Veggie Grill, the West Coast-based vegan restaurant with a huge following, just opened its first location in New York City. Here's what it's like to eat there.
Erin McDowell/Business Insider
- Veggie Grill opened its first location in Irvine, California, in 2006. Readers of VegNews voted Veggie Grill their favorite vegan chain in 2016, 2017, and 2018, and it has developed a huge following on the West Coast.
- The chain has since expanded to include locations in and around northern and southern California; Chicago, Illinois; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Portland, Oregon; and now New York City.
- I paid a visit to Veggie Grill's new location in the Flatiron District of New York City to see what all the fuss was about - and whether the food could actually convince me to go vegan.
- Overall, I was impressed by the food and welcoming, clean atmosphere. However, I was surprised that although the food looked and tasted healthy, some of the menu items ended up having a higher calorie count than I was expecting.
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Perhaps a testament to the quality of the chain's food, many Veggie Grill customers don't follow a strictly vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diet.
"Many people ask me if there are enough vegetarians to go to Veggie Grill. But 70% to 80% of any of our restaurants' business is not vegetarian. We don't expect you to come to Veggie Grill all the time. You'll go have your fish sandwiches or burgers, but you'll come to Veggie Grill on your rotation. We get people who just want to eat in the better-for-you space. This is a theme in America, now, I think," Veggie Grill's former chief energizing officer Greg Dollarhyde said in a 2016 interview with Nation's Restaurant News.As Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods products further expand into fast-food establishments, restaurants, and grocery stores nationwide, it should come as no surprise that Veggie Grill is similarly expanding its locations eastward to Chicago, Boston, and now New York.
I paid a visit to Veggie Grill's new location in the Flatiron District of New York City to see whether the vegan fast-casual chain lives up to the hype - and whether the food is so good, it could convince an everyday meat-eater like myself to eat vegan more often.Here's what it's like to eat at Veggie Grill's newest East Coast location.
Veggie Grill sits at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street in New York City, just steps away from Madison Square Park.
Though Shake Shack is my usual go-to spot for a quick bite in this neighborhood, today I would be trying something slightly different and less meaty.Advertisement
The exterior of Veggie Grill looked minimal and clean. Inside, I could see a few people eating or waiting for their orders.
Walking up to the restaurant, I was greeted with the chain's signature branding.Advertisement
Inside, people stood in line to order or sat at wooden tables scattered around the dining room, which was completely spotless.
Friendly employees walked around straightening tables and chairs, wiping down different areas, and greeting customers, creating a very welcoming atmosphere.Advertisement
Pictures of vegetables lined the walls. Veggie Grill definitely appeared to be pushing the idea of healthy, fresh food in a quick-service setting.
Against one of the walls sat the restaurant's pick-up area for to-go orders. Employees regularly ran back and forth carrying to-go orders as the lunch hour neared.Advertisement
When an order was ready, an employee placed it on the shelf and called out the order name. However, you don't need to be present when they call the name out — simply grab your bag from the shelf when you arrive.
Veggie Grill offers self-service kiosks for easy ordering. This method of ordering has become extremely popular at many fast-food and fast-casual restaurants in the last few years.Advertisement
Selecting what I wanted was easy. However, I did have some trouble checking out. I had to go back and click "check out" multiple times in order to avoid this error message. Another customer using the self-service kiosk seemed to be having the same problem and went to the front to order instead.
I ordered the crispy cauliflower and the Far East bowl. The Far East bowl cost $11.50, which is on par with other fast-casual joints like Dig Inn and Sweetgreen, where bowls and salads range from $10 to $14. A mere 10 minutes after placing my order, my food and drink cup arrived.Advertisement
Everything looked fresh and high-quality. The vegetables were vibrant, and the meal as a whole appeared relatively healthy.
Veggie Grill's signature drinks include strawberry lemonade, ginger hibiscus Fresca, cucumber mint limeade, ginger hibiscus tea, pomegranate green tea, and unsweetened black tea.Advertisement
I went with the strawberry lemonade. It was sweet but not sugary, and strawberry seeds could be seen floating around the bright pink beverage. It tasted fresh and homemade.
I started off with the order of crispy cauliflower bites. They were warm and smelled like fried dough, and they cost $7.95 for a serving for two. I was excited to dig in.Advertisement
The cauliflower was moist on the inside, and the fried coating stuck to the vegetable well. The bites were perfectly cooked — they didn't taste doughy or underdone.
I did find the cauliflower to be slightly bland. The breading could have used a little more seasoning to add flavor. The sweet and sour sauce that I ordered with the appetizer was okay, but nothing special.Advertisement
On the other hand, I was really impressed by the Far East bowl's sesame-crusted "chickin'," a vegetarian chicken substitute made from soybeans, wheat, and peas. I thought the faux meat was crunchy on the outside, but juicy and very flavorful inside. The texture was almost identical to meat.
The vegetables were tangy, and the curry was perfectly spicy when mixed with the soft, pillowy rice. While these menu items could easily be presumed to be low-calorie as well, I was surprised that the meal ended up coming to 1,530 calories in total — more than my usual calorie count for the entire day.Advertisement
That being said, the cauliflower was intended to serve two people and I took about a quarter of my bowl home as leftovers. All in all, I would come back to Veggie Grill for the fresh, vegetable-filled meals in a fast-casual setting — and the delicious sesame-crusted "chicken."
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