Destination Vegan: NYC and Philadelphia, USA

Destination-Vegan-NYC

Vegan junk food connoisseur Mookie Waka travels from Auckland to New York City and Philadelphia to experience the finest DIY punk and vegan kai the East Coast has to offer.

From a distance, the US of A can be a terrifying, maniacal demon but — holy fuck — they know how to make a sandwich! We hit NYC and Philly for ten days of fast ‘n’ loud hardcore punk and all the subs we could sink. Here’s the hoagie highlights: 

Luanne’s Wild Ginger, Brooklyn 

We hit Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn at 10pm after a 17-hour flight and a hot Uber ride through the endless suburbs and wastelands of Brooklyn. We were hungry as hell and Luanne’s Wild Ginger came to the rescue with an all-vegan menu of traditional Chinese favs. We broke our ‘hoagies only’ rule and ordered General Tsoy’s Protein, which was sticky, spicy chunks of stir-fried seitan over steamed broccoli, and the legendary Jade Mushrooms — chunks of battered and fried shitake mushroom tossed in a sweet and tangy sauce, over broccoli or steamed kale. We also grabbed the chicken nuggets and the fish cakes, both of which were made out of some kind of soy/veggie protein and fried into crispy oblivion with some amazing dipping sauce. 

Highly recommend this place and they have spots in Manhattan and Brooklyn — it’s high in flavour, oil, and wheat gluten, but you don’t visit the USA for your health.

 

Ro’s Diner, Brooklyn

The next morning we hit Ro’s Diner over in Bushwick — this is an all-vegan classic-style diner. Ro’s is the one — probs our fav food of the trip, with insane American classics made vegan and ramped up to 11. Chicken and maple butter on waffles with hash browns? Pancake Bucket? Chicken Parm Sando? Hell yeah —  it’s all on offer at Ro’s, any bizarre American combo of fried goods on a waffle or a pancake or french toast, because why settle for plain old toast?! And like all good American food, the sides are essential — jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks, scalloped potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese, and so many other options. 

Post-Ro’s we walked the streets of Bushwick drinking Miller’s in dive bars and found that this whole area is fairly hipster-friendly, which means there’s vegan options on most bar snack menus too.

LUHV Deli, Philadelphia 

We went to the City of Brotherly Love the next day — the hoagie heartland. Hoagies reign supreme in Philly; in NYC they call ‘em subs, but don’t make that mistake if you visit Philly! A sub or hoagie is a soft or toasted roll sliced halfway and loaded to oblivion with fillings and fixin’s! 

We hit LUHV Deli first, an all-vegan deli specialising in hoagies and sandwiches, located inside the famous Reading Terminal Market — one of the USA’s oldest farmers markets that is now a massive maze of vendors selling every type of food, from fried chicken to crepes, vegan thai to scrapple (don’t ask… a very non-vegan local dish that people allegedly eat for breakfast). 

LUHV Deli made all their own seitan cuts for their hoagies, they were seasoned to perfection for every cut of meat! We grabbed a classic Philly Cheesesteak, which is finely chopped and grilled steak and onions with melted cheese loaded in a hoagie. If you haven’t visited the USA, know that they do not do humble servings — these things are stacked with fillings and we would always wind up with a bag of half-eaten hoagies at the end of the night, which was perfect for a 2am feast, post-punk show. We also grabbed another classic hoagie — the Italian Hoagie! This had seitan Cappicola, ham, and salami with vegan provolone, tomato, red onion, iceberg, vinegar and olive oil. The crunch was huge! We hit LUHV again on our last day for the Reuben — corned seitan, provolone, sauerkraut and 1000 island dressing on toasted rye bread. It was killer! You can also buy LUHV’s house-made seitan cuts for takeaway, just like any good deli.

Nourish, Philadelphia 

Another rad hoagie spot we hit was Nourish, a vegan cafe in the Fishtown/Northern Liberties area. Nourish had the best flavour combo — they did a mix of vegan soul food, Caribbean dishes, and hoagies, along with fresh-pressed juices, smoothies, and a heap of baking too. We tried the Fried Steak, Egg and Cheese hoagie which had a chickpea scramble, seitan chunk steak that was super tasty, and it maybe had a hash brown in there too. The fried chicken was oyster and enoki mushrooms battered and fried, and they made a pretty decent mac ‘n’ cheese to round it out. The best hoagie we got at Nourish was That Philly Jawn, their take on a classic cheesesteak with fried seitan chunks, onions, and green peppers with melted cheese on a wholemeal roll. I still think about That Philly Jawn on a regular basis… (“Jawn” is a local Philly word that was interchangeable for, well, anything.)

Tattooed Moms, Philadelphia 

My favourite seitan-y, gluten-y dish was the Vegan Sweet & Smokey Wings at Tattooed Moms, a rad graffiti-covered bar on South Street. In this neighbourhood you can find vintage clothing, weed shops, boutiques, record stores, and all types of boho/punk/hipster spots, so it’s a good place to visit. There’s also lots of rad bars and food joints. T-Moms does what heaps of American spots do so well and everything on the menu has a vegan equivalent; all the bar snacks can be vegan. Of course we tried the vegan cheesesteak here but the stand out was the wings — twisted and fried seitan with a thick, sticky BBQ sauce that you will wind up getting everywhere but you won’t care. They also do cheap beers, great cocktails, and have some of the best stickered-up bathrooms we saw in our whole trip!

Triangle Tavern, Philadelphia 

Not far from South Street we found Triangle Tavern, an old school pub that’s basically pitch black except for sports screens and neon lights, which serves up local craft beers alongside the cheap stuff. Their menu also had a vegan equivalent for everything. I grabbed an Italian Meatball hoagie here and it was great — herbed and fried meatballs drowning in marinara on a toasted hoagie roll. Simple but delicious; I could spend all day in this pub and never know what time it is, it’s perfect for wasting an afternoon away drinking beer, eating hoagies, and watching American sports you don’t understand.

Taco trucks, Philadelphia 

One thing I wish we did in Aotearoa was food trucks at shows! Watching bands with a paper plate filled with vegan tacos is top tier entertainment and even the most remote punk venue in the dodgiest, burnt-out Philly neighbourhood had an awesome taco truck outside serving up mushroom and tofu tacos to blue-haired kids until midnight. Corn tortillas, heaps of spice, pink pickled onions, cilantro, and some eye-watering hot sauces made these tacos some of the best we have ever had — plus authentic tacos means no dairy! Don’t even ask the bro for cheese, he is not on that jawn!

Unit Su Veg, Philadelphia 

One of our final meals in Philly was at Unit Su Veg, a vegan Chinese restaurant that serves up all your favourite classics but plant-based. The menu is extensive; any popular Chinese dish you’ve ever wanted to try is here — shumai, soup dumplings, kung pao steam bun, they even had steamed taro on offer. I don’t remember what we got —  eventually all the rich sauces blend into one Chinese super sauce over various cuts of wheat gluten and you lose all sense of self. I took my leftovers home and the sauce spilled in my bag and I was not mad because it was still delicious. This place is in walking distance to the Rocky statue near Philadelphia’s Museum of Art, so it’s a good destination if you wanna smash out some stairs for the ‘gram.

Spicy Moon, Manhattan

Our Philly adventure was over and we headed back to NYC for a couple days before flying home. We hit a couple last minute spots we had heard about. Spicy Moon NYC is an all-vegan Chinese restaurant with a supremely pink aesthetic, and they also have a couple spots in Manhattan. We had the vegan dan dan and, to be honest, we didn’t rate it too high. In Kirikiriroa, you can hit Szechuan Style restaurant for some insanely flavourful and mouth-numbing vegan dan dan, and Spicy Moon did not come close to the Bridge City classic. It has more of a thick, satay-style sauce but it was not giving us the savage heat we were craving. I would totally go there again and try something else — it’s too pretty to ignore.

Paradise Taco, Brooklyn

Paradise Taco in Brooklyn is a fairly new spot serving up an all-vegan Mexican-inspired menu. Their vibe is not authentic — they’re kinda modern plant based fusion (read: gentrified) and, despite the sweet mint green fit-out, they weren’t holding a torch to the taco truck in Philly. This place kinda made Mexicali look authentic! The best thing they did was the crispy tortillas: corn tortillas rolled up like a spring roll with a few fillings and deep fried. This should absolutely be a thing here! Like a mini chimichanga, so good.

Hartbreakers, Brooklyn

One of our last spots was Hartbreakers in Bushwick. I don’t wanna be a Hartbreakers-hater, but Ro’s Diner was crushing it and this was a bit average. The menu is pretty much based around their fried chicken, which is a kind of bready seitan mix with not a lot of spice. But if you add enough sauces, you can almost get through it. It defo has that vibe of eating a weird seitan sando and realising you’re just eating three layers of bread, so what’s the point? Ro’s Diner had a much better menu and vibe, so I would hit that instead. Later for you Hartbreakers!

Tony’s, Brooklyn

We wound it down with a New York classic — pizza! There’s actually a heap of places in NYC you can grab vegan pizza but we hit legendary local Bushwick haunt, Tony’s. Lemme tell you about Tony’s! Tony’s has pizza by the slice and everything has a vegan equivalent; you order your slice, squeeze into a booth, and watch the circus of Bushwick roll through Tony’s like a tidal wave. It’s a neighbourhood institution and those thin crust pizza slices hit the spot.

Overall we ate some great hoagies and consumed much wheat gluten and, yes, I wish I could taste That Philly Jawn again. But I live in hope some local will open up a legit vegan deli here, with all the seitans of the rainbow represented and maybe Miller’s Highlife on tap.

“The best hoagie we got at Nourish was That Philly Jawn, their take on a classic cheesesteak with fried seitan chunks, onions, and green peppers with melted cheese on a wholemeal roll. I still think about That Philly Jawn on a regular basis… (“Jawn” is a local Philly word that was interchangeable for, well, anything.)”

Vegan junk food connoisseur Mookie Waka travels to New York City and Philadelphia to check out the vegan scene in the latest issue of Aotearoa Vegan and Plant-Based Living — out now!

 

Aotearoa Vegan and Plant Based Living Magazine
This article was sourced from the Winter 2023 edition of The Vegan Society magazine.
Order your own current copy in print or pdf or browse past editions.

Disclaimer
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.

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