Candle 79. 154E 79th St. Upper East Side. NYC

This upscale organic vegan restaurant is innovative and inspirational if you’re devoted to avoiding meat and dairy. For the casually interested and flexitarian, it reeks of try-hard sophistication and feels like it lacks real soul in its ingredients. Service was snooty and hot sauce took three attempts and a full ten minutes to arrive on our table. Prices are high, especially for basic burgers and soups ($15-23), but the pomegranate-BBQ seitan skewers ($13) and polenta fries were tastier than anything else I tried that day. There is apparently a cheaper more casual Candle Cafe which I might be willing to try. But here, these portions need to be larger, side salads served gratis, or else vegans deserve more than just overpriced blandness. It’s got its fair share of hip regulars, wealthy wives and ladies-who-lunch, so it’s doing just fine.

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Subway: 77th St

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Thelma on Clinton. 29A Clinton St. Lower East Side. NYC

A Diner’s Deck card (from a pack of $10 gift certificates) brought us here after two other restaurants we’d chosen were closed that night, and how serendipitous; we would never normally have chosen French cuisine for a date night. It really is a beautiful bistro with personable service and chef/owner Melissa O’Donnell hanging out at the bar, teasing me about the glass I had just broken. We had the creamy cauliflower soup which was truffly heaven, and the miso-glazed salmon seared perfectly on a bed of cukes and red onion. I can’t remember the prices of anything we had, and with food this good, frankly, I couldn’t have cared (check out http://thelmaonclinton.com/menus if you do though). A good selection of beer and wine means that we’ll be back here again too.

$$$
Subway: Essex St / Delancey St

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Goa Taco. 79 Delancey St. East Village. NYC

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Parathas are layered, pan-fried flatbreads, and the sign on the counter says that one of these unleavened discs of dough is equivalent to two tacos in size and substance; with the fusion fillings here though, you’ll want to eat more than just your own. The combinations of imaginative ingredients is magical, with proportions matched well to paratha thickness. The pecado rojo lamb shoulder with eggplant salsa and tzatziki ($9) was exceptional, and the honey-roasted butternut squash with salsa verde and kale ($7) was also perfect for the less carnivorous. We’ll be trying the pork belly with red cabbage next time. Margheritas are served for $7 with friendly service. Only about ten seats in here, so come in small groups or be prepared to take away.

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Subway: Delancey St / Essex St

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All About Indian Food. 443 Bushwick Ave. Brooklyn. NYC

This bizarre little place, gauche in name and haphazard in its choice of furni and decor, has a good range of lamb, chicken, seafood and veggie dishes. The poppadum was among the worst I’ve ever tasted, neither fried nor roasted, but wafery and pointless. The ka-choori was the wrong dish entirely, a channa chaat with broken puri, which at $3.99 isn’t bad at all. Prawn Madras ($12.99) was delicious, but I felt the bhindi masala‘s okra pieces could’ve done with some dry-frying in mustard seeds before being cooked with the masala. Service was friendly, and BYOB brings prices to a reasonable $15-20/head. Just make sure you don’t go on one of the nights when one of their regular solo diners – the loud cabbie – is chatting incessantly using speakerphone.

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Subway: Flushing Ave

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ATM Homemade Falafel. 36-18 Broadway Astoria. Queens. NYC

Arun, proprietor of this small middle-eastern and Indian snacks’n’sandwiches cafe, makes this budget-dining experience memorable. His kathi rolls (paneer or chicken) are made with the tastiest tikka-cooked ingredients and the falafels are almost perfect. Bhelpoori and chaat, prepared in both the Mumbai and Delhi-styles with different proportions of tamarind sauce and chutneys, are served cold and suited to bringing the temperature down on a warm day like a refreshing gazpacho. Mango lassis take the edge off the spicy combos.

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Subway: Steinway St./Broadway

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Zaytinya. 701 9th St NW. Washington DC

José Andrés opened his first Greek restaurant in the city a decade ago, and it really is a remarkable space with terrific food. The freshness of Mediterranean ingredients, combined with the slow-cooked lamb, the fried parcels and pastry choices make this a good fit for the tapas-tasters and indoor picnic enthusiasts. Lamb Kleftiko and phyllo with shredded lamb were the best meat dishes, warm pide and fresh fattoush were wonderful, and the wine selection was well-matched.
Even though it is a spacious restaurant, diners have complained about noise levels in here when it is more than half full; the clattery atmosphere might bother some, but the mixed crowd and excellent service more than makes up for it.

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Zorba’s Cafe. 1612 20th St NW. Washington DC

We came here on a sunny late March afternoon and sat outside eating below-average moussaka ($14.50!) and yeros washed down with some tasty imported beers. The saving grace was their grand falafel wrap ($8.50, and the pitta-less falafel plate at $11.50) which offered robust, slightly dry portions that were nevertheless tasty and fulfilling. Service is nonexistent here – you’ll need to pay the cashier first then collect your food when your buzzer alerts you. Pricey, and many miles away from Greece, and what Greek food should be.

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Metro: DuPont Circle

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