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Jenny Rodriguez, aka “The Pint-Sized Vegan,” enjoying a Mexican Caesar salad and guacamole at El Barrio in Scarsdale.
I was 12 years old when I swore off meat. I remember the moment I made this proclamation — I was having lunch at Scoops on the Hudson in Hastings when I saw, written on the daily specials board, a “Gordon Burger.” “Gordon” was the name of our family parrot (now 28 years old), and though upon further examination the menu item was a Garden Burger (ironically a vegetarian patty) I couldn’t shake the connection between the animals we love and those we eat. Twenty-three years later, and with a much greater understanding of the reality of factory farming, I remain a vegetarian.
So after publishing a story this summer on the best pizza in Westchester, I wanted to follow up with a feature on great vegetarian and vegan dining across the county. But my knowledge here is limited, especially when it comes to vegan food. So I reached out to Jenny Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, a school aide in the Yonkers public school district, is better known as The Pint-Sized Vegan, which is her Instagram handle. For four years, she’s been traveling across Westchester (and sometimes beyond) and documenting the vegan options at various restaurants. She has become popular with vegans and non-vegan diners alike and already has some 1,500 Instagram followers, though she only started to take the blog seriously in 2019. Since I discovered her account, I’ve frequently messaged her to ask where I can get, say, the best vegetarian chicken and broccoli, or the best pho with a vegetable broth. Her suggestions are always on point.
Below is a condensed conversation with Jenny about being vegan in Westchester, the best restaurants and towns for vegans, and how she went from being a bacon-loving meat-eater to a vegan blogger.
Andrew Vitelli: So to start, how would you rate the state of vegan dining in Westchester County?
Jenny Rodriguez: I think we are getting there. Honestly, it will take forever for us to get to where New York City is when it comes to vegan options. In New York City there is a place on every corner. But I feel like in Westchester, we are getting there. There have been more all-vegan places opening up, which I really do appreciate. But I also like restaurants that are really willing to offer vegan options. Just yesterday, Saints & Scholars on McLean Avenue in Yonkers finally added a vegan option.
Andrew: When I worked in Manhattan, near Greenwich Village, within a block there were some half-dozen amazing vegetarian or vegan restaurants like Red Bamboo, Go Zen, and Quantum Leap that have great typically-meat dishes made vegetarian. Do you think places like that could succeed in Westchester?
Jenny: I would really love something like that, and I feel like the county could definitely benefit. But it depends on the area in Westchester because there are some parts of Westchester where there really are a lot of vegan options, a lot of vegetarian-friendly places. And there are some parts of the county where there is not a lot of vegan dining. Those places could thrive in a more vegan-friendly area.
I also think Westchester would benefit from an all-vegan chain restaurant, like Veggie Grill.
Andrew: So where in the county are there good vegetarian options, and where is it harder to find good options?
Jenny: Tarrytown is very, very vegan friendly. They have Sweet Grass Grill and Grass Roots Kitchen, and then there is Taste of China, which has a vegan menu. And there are places for vegan hot dogs and burgers too. Unfortunately, where I am in Yonkers it isn't all that great.
The Katsu Sando sandwich and hibiscus lemonade at Grass Roots Kitchen.
Andrew: What are the best all-vegan restaurants in Westchester?
Jenny: For all-vegan, I really do like Veg'd Out, which is in Mamaroneck and is just pick-up and delivery. I also really like Root2Rise, in Pleasantville, which is also gluten-free, organic, all-natural, and locally sourced. They've been one of my favorites ever since they opened.
There is Jolo’s Kitchen in New Rochelle, which is Caribbean food. It is very good, and they are completely vegan. And there is Pureganic Cafe in Rye.
Andrew: And what are your favorite restaurants that are not completely vegan but have a great vegan selection?
Jenny: I would definitely recommend Grass Roots and Sweet Grass, totally. And even Tomatillo, their other sister restaurant. Those three branches of restaurants are really, really good overall. When you go to Grass Roots, half the menu is vegan. It’s crazy. And another that is all vegetarian is Masala Kraft Cafe in Hartsdale.
Rodriguez enjoying a sweet potato gnocchi al fresco at Sweet Grass Grill.
Andrew: Now let’s go through it by genre. To start, my first article was about the best pizza in Westchester. What place has the best vegan pizza?
Jenny: Billy & Pete's Social really tops it for me. They get a lot of vegan customers. They are really top tier on the pizza, for a sit-down restaurant pizza. I really like their grilled pizza with vegan cheese and vegan pepperoni – they use Vevan for cheese and Hormel for pepperoni.
Billy and Pete’s vegan cheese and pepperoni pizza
For pizzeria style, you could do 4 Bros Pizza in New Rochelle. You could do Pizza Grill in Hastings-on-Hudson. Those are two places I recommend.
Andrew: What about vegan non-pizza Italian food?
Jenny: Divino Cucina Italiana in Hastings, 100 percent. It is mainly different kinds of pasta dishes. You can get spaghetti and meatballs with Beyond Meatballs. You can get truffle pasta that’s vegan. They have different kinds of vegan pastas right now, and they do have one vegan dessert that is very good.
Vegan spaghetti and meatballs at Divino Cucina
Andrew: You mentioned Masala Kraft – is that your favorite place for Indian food?
Jenny: Masala Kraft is my favorite. There's also Chutney Masala in Irvington, which is pretty good.
Andrew: And we have talked about Chinese before – you recommended China Garden in Rye, which has a great vegan menu. Any others?
Jenny: Besides China Garden, I also like ordering from East Harbor Restaurant in Yonkers as well.
Andrew: How about Thai?
Jenny: Definitely Sambal in Irvington. Their mock duck is great, and I really love their roti appetizer, which comes with an amazing sauce. But I also like Little Thai Kitchen, which has locations in Scarsdale, Chappaqua, and Rye.
Jenny: One of my favorites is The Bahn Mi Shop in White Plains. And there’s also Vietnam Central in Scarsdale, which offers tofu “beef” and “chicken.” I go with the vegan beef pho.
I’ve been to Saigonese in Hartsdale and it’s pretty good as well. Vietnam Central is a little more vegan-friendly than Saigonese, but Saigonese is still pretty good.
Andrew: What about for ramen?
Jenny: I recommend two: Ramen Musashi in Scarsdale and Kishuya Ramen Noodle Bar in Hartsdale.
Ramen at Ramen Musashi
Vegetarian ramen at Kishuya
Andrew: Moving west, what are the best places for vegan Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food?
Jenny: It's more of a place to grab and go, but I really like Go Greek in Pelham. For Middle Eastern food, Falafel Place in Yonkers and White Plains is definitely the best. In Westchester, at least – my favorite is Ziatun in Beacon.
Andrew: You mentioned Tomatillo, which is one of my favorites. Is that your favorite Mexican food?
Jenny: When it comes to Americanized Mexican food, yes. Tomatillo is great because half the menu is vegan. For more traditional Mexican, MaryAnn’s Mexican Restaurant in Port Chester is the best. One of the biggest downers is that MaryAnn's got really destroyed by Ida. It just really sucks. They have a GoFundMe to help them get back on their feet. El Barrio in Scarsdale is also very vegan-friendly, having cauliflower, Beyond Meat, and chayote which is cactus that can be in tacos, wood-fired quesadillas, and more. The owners also own 808 Bistro, which also has great options.
For tacos, The Taco Project – which has locations in Tarrytown, Yonkers, and Bronxville – is great. There’s also Taco Shack in Port Chester.
Andrew: Okay, let’s say you want bar food – where do you go?
Jenny: The Rare Bit in Dobbs Ferry is pretty good.
Andrew: How about for a vegan burger?
Jenny: There’s the Cocina Burger Shop in Yonkers. They have a whole vegan Impossible Burger that is pretty good. Another is Elevation Burger, which is in Yonkers and in Rye Brook. They are vegan-friendly and have all-vegan cheeseburgers and shakes.
Andrew: Where do you go for a good vegan breakfast?
Jenny: Carmine’s Italian Deli & Cafe in Elmsford. They have Just Egg and vegan bacon from Sweet Earth. And Grass Roots also has breakfast stuff. My favorite is their vegan egg sandwich. I switch it up and replace the avocado with vegan cheese and it becomes my favorite kind of BEC to get.
Andrew: Now dessert.
Jenny: I was just at BRRZAAR yesterday, they are very good. It's a coffee shop/froyo place. I believe they make it themselves. Other places I like are Cookiesncream in Bronxville, and Longford’s in Rye and Larchmont is fine too. And Go Greenly – which has locations in Scarsdale and Dobbs Ferry – has vegan froyo options and milk tea boba flavors with almond or oat milk. I get their taro bubble milk tea with oat milk, as growing up my favorite was to get that in Chinatown so I’m very happy I can get some childhood back.
A cone of vegan froyo at BRRZAAR
My favorite vegan-friendly bakery in Westchester is Flour Power in Pelham Manor. My favorite things to get are their cookies - snickerdoodle is my favorite kind of cookie - and the biscuits, especially the everything flavor. The biscuits have that have the perfect sour note – I still don’t know how they do it.
Andrew: So let’s say you’ve been convicted (wrongly I’d assume) of murder and sent to death row. You are offered your choice of a last meal, but it must be vegan food from Westchester County. What are you eating?
Jenny: Oh, that’s a great one. As an appetizer, I’m having chips and guacamole from Mary Ann’s. My main dish is Chana Bhatura from Masala Kraft, with a side of falafel from The Falafel Place. For dessert, I’m having froyo from BRRZAAR. And if they let me have a drink, it will be a hibiscus margarita from The Taco Project.
Andrew: Okay, I will have to try every one of the places you named. How long have you been vegan?
Jenny: I stopped eating meat in the late summer of 2013. It was mainly for health, but I always knew about the issues with the treatment of animals, so I was pretty strong on it. I really liked doing it.
At first, a lot of people thought I was crazy because I used to be a pretty big meat eater. I was really big on my bacon, so a lot of people were really shocked. And back then there was no good vegan bacon out there, and now there is.
When I was about four years vegetarian, I decided to try to go vegan.
Andrew: And how did you get into blogging?
Jenny: When I decided I wanted to go vegan, I wanted to do a food diary. It was actually first a food diary, oddly enough.
The name came from my boyfriend. My whole life I was known for being very short; I'm four-foot-eight. And that's where The Pint-Sized Vegan came from. And it's crazy how it's become kind of a big name in Westchester now.
I became more serious about it in early 2019. I started talking to restaurants, going to events, and I really started getting myself out there more. Ever since then it's been going really well. Oddly enough last year, which I thought was not going to be a good year because of Covid, wound up being probably one of my best years. Same with this year.
Andrew: How did you get such a following?
Jenny: I would share a post about a restaurant, and the restaurant would share it back and all the restaurant’s followers would see my post, and many would follow me. Others found me by casually looking at hashtags or vegan posts.
Andrew: I saw that last month, you “took over” the LoHud Food (@lohud_food) Instagram account. How did that come about? And did it help you add a lot of followers?
Jenny: I am friends with Jeanne Muchnick, the Food and Dining reporter for LoHud, and she always likes my content from her personal account. I always hoped that maybe one day, when she has to go on vacation, she will ask me to take over the account. And last month that day finally came. It was an amazing experience, and I added a lot of followers.
Andrew: Is this account just something you do because you’re passionate about vegan food? Or do you make money from it?
Jenny: I would love to make money in the future one day. Eventually, the opportunity will come to me. I want to get sponsorships from bigger companies in the future if I really get myself out there more.
Andrew: Finally, I am curious what you think the future is for veganism and vegetarianism. As vegan options improve with Beyond and Impossible as well as the development of things like lab-grown meat, do you see plant-based diets becoming more of the norm for people? Or will it remain a niche?
Jenny: I think it will still probably be a niche, but the more options there are, the better. The more people become curious, and the more they are seeing options, they'll begin to say, ‘I don’t know, maybe this is worth trying.’
Andrew Vitelli is the former editor of The Putnam Examiner and The White Plains Examiner. A Hastings-on-Hudson native, he now lives in White Plains with his wife, Zeynep, two-year-old daughter, Zoe, and their dog Beasley.