexington; map); 212-689-1999
I'd go to the vegetarian/vegan/kosher-friendly Buddha Bodai just to get the fried taro duck, which tastes nothing like duck, but a lot like taro. It's some kind of flattened, mashed taro loaf wrapped in a few layers of tofu skin (the common composition of Chinese mock duck), breaded, and fried to a flaky crisp. Each bite is crispy (outer crust), chewy (tofu skin), creamy (taro), and somewhat stomach-deadening due to the heavy taro. A good kind of stomach-deadening. While the vegetarian lamb with mixed vegetables was a satisfying meat substitute, I'd rather go with non-meat-substitute tofu with organic mushroom and basil featuring jiggly baby butt-soft tofu cubes. The rich vegan cheesecake was good for being tofu-based and would surely qualify as one of the best desserts you could get at a Chinese restaurant. 5 Mott Street, New York, NY 10013 (near Bowery; map); 212-566-8388
Vegetarian Dim Sum House
I prefer the typical hectic, cart-filled, lunchtime, banquet hall dim sum, but when in need of vegetarian/vegan-friendly cuisine I'm all for Vegetarian Dim Sum House. Monk dumplings are awesome, even if I don't know what's in them. The spinach dumplings, less so, because they're not chock full of spinach. Mashed taro treasure boxes, similar to Buddha Bodai's fried taro duck, are another favorite of mine—what's not to love about balls of mashed taro that are breaded and deep-fried? The fluffy mock roast pork buns were pretty good with their central splodges of meat-like bits in sweet roast pork sauce. And although it was my first time eating rice flour rolls with deep fried dough (chewy eep fried dough sticks wrapped in rice noodle sheets), it won't be my last. 24 Pell Street, New York, NY 10013 (b/n Mott and Elizabeth; map) 212-577-7176