Whether you live in New York City or are a visitor, it is crucial to be able to find good dairy free food to eat. If you’re visiting, eating out is probably the area of greatest importance, while if you live here (and especially if you’ve just moved here), finding markets and other food stores that carry your favorite dairy free products will be your focus.
On this page, I will focus on Manhattan, the place most people think of when they say “New York City.” In a second page, I will talk about the so-called outer boroughs, namely Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx.
1. Restaurants. The safest easiest way to eat dairy free is to go vegan, and Manhattan has some of the best vegan restaurants anywhere (including some that specialize in incredible raw food offerings). Beyond that, Asian cuisines, like Chinese, Japanese and Thai, are pretty easy to negotiate your way through. And for those who are a little more daring, and willing to work with their server and chef, many mainstream restaurants are very accommodating of those with food allergies nowadays.
Vegan and Raw Food Restaurants. While there are still those who prefer to speak of vegans as easy fodder for jokes, the truth is that, thinking big picture, the future of our planet is in plant-based food, while focusing more narrowly, we would all probably be healthier if we went vegan at least some of the time. And Manhattan has some of the best vegan restaurants anywhere. Here are some I have visited and written about:
Terri Vegan Café. I keep going back to Terri for vegan sandwiches, mint iced tea and yummy chocolate (also vegan) cupcakes. My wife loves the green juice.
Maoz Vegetarian Restaurant. Falafels and whatnot. Very much a Gen Y hangout.
Pure Food & Wine. There’s raw food, and then there’s Pure Food & Wine. And it’s not just amazing raw food, there’s also wine (maybe it’s just me, but I always think of raw food as being kind of a teetotaler healthy thing). And amazing desserts.
Blossom du Jour. Vegan sandwiches, wraps and other café-type offerings, and vegan desserts. Several locations. I had my first taste of a kale/peanut butter shake there, and you know what? It didn’t suck.
Asian Restaurants. Food from Asian cuisines rarely includes dairy, the exception being those dishes that are made to accommodate American tastes (like the Boston roll served at sushi restaurants that includes cream cheese, and some dishes at the more high-end Asian fusion restaurants that are meant to be richer and more flavorful by adding some butter). There are so many restaurants in Manhattan serving Chinese food and sushi that it is hard to keep up with them. The same could be said of those serving hummus, falafel and other Middle Eastern delights. Here are some that I have particularly enjoyed:
Morimoto’s. Like most people, we’ve been fans of Chef Morimoto from Iron Chef for many years. So we were thrilled to visit his restaurant during Restaurant Week of the winter of 2014. And we had a great culinary experience – great sake, great food.
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle & Dumpling. Many of the best Chinese restaurants in New York City are in, duh, Chinatown, and many of those are off-the-beaten-path, hole-in-the-wall joints like this one. Their bag of frozen dumplings to take away is a great bargain, and to eat in, the soups are rich and hearty.
Thai Market. Good Thai food in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine area.
Spice Market. Exotic locale, you might even say romantic. Very good Asian fusion food. A place we always try to hit during Restaurant Week.
Golden Unicorn Restaurant. A temple to Dim Sum. Saturday is the day to be there. Don’t be worried about the long waiting list (it moves quickly), but get there early, to be safe.
Alfanoose. A go-to in the Financial District for Middle Eastern food at a great price. Grilled cauliflower is a big hit with us. And lots of great combos, both vegan and with meat.
Banh Mi Zon. We love banh mi sandwiches, and this is the place we go for them. In the East Village, my favorite NYC neighborhood for food.
Biang! Restaurant. Hand-ripped noodles, wow! With lamb and cumin. Not exactly what you expect of Chinese food, but this is worth checking out.
Cherry Restaurant. Imaginative Japanese food, sushi and beyond, in a steakhouse atmosphere. Great sake selection, delivered by the Sake Ninja himself.
No. 1 Little House. Downtown Chinese. A popular spot for weekday take out.
Accommodating Mainstream Restaurants. When you walk into a restaurant, it can be a bit scary to try to get a meal you’re going to enjoy that will also be definitely free of any dairy. The good news is that restaurants are getting clued in to the fact that accommodating food allergies is a good thing to do. So most places nowadays are not going to flinch when you tell them about your allergy. If anything, you may not be able to get your first choice of dish, but if you work with your server and chef, you will probably find something you will enjoy eating. I have had so much good fortune eating out in Manhattan dairy free, and here are some of my favorites:
Cafe d’Alsace. One of my favorite restaurants in NYC, with Alsatian specialties like choucroute garnie (sauerkraut stewed with ham and sausages).
