Food Explorations in Ecuador (Ecuador Part One)

Food Explorations in Ecuador (Ecuador Part One)

Recently, my mom and I travelled to Ecuador  to volunteer at a small organic farm in the Galapagos Islands, and to explore the country. In the next series of blog posts, I will be describing my experience in Ecuador, starting with Part One: Food Explorations.


Desayunos (Breakfast)

Our hotel breakfast was our first meal in Ecuador. When we entered the dining

IMG_1939area/reception area, we were immediately greeted by a woman who asked us (in Spanish) what we wanted to eat. Unfortunately, both my mom and I do not understand or speak Spanish, so we both stared at her helplessly, until my mom pulled out her phone to use Google Translate (the translate app became our best friend on this trip!). For breakfast, we had scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, bread, and yogurt. All pretty standard breakfast foods at my house!

 

Almuerzo (Lunch)

Thankfully, avocados are highly abundant and extremely cheap in Quito, Ecuador. One supermarket that I ventured into was selling five avocados for $1 total! Every lunch and dinner that we had in Quito included avocado (thank God!!).

Below is one of my lunches in Quito. Since I am pescetarian, it was a bit difficult to order food, since the majority of the dishes contain chicken, beef or pork. But, I was able to find this vegetarian dish. Since the water in Ecuador is not safe for travelers, I could not consume any raw vegetables or fruit washed in tap water. Thus, I ate close to no vegetables in Quito 😦 (When we arrived back in America, I had a huge salad and green juice immediately!).

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The dish pictured includes: half a “salad” of half an avocado, a couple lettuce leaves, and a slice of tomato, with steamed green beans and a tiny carrot slice, steamed corn, and two llapingacho (fried potato cake).

Throughout my time in Quito, I found myself constantly eating corn, rice, and potatoes. Additionally, fried foods (like slachipapas-fries) are very popular here.

So, if you are going to Ecuador, be prepared for solely carbs and protein. Not my favorite type of food, but, to each his own!

Thankfully, I was able to find some healthier food at a restaurant we stumbled upon. The dish included a humongous piece of salmon, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, and avocado. Freshly baked bread rolls, salad, and cheese also came with the meals.

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Throughout my time in Ecuador, I probably drank juice (jugos) every day, as it is a very standard drink with meals. At home, juice is extremely rare, as it is either too sweet or too expensive. But, in Ecuador, since we couldn’t drink the water, juice was the only other option. Some restaurants served freshly squeezed juice! Popular options included naranjilla juice, orange juice, blackberry juice, guava juice, guayaba juice, guanabana (soursop) juice, maracuya juice, and papaya juice.

Cena (dinner)

IMG_2119Unsurprisingly, dinner was also solely rice, corn, and meat 😦 However, the one exception was ceviche, a sour soup with small chunks of seafood, onions, and tomatoes. Every chance I could get, I ordered this dish because it was delicious and not fried.

The first picture is an appetizer: small plantain “cups” with cheese, some kind of salsa, mushroom, and avocado sauce.

 

 

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Rice with fried chicken, fried plantains, and avocado.

 

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Fish CEVICHE! Of course the dish includes fried plantain chips, popcorn, and popped corn kernels.

After traveling around Quito for several days, we headed to the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS! I was very excited about this part of the trip because the Galapagos is well known for its abundant wildlife and beauty.

My mom and I lived on a small farm in San Cristobal island. The farm is located in a very rural part of the island, so there were no easily accessible restaurants in walking distance. We cooked our own meals, and had to browse in supermarkets often. Although one would expect that with farms occupying 90 percent of the island, produce would be abundant and cheap, we found that the opposite was true. Families in the Galapagos usually farm for themselves and sometimes the surrounding community, so all other foods must be imported, making everything very expensive. One jar of imported peanut butter costed $12! But, the homemade peanut butter sold at a few restaurants was only about $2. Also, all of the packaged foods in the supermarkets (flour, cereal, rice, snacks, etc.) were all enriched with various chemicals to boost their nutrient quantity.

We did travel to explore the other islands for a couple days with a tour group. Since the meals were from a pre-selected menu for tourists, we essentially had the same foods every day: soup, a main dish of rice, vegetables, and seared fish, and dessert.

