By Gloria Dawson
Special to DNAinfo
UPPER WEST SIDE — Vegetarian food once had a bad reputation within culinary circles — as did the neighborhood between West 96th and 110th streets. The former was considered bland and fringe, the latter, a Columbia co-ed hang out with little in the way of food culture.
Yet on the upper Upper West Side, times have changed. Here, as elsewhere, meat-free food isn't just for vegetarians anymore. Thanks to meatless Mondays, and the "vegan before 6" movements, vegetarianism has become part of many mainstream diets.
We looked at some Upper West Side, gourmet-friendly places that vegetarians and their omnivore friends will be able to agree on.
2608 Broadway (between W. 98th and 99th streets)
Don’t let the scaffolding outside the restaurant fool you, the spot is open for business, and it's a no-brainer for vegetarians — every dish is meat-free.
The kitchen is "happy to make any dish vegan" if your diet calls for it, said manager Ruben Romaro. And if you swing the other way you’re welcome here as well. Owner Ori Apple assures us that they serve "everyone — even meat lovers."
The large open space is decorated with Turkish pottery and coffee pots, and the shelves lining the restaurant are filled with wine and beer bottles.
Hummus is, of course, the hallmark dish here, but the falafel and cauliflower appetizers (and the pizza) are also top sellers. There are a few dishes with cheese or cream, but they’re happy to make those vegan, too.
236 West 105th St. (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
The newest location for the popular Asian chain is just a few steps below street-level and away from the bustling sidewalks of the Upper West Side. The dark, cool interior, the bonsai plants and plush comfortable surroundings complete the feeling of Zen.
There are options for vegetarians that want it all — the Zen burgers and the sesame medallions (an Asian barbecue dish) are the top sellers.
2791 Broadway (between 107th and 108th streets)
When the Indian Cafe open its doors 26 years ago, the Upper West Side was a different place.
Houses and buildings have come and gone, said Indian Café manager Sam Gurund, but "there’s a bunch of customers that have come here since the opening."
In a town where many restaurants don't last even a few years, this place has been a staple in the community for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
The brightly colored festive walls and paper lanterns compliment the bright and spicy flavors here. The menu includes a section just for vegetarians.
Some favorites include a dish of cauliflower, potato, peas, and tomato; the Saag Paneer (cottage cheese skimmed in creamed spinach and spices); and the Malai Kafta (vegetable cutlets with homemade cheese). Cool off from all that spicy stuff with one of their special cocktails or a Taj Mahal brew.
2857 Broadway (Between 110th and 111th streets)
The first Maoz opened in Amsterdam in 1991, and they've been perfecting their recipes ever since. Now the European import is making vegetarians out of locals and Columbia students alike. At least for one meal.
When ordering, you only have two options: the falafel sandwich or the falafel salad. The fun comes in at the salad bar. Feel free to pile on and mix-and-match everything from roasted broccoli and cauliflower to coleslaw and tabouli salad.
Check out Upper West Restaurant Month deals here.