North End Grill. Chef Floyd Cardoz is another person we encountered on tv (in this case, Top Chef on Bravo), and with this restaurant being not far from home, we had to check it out. It is a beautiful place, with all the details attended to, especially the food.
El Paso Restaurant. We don’t often find ourselves in Spanish Harlem, but we would make a special trip there just to eat this restaurant’s hearty Mexican food, and take in the delightful Dia de los Muertos decor.
Underground Pizza. A pie half with cheese and half without? No problem (I add my own Daiya to my cheeseless half when I get it home, and put it under the broiler for a minute).
Fishtail by David Burke. Love the taco trio. And lots of other great fish/seafood options. Keep meaning to go for the oyster special.
Bar Six. Looks just like a Parisian bistro. The menu is French meets Moroccan.
Brasserie Ruhlmann. Art Deco décor, classic brasserie menu, top-notch service. One of the best restaurants in Rockefeller Center.
2. Desserts. Frankly, desserts are the most challenging part of any meal when it comes to eating dairy free. Whether frozen desserts or baked goods, dairy can be lurking in even the most benign-looking confection. That being said, in Manhattan, there are some pretty awesome options.
2a. Dairy Free Ice Cream in Manhattan. We lament the demise of our beloved Stogo, an ice cream parlor that sold only dairy free ice cream, and some of the best I’ve ever tasted. However, life goes on. Newer purveyors of dairy free frozen desserts like Alchemy Creamery show us that the future is bright. My current favorite in this regard is Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. Not only do they have several vegan/dairy free flavors that are awesome (the best being the dark chocolate, made with Michel Cluizel chocolate), but they also have a vegan sundae that rocks.
2b. Dairy Free Bakeries in New York City.
Lifethyme has been my go-to for dairy free baked goods for more than 20 years. Cookies, cupcakes, cakes, all wonderful, mostly pretty straightforward (some made from raw ingredients only), behind a glass case in the rear of the store. And they list the ingredients, so if there is some other ingredient you are avoiding in addition to dairy, you can look out for that. Atlas Café is a more recent favorite. They get Tuesday deliveries from the amazing Vegan Treats in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (who supplies desserts to other Manhattan restaurants such as vegan soul restaurant Red Bamboo in the NYU area). The cakes and pies at Atlas Cafe are a little more elaborate and fancy than what Lifethyme sells.
Blossom and Peacefood are two other establishments that I have frequented in recent years. I’ve only been to Peacefood on the Upper Westside a couple of times, and I would say that it is rather pricey – but then again, vegan bakeries usually are, right? Blossom has several locations – they are vegan cafes, and while some have just a smattering of desserts, the one on 23rd street in Chelsea (which is the main location) has a very nice selection.
For those willing to travel outside of Manhattan, I highly recommend checking out Dun-Well Doughnuts in Bushwick, Brooklyn. If you are allergic to hipsters, you might get a rash going there, but ignore the itching and feast on their amazing doughnuts.
2c. Chocolate/Sweet Shops with Outstanding Dairy Free Options in New York City.
At the moment, I only have one entry to add to this list: L.A. Burdick on East 20th Street in the Flatiron district. But they are awesome. For one thing, they offer hot chocolate made with almond milk. Intense dark hot chocolate, the kind that leaves you feeling a little bit buzzed.
3. Supermarkets. It is so excellent to hear about new products that are coming out that are dairy free, but then the trick is to find places I can buy them! And being a habitual ingredient list reader, I am always checking out products, whether they are new or the same old thing. It is sometimes infuriating and sometimes head-scratching as to the things that have dairy in them, but hopefully as time goes by more and more products will be switching over to being dairy free. I recently learned about an additional resource, Snack Safely, that partners with manufacturers to provide up-to-date information on what is really safe – unfortunately, their focus is strictly peanut allergy.
I have not focused on supermarkets specifically in my posts very much, but that is on my list of things to do. I have written about the changing face of the dairy aisle in my Financial District neighborhood markets (i.e., there is a lot of nondairy stuff in the dairy aisle!). Stay tuned for more on the dairy free options in New York City’s supermarkets!
I will be updating this list periodically, so please keep checking back, and if you have suggestions, I am happy to hear them. Thanks as always!