If you are traveling to Ecuador, or another Spanish speaking country, here is a list of Spanish terms related to food that I used constantly during my trip. Note: I learned Spanish in elementary school, so these terms may not be the correct spelling or grammar, the list is just for beginners 🙂

  • Desayunos (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch)
  • Quanto questa? (how much does it cost?)
  • Pescado (fish)
  • Camaron (shrimp)
  • Ceviche (popular seafood dish)
  • Jugo (juice)
  • Queso (cheese)
  • Pan (bread)
  • Aguacate (avocado)
  • Huevos (eggs)
  • Leche (milk)
  • Agua (water)
  • Con (with, ex. cereal with milk)

Overall, I would have to say that Ecuador is far from a healthy foodie haven. However, the travel experiences make the country more than worth the trip.

Stay tuned for the next parts in this Ecuador series, in which I will share more about my experience living on a farm!

Love,

Serena

How to Drink More Water!

How to Drink More Water!

From a young age, I always struggled to drink the recommended amount of water. I’m not sure if this is just me, but for some reason, I drink liquids very slowly-I physically cannot chug anything-small sips for some are like big gulps to me. So, I always viewed drinking water as a chore and never found any motivation to hydrate. But, my breakthrough moment was when I went backpacking last summer. Everyday, I carried two 32 oz. Nalgene bottles full of water, and ended up drinking all of it! Even though this could have been due to my thirst after so much physical exertion, it felt like I wasn’t drinking a significant amount of water, just two bottles a day. So, this leads me to my number one tip to hydrating actively….

1.) Use a 32 oz. reusable water bottle. My 32 oz. Nalgene bottle is very special to me-wherever I go, my Nalgene travels with me! The size of the bottle tricks me into drinking more water than I feel like I am consuming, but drinking the full bottle is equivalent to drinking two plastic bottles of water (what I used to drink from). As an added bonus, reusable bottles last forever (the one I use was actually my parents’ from when they were in college!), so you’ll save money and the Earth’s precious resources 😀

2.) Bring your bottle everywhere. As I said before, my bottle travels with me at all times. It’s presence reminds me to be constantly sipping. There have been multiple times where I have been in awkward social situations, and drinking water helped me look preoccupied and skip over any awkward silences.

3.) Use a bottle that is aesthetically pleasing. Having a good-looking bottle makes it appealing to look at, drink from, and carry around. I decorated my Nalgene completely with stickers of things that mean a lot to me- national parks, my high school, farmers markets, healthy food, my religion…but I also know plenty of people who go for a plain bottle. Stephanie is obsessed with her Hydroflask-it would definitely be worth purchasing if you enjoy ice cold or hot beverages.

So, those are the three tips I swear by to motivate me to drink more water. Let me know what you do to drink more water!

Love,

Serena

Cooking is my therapy

Cooking is my therapy

To me, summer means the time for cooking, the time to explore all of my culinary ambitions that have accumulated throughout the school year.

So, everyday, I cook dinner for my family, and there are always a couple of essentials (ingredients, kitchen tools, etc.) and things I keep in mind.

When I first step into the kitchen, I always venture into the fridge to figure out what it is that I want to cook. My dinners typically consist of some kind of soup, starch (usually rice), and two main/side dishes: veggies and protein or sometimes more veggies. So, I’ll make the rice first in a rice cooker (takes about an hour) so that the rice will be finished when I’m finished cooking.

Then, with the veggies and/or protein that I’ve selected for the meal, I search for recipes. My go-to resources have been The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen, New York Times Cooking, and Food and Wine. If there’s a recipe that I love, I’ll remember it and make slight modifications to ingredients if necessary. I love going to the farmer’s market and buying exotic vegetables so that I can try out recipes on my family!

My favorite recipes have been these caramelized broccoli “steaks” (so soft and delicious!), brocollini, veggie gratin (minus the cheese, I used nutritional yeast instead), and mashed potatoes with root vegetables.

I find that searching for new recipes every night actually helps me be more adventurous in the kitchen. Now, I’m less intimidated by baking vegetables instead of stir frying, broiling instead of baking, and using a variety of spices.

By the time I’m done with my main dishes, the rice is ready. I simply heat up the soup that my dad makes every weekend for the week, and dinner is done! Cooking every night is the most therapeutic part of the day for me, and I can’t wait to try more cooking techniques for the rest of the summer! I’m thinking of experimenting with more beans and grains.

What are YOU cooking??

Love,

Serena

 

Easter Brunch: What I Ate Wednesday! 

Easter Brunch: What I Ate Wednesday! 

For many people, Easter is a day for celebration, complete with lots of scrumptious food.  Here’s a rundown of everything I ate and did on Easter Sunday!

In the morning, I got up early for a 7:30am sunrise service at my church. Following the service, we had a large Chinese breakfast, with four different types of congee (beef, pork, pumpkin, and century egg) with fried crullers, tea-braised hard boiled eggs, steam pork buns, man tou (plain buns), and my favorite, red bean sticky rice cake.

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  Pumpkin Congee
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Tea-braised Eggs

 

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Red Bean Sticky Rice Cake- my favorite!!
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Mantou (plain buns)

 

After church, I went out to practice golf, because the weather was 80 degrees and gorgeous. Around 1 or 2, I came home to have a late lunch. I was sweaty and starving at this point, so I quickly grabbed all the fruit in the fridge, and had a feast of papaya, mango, and jack fruit. The fruit was perfect after a couple hours in the sun. I then had two slices of avocado toast, and finished my meal with some dairy-free ice cream!

  

Almond milk So Delicious ice cream with pistachios

So much good food on Easter, it was seriously #foodgoals!

 

Love,

Serena

How I Stay Healthy When Eating Out

How I Stay Healthy When Eating Out

You’re stuck in a restaurant that you didn’t want to go to in the first place. One look at the menu and you know this will be a major cheat meal-fried chicken, ribs, steak and potatoes, with not a mention of a vegetable in sight!

I’ve experienced this little scenario many times before, I visit my relatives from New York about once a month, and whenever we eat out, they always choose to go to either a chain steakhouse or a Chinese restaurant.

So, over the years, I’ve developed some techniques to staying healthy when eating out. I think these tips can be applied to many different scenarios, like if your friends all decide to order takeout from a restaurant that you know does not have healthy food, or if you are at a fast food restaurant because you have no time to sit down and eat a slow meal.

Also, I just want to note that I am pescatarian, but these tips can definitely apply to vegetarians, vegans, or just health-conscious individuals.

1.) Look at the salad options. Maybe this is a no-brainer, but the salad might be your best bet to eating a plant-based meal. If the salad has an element that you would prefer not to have, just ask for it to be removed or replaced. Since you are still paying for that element of the dish, you could just give it to the people dining with you.

2.) Sides are your best friend. I’ve been to steakhouses that offer no vegetable dish at all. Even the salads contain some kind of meat, whether that be chicken or steak. However, I can guarantee you that you’ll find at least one plant based option among the sides. Take this menu from Outback Steakhouse for example. All of the sides are plant based (with the exception of theFullSizeRender mac and cheese). You can also usually make potatoes healthier by asking for no toppings (getting rid of fatty sour cream) and just add salt and pepper to your taste. You could also ask for condiments on the side, so instead of the Sweet Potato with Cinnamon Sugar and Butter that is on the menu, you could add these two ingredients to your liking.

If none of the main dishes are speaking to you, you can order solely sides, or a combination of appetizers and sides.

 

 

 

3.) Your waiter is your best friend. As I’ve stated before, you can always ask for an ingredient to be removed, replaced, or put on the side. Your waiter or the cashier is your go-to person for making these requests. One time, I went to TGI Friday’s with my family because it was the only restaurant open at the time we wanted dinner. With the exception of a garden salad, there was not a single non-meat item on the menu. I didn’t really want to have the garden salad because it was just lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. So instead, I ordered the mac and cheese with broccoli and chicken, and asked for all of the chicken to be replaced with broccoli.

4.) When eating a family-style meal, take charge of ordering food. When you are eating with a large group of people (like my extended family, with 13 people) it’s easy to engage in side conversations while the ordering is occurring. There have been many times where other people have ordered, and as a result, I may only have one dish that I can eat as a pescatarian, or as a healthy person in general! So, if you are in charge of ordering the food, you can order what you want to eat because anyways, it will benefit the group to have at least one or two healthy dishes on the table.

So I hope these tips will help you when ordering food! Fast food doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and steakhouses don’t always have to mean steak. Happy eating 🙂

Love,

Serena

 

Quick and Easy Fried Rice

Quick and Easy Fried Rice

Sometimes, I’m just too tired to cook. I know, shocking, but after a long afternoon of shopping, all I want to do is lay down. So, on these days, I usually  just take whatever I have in the fridge. throw it all together, and call it a meal. But there are times when these haphazard cooking days actually turn out amazing. One example of this is my spiced fried rice.

I’m not going to lie, there were a lot of ingredients I used (mainly from spices) as this is a spiced Fried Rice. But trust me, it is good. Especially when you’re tired because the heartiness of this dish just warms you right up.

Also, each spice that I use has a plethora of health benefits associated with it. For example, turmeric is strongly anti0inflammatory, has powerful antioxidant effects, and prevents common diseases overall. I use pepper in this recipe because it helps the body absorb the turmeric more effectively.

Servings:2
Ingredients:
-2 eggs
– 2 cloves garlic minced
-1 tsp ginger
-1 carrot chopped
-1 stalk celery chopped
– 2 handfuls dark leafy greens
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tsp turmeric
– 1/2 tsp pepper
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
-2 tsp olive oil
-1/4 cup broth or water as needed
-1/4 cup cashews
– 2 tbsp sesame seeds
-2 cups brown rice
– optional: any type of meat/meat substitute leftover, I used 2 scallops, chopped up
Note: These ingredients can be substituted for other similar ingredients! This recipe is meant to be a clean-out-the-fridge, whatever-you-have-on-hand type of recipe. For example, you can switch out brown rice for white rice, or the dark leafy greens for broccoli. The possibilities are endless.
Procedure:
1.) Heat half of the olive oil (1tsp) in a pan, and then scramble the two eggs. Remove from pan.
2.) Heat the remaining olive oil on high heat with the minced garlic and ginger
3.) Once the aromatics smell fragrant, add the chopped carrot, celery, and meat leftover and sautée everything for about 2 minutes. The meat should be heated through, and the carrots and celery should be a bit crunchy
4.) Add the leafy greens and sautée until wilted. Meanwhile, add the scrambled eggs, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, and Chinese five spice
5.) Add the rice, and some liquid to help break up any clumps. I used bone broth that I of course had leftover, but you can also use water or another type of broth. Add the soy sauce, cashews, and sesame seeds.
6.) Give everything a good mix and you’re done!
What is your favorite leftover recipe?
Love,
Serena
Gaining Weight and Finding Balance

Gaining Weight and Finding Balance

So about a month ago, I decided to step on a scale. I hadn’t weighed myself for months, and I was curious to see what the result would be.

Well, let’s just say I was shocked. I had gained 7 pounds since the start of the school year, and I don’t gain weight very easily at all! Freshman year, while many students had their “Freshmen 15” due to the buffet-style meals in the dining hall, I remained the same weight throughout the year. I didn’t eat less then anyone else, I just didn’t gain weight very easily. And all this time I had been basking in the gift of a wicked fast metabolism…until recently when I realized that I could no longer take advantage of it.

Stepping on the scale for me was shocking, but it was also the motivation for me to change my eating habits. I called myself a “healthy” person, and even though I was eating mostly plant-based, nutritious meals, I was consuming unhealthy, out-of-control portions. For dinner, I would have 1 full plate of sautéed veggies, a bowl (sometimes two) of carbs and salad, and a bowl of yogurt or cereal. It was way too much food for my body to handle, and as a result, I did not feel so great after. Yet I would still eat more because it had become a sort of addiction. And I knew I was unhealthy and I was gaining weight, but every day, I refused to believe it. Until I stepped on that scale.

It was a wake up call. The shock of my weight gain made me realize that my stomach aches and bloated feeling at night, after eating a humongous dinner (and “midnight snack” afterwards), was not healthy at all. I had to make a change.

So, I started portion controlling-I would still eat mostly the same foods I used to eat, but I would regulate how much I ate.

For breakfast, my usual mason jar of oatmeal (equivalent to 3/4 cup oatmeal with 3/4 cup milk) was cut down to the actual recommended adult serving size-1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup milk. And I mindfully ate my breakfast-meaning I would take 1 minute breaks periodically to assess whether I was still hungry, or whether I was just eating because of the availability of food. A couple times, I found myself not even finishing the oatmeal because I was full already, but staying satisfied for the entire morning! So I realized that the 3/4 cup of oatmeal I used to eat was actually sometimes double the amount that I needed.

My usual lunch used to be a sandwich and salad on the side. But when there was “good” food in the hot bar, I would take that as well. This might include salmon, eggplant parm, roasted veggies, green beans, etc. And I would also take cereal or yogurt for dessert. So this time for lunch, I decided that I would either eat a sandwich and salad, or the hot food and a salad, without any dessert.

The snacks that I used to eat after school (trail mix, KIND bar) I still ate, but I portioned out the trail mix to recommended adult serving sizes of 1/4 cup and kept more fruit around.

Then for dinner, the 1 plate and 3 bowls of food that I used to eat turned into one bowl of salad and sautéed veggies/other hot food. Also, no more dessert, because I knew that I would snack at home anyway.

So after this experiment, in a month, I lost 6 of the 7 pounds that I had gained. But more importantly,

  1. I wasn’t feeling bloated and I didn’t get stomach aches
  2. I rekindled a healthy relationship with food through mindfully eating, not just shoving food down because it was available.
  3. I ate healthier and better quality meals, without all the excess and unnecessary dessert. Before having a buffet-style dining hall, I used to eat fruit for dessert, if anything at all. So, I’ve now attempted to go back to that healthy habit because dessert is truly unneeded. If I crave dessert, then I’ll have something sweet-like a banana with peanut butter, or a very small but full bowl of cereal (smaller full bowls give the illusion of eating more)

The bottom line of this month-long journey has been: eat in moderation! Don’t deprive yourself of the foods that you love-I think that’s my best advice for losing weight, ironically. I didn’t realize how much excess food I was eating until I ate a proper amount. And I hope you learned from this experience that I’ve shared.

Love,

Serena

 

Winter Roasted Veggie Bowl

Winter Roasted Veggie Bowl

After seeing hundreds of amazing looking roasted veggie bowls on Instagram, I have been craving a good one for the last couple weeks. Well, I finally got to making one this weekend and it was sooo satisfying!

Honestly, you can put anything in roast veggie bowls. Potatoes, squash, mushrooms, cucumbers, tofu, the possibilities are endless! For mine, I put roasted organic sweet potato that I baked in the oven for 35 minutes and 425 degrees.

I drizzled some olive oil so that the potatoes would crisp up, and added cinnamon for a boost of added nutrients.

Also, I’m not sure what kind of sweet potatoes these are, but they have a slightly milder sweetness than conventional orange sweet potatoes.

Next, I roasted some zucchini and carrots in s&p for 20 minutes.



Finally, I added a bed of spinach, the roasted veggies, and a fried egg to the bowl and dug in!


This bowl turned out so delicious, especially with the runny yolk from the egg. You definitely need to give it a try cause I’m telling ya it was GOOD.

What are your favorite ingredients for roasted veggie bowls?

Love,

Serena

3 Overnight Oats Recipes

3 Overnight Oats Recipes

Whenever I have a really late night spent doing homework, I know I won’t be able to sit down and enjoy a long breakfast in the morning because I’ll likely wake up late. My solution used to be to make a really simple breakfast that morning to eat in the car, like an almond butter banana sandwich. But that still took too much time in the mornings. So, my solution this year has been to make overnight oats!

Most of the time, I’ll make chocolate banana oats. I love the banana chocolate combination so much!

Ingredients:

2/3 cup rolled oats

2/3 cup almond milk

1 tbsp chia seeds

1 tbsp cocoa powder

1 banana mashed

1 tsp sweetener of choice (honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.)

1 tsp cinnamon

Mix all of the ingredients in a mason jar or Tupperware and leave in the fridge overnight. The oats will soak in the almond milk, making them soft. In the morning, you can grab it and go, or you can heat it up too. Also, you can add additional toppings. Some of my favorites include  pomegranate seeds, dark chocolate, almond shavings, and blueberries.

  


Sometimes I even mix in chia seed pudding (3/4 cup almond milk with 1/4 cup chia seeds 1 tsp vanilla and sweetener of choice.

When I don’t have banana or cocoa powder at home, I  make vanilla overnight oats.

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Here I layered chia seed pudding, chocolate banana overnight oats, strawberries, vanilla overnight oats, and blueberries.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup almond milk

2/3 cup rolled oats

1 tbsp chia seeds

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp apple sauce

Procedure:

Same as above! I add applesauce to bind the oats, but they’re optional. I also add cinnamon because it’s a nutrient-packed super food! It’s filled with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins, minerals, and so much more. Even 1 tsp can have positive impacts on your body!

Finally, chocolate peanut butter overnight oats.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup rolled oats

2/3 cup almond milk

1 tbsp chia seeds

1 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tbsp peanut butter

1 tsp sweetener of choice (honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.)

1 tsp cinnamon

Procedure:

Again, same as above, so easy!!

Overnight oats are my GO-TO breakfast. They’re fast, simple, and nutritious, and they give me something to look forward to in the morning!

What is your favorite flavor of overnight oats??

Love,

Serena

NYC Current Favorites

NYC Current Favorites

New York City has so many amazing food destinations and every time I go, I always plan the trip around the food! Yeah, just being the foodie that I am 🙂

SO here are the destinations that I’ve recently visited and recommend!

1.) Bibble and Sip


You’ve probably seen pictures on Instagram of creamy matcha lattes and giant oozing cream puffs. This place is definitely definitely worth the hype.


I had a matcha cream puff, earl grey cream puff, and a bite of the brûlée egg tart. They cream puffs were so good that we had to take one home, along with a black sesame croissant. The matcha cream puff was my favorite! The cream had just the right amount of matcha flavor and it wasn’t too sweet. The outside puff part was crispy and match-y. And then there’s the price. At $3.50 a cream puff, the cost is insanely cheap, especially for a super popular NYC cafe. This is the place that I recommend everyone take a trip to! It’s right in between Time Square and Columbus Square, so it is very conveniently located if you want to visit all the major touristy areas.


Next time I come, I’m definitely ordering a Lavender Latte. I hear it’s amazing as well!

2.) Hangawi


Hangawi is a Korean restaurant that serves only vegetarian food, and I had been eyeing this restaurant for a while because of its outstanding reviews on Yelp and Zagat. So for my birthday recently, I finally got to try the food here with my friends and it was so yummy 🙂 And while the food is not completely authentic Korean, it still tastes super good. Even my friends completely adverse to vegetarian food enjoyed the dishes.


I had a tofu stone bowl rice with sesame leaves, which was savory and delicious. I loved the flavorful tofu scramble, over the hot bed of rice.

3.) Beyond Sushi

   This sushi joint serves vegan and vegetarian sushi, and I tried the spicy mango roll and the mighty mushroom roll. The mushroom was by far my favorite, and it could be just because of my obsession with mushrooms, but mushrooms in sushi?! Mmm it was delicious! I love meaty vegetables 🙂

4.) By Chloe

You’ve probably also heard of this vegetarian/vegan restaurant that serves amazing meatless burgers. (You probably notice by now that I love going to vegetarian/vegan eateries)

This place is great. And really aesthetically pleasing-I went to the one near Flatiron.

First of all, the fridge is IDEAL. There’s chia puddings, fruit, plenty of kombucha, juice, and other goodies.

Then the actual food. I ordered a classic burger and it was so savory and tasted so much more satisfying than a regular veggie burger! The patty- a TEMPEH-LENTIL-CHIA-WALNUT PATTY- tasted so much like meat it was amazing 😍definitely looking forward to going again soon!!

Yes that’s the same picture from our Instagram 🙂

Now that I’ve shared my current NYC favorites, what are your’s? Recommendations in the comments will be much appreciated 🙂

Love,

Serena