Restaurant Review: Zen Kitchen Express

Zen Kitchen Express
34 Lexington Avenue
(between 23rd Street and 24th Street)
Kips Bay, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (2.5/4)

Zen Kitchen Express on Lexington Avenue stands as a sort of aftershadow of the late Zen Burger (the vegan fast food chain which disappeared from the city in 2009). The restaurant’s interior is sparsely decorated, but slightly off-putting; a strangely designed HVAC system creates a cyclical sound of strongly blowing wind, and a green lighting scheme around the checkout counter doesn’t help to create any warm, comforting vibes.

The chimeric menu is half fast food (complete with the same “Zen”-prefixed names that defined Zen Burger’s menu) and half typical Szechuan fare, so we selected one meal in each style.

Our advice? Go with the fast food over any Asian-themed options. My “bento box” stir-fry dinner was served with two small spring rolls that had very little flavor (if some soy sauce or duck sauce had been available, it would have helped to dress them up considerably). The soy chicken in my dish was tolerable, but not impressive; the exterior skin was soggy, and the surrounding vegetables were bland. The rice was overcooked to the point of being inedible.

We also tried the shrimp tempura appetizer, which was absolutely bizarre. There was no tempura batter anywhere to be found. Instead, mini shrimp-like blobs were dressed in a cheese-like sauce and sprinkled with a range of spices (reminiscent of Lebanese zatar). We ate through the entire appetizer despite our better judgement, though every bite offered a feeling of uncertainty.

In contrast, the ZenChicken Nugget sandwich was good. The nuggets were nicely spiced with pepper and thyme, and the burger was a very satisfying size. The accompanying sweet potato fries were a little soft, but still enjoyable to eat.

At $13 each, the price is right for a fast-food style meal, and Zen Kitchen is wonderfully located in Kips Bay directly on the border of the Baruch College campus (in a neighborhood where the only vegetarian options tend to run towards Indian cuisine). The dining room won’t improve upon your dining experience, so carry out if you can. For best results, be sure to stick with the fast food side the menu… Anything prefixed with “Zen” is the safest bet.

Food (2.5/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (2/4)

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