Tectonic Plates

Tectonic Plates

For most of us, April 22 is Earth Day.

For vegans, every day is Earth Day.

Eating animals is either a or the top cause of every major environmental crisis we face: deforestation and biodiversity loss; land conversion and degradation; water waste and pollution; and, you guessed it, climate change. At sea, a quarter of the world’s fishing catch reportedly comes from bottom trawling, destroying countless whole ecosystems in a blink, and researchers have found that the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is comprised almost entirely of fishing waste, not our grocery bags or plastic straws as we’ve been led to believe.

In terms of reducing environmental impact, a vegan diet blows driving an electric car or taking modest showers or toting reusable bags out of the water. You could guzzle gas, shower for hours and throw your plastic straight into the ocean and still, if you’re vegan, be the Greta Thunberg of the neighborhood.

In short, shifting toward eating plants instead of animals is far and away the “single biggest way” we can protect and preserve the planet—and with the New Haven dishes highlighted below, in a not-at-all exhaustive list of the city’s great vegan offerings, it’s also one of the best things we can do for our taste buds.

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At Anchor Spa, the Chickpea Curry over Coconut Rice ($18) is just delightful. The times I’ve had it, the stew’s been on the stove long enough for the chickpeas to break down and the flavors to meld together, and the coconut rice offers enough complexity to keep things interesting.

Cool, creamy and herbaceous, the Tofu Bahn Mi ($10.50), according to a clerk who rung me up once, is Atticus Market’s best seller. An Instagram caption sums it up nicely: “Marinated and roasted Bridge tofu topped with pickled cabbage, carrots, fresh jalapeños, vegan chickpea mayo, cilantro & mint all piled on an @atticusbakery sesame semolina roll.”

Basil’s Tofu Curry Noodle Soup (~$10), finished with bok choy, bean sprouts and thin or thick rice noodles, boasts a mysterious (and particularly delicious) kind of tofu that’s airy enough to soak up the luscious bright orange broth. I make a point of ordering a bowl a few times a month.

At laid-back vegan/vegetarian bar The Cannon, the Caesar Salad ($5) offers healthy and—stocked with reliably fresh veggies tossed in a tangy dressing—tasty bang for your buck. I tend to follow it with the Reuben sandwich ($9), featuring house-made bread slathered in Russian-style dressing and fresh cabbage slaw and filled with excellent, house-made, thin-sliced seitan.

At Da Legna at NOLO, the Polpetta ($22/$29), for me, is the star of the vegan pizza section (inching out runners-up the Pollo—red sauce, please!—and the Salsiccia). The vegan meatballs are meaty, the vegan cheese is cheesy, the diced onions are sprinkled at just the right density, the basil and garlic are nicely roasted, the red sauce tastes of San Marzano and the thicker-than-apizza crust still has that New Haven char.

At Firehouse 12, chewy and charred strips of yuba provide the meaty core of the Yuba Shawarma ($10), zinged up with pickled veggies, arugula and a creamy, tangy vegan tzatziki and wrapped in some of the fluffiest flatbread around. (I also recommend the Impossible Burger for $8 and the Fried Potatoes for $5.)

Kuro Shiro’s Kale Mushroom appetizer ($8) is, indeed, an appetizer. Something about its light umami sauce makes you want to eat and eat. Fortunately the plate is generously portioned, and you can move next to a large and filling bowl of Vegan Tantanmen ramen ($14), whose creamy cashew broth is made even better by rich la-yu, bright cilantro and pillowy noodles. And before you get to any of that, you might start with the Sautéed Edamame ($6), a salty, garlicky, addictive take on a classic.

At NOA, the Larb Tofu starter ($12) is a slap in the tongue, sour and herbal and packed with protein and texture. Meanwhile, the White Curry entree ($16) is pure alkaline refinement. Light yet rich and a little sweet, it’s probably the most unique of all the city’s curries—and one of the tastiest.

At Ordinary, the Cauliflower ($10) doesn’t sound like much. In fact, it’s a wonderfully inventive dish of grilled radicchio, orange puree, walnut dukka and, of course, that ’flower, in a presentation that’s somehow both meticulous and rustic. And you can’t go wrong with the Shishitos ($8), either.

Among the mostly Middle Eastern-style dips at RAWA, the Mujaddara ($9) and Muhammara ($10) stand out. The one is earthy and savory, the other nutty, vegetal, sweet and acidic, and they both soar on some chewy pita bread, alone or together.

At September in Bangkok, the shareable Melon + Mango Salad ($14) offers a deliciously cacophonous blend of fruit, herbs, spices and luxurious slabs of fried tofu. The Ginger Tofu entree ($16), on the other hand, is subtle and unified, a light ginger sauce elevating more of those luxurious slabs along with cabbage, onions and scallions.

Sherkaan’s Roasted Corn Chaat ($8) is a super tasty and refreshing blend of tomato, cucumber, pomegranate seeds, cilantro and roasted corn shorn in sections from the cob, all tossed in a mustard seed vinaigrette that somehow tastes like a sweet and creamy lime dressing. Equally capable of waking you up, albeit for very different reasons, is a plate of the Hakka Noodles ($10), cooked to a lovely light al dente and laced with hot, hot heat.

At Sitar, the Vegetable Samosas ($6) are what they should be—fried to a flaky crisp on the outside, soft and mildly spiced on the inside—and more thanks to a delicate floral flavor in the filling. For a main dish, I’d recommend the Alu Gobi ($16), one of the best variants I’ve had. (At sister restaurant House of Naan, I’d start with the Vegetable Samosas, too, before zagging toward the Chana Masala.)

Finally in this alphabetical list, we come to one of the city’s most vegan-friendly restaurants, which is also one of its newest: Tibetan Kitchen. The Dhang-Tsel ($7), a kind of cabbage vinegar salad, is dang delicious, either on its own or as an included garnish to the Shogo Moktak ($14; pan-fried potato dumplings). The Tsel-Gyathuk Ngopa ($14; sauced noodles sautéed with cabbage, carrots, spinach and tofu), Tsel-Shendey Ngopa ($14; fried rice with broccoli, carrots, peas and tofu) or Tsel Tofu ($14; tofu, broccoli, bok choy and carrots with an Indian fusion twist) are dang delicious, too.

In the end, the fate of the planet is on our plates. Fortunately, in New Haven, it’s both plausible and pleasurable to eat like it.

Photo Key:

1. The Roasted Corn Chaat at Sherkaan.
2. The Reuben with French Fries at The Cannon.
3. The Polpetta at Da Legna at NOLO.
4. The Yuba Shawarma (right) at Firehouse 12.
5. The White Curry at NOA.
6. The Hakka Noodles at Sherkaan.
7. The Vegetable Samosas (two orders) at Sitar.

Written by Dan Mims. Images 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 photographed by Dan Mims. Image 4 by Firehouse 12. Image 6 by Sherkaan.

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