A Vegetarian Exploration of Kips Bay

The Manhattan neighborhood of Kips Bay holds some unexpected NYC gems, from the island’s last unpaved street (Broadway Alley from 26th to 27th Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues) to the monumental brutalist architecure of Kips Bay Plaza (1st and 2nd Avenues from 30th to 33rd Streets).

Kips Bay also holds an important place in vegetarian New York; an abundance of vegi-friendly restaurants and specialty markets make the neighborhood a great asset for urban vegetarians (and foodies of all stripes).

Some (Non-Vegetarian) Background

Dutch settler Jacobus Hendrickson Kip gave the neighborhood its name, establishing the first New Netherland claim to the region with a farm along the bay’s shore. His home stood at the modern intersection of 2nd Avenue and 35th Street until 1851, and was the last New Amsterdam farmhouse in NYC at the time of its demolition. However, a final remnant from this farming era can still be seen at 203 East 29th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues), where you’ll find one of the few wooden homes that survive on Manhattan, a privately owned post-and-beam construction believed to date from as early as the 1790s.

For almost 50 years, the neighborhood also served as the second location of NYC’s original “stock” market, the Bull’s Head Village. Moved from lower Manhattan in the early 1800s to make way for residential buildings, this collection of butchers, tanneries, and stockyards redeveloped to the east of the Boston Post Road, stretching from what is now 23rd Street to 27th Street and from Madison Avenue to 3rd Avenue. The infamous Bull’s Head Tavern followed the market north in 1813 from its original location in the Five Points neighborhood, and has recently reincarnated as a pub of the same name at the same location (295 3rd Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets).

In the early 20th century, Kips Bay became the neighborhood of choice for Armenian immigrants, and their spirit remains most alive in two Armenian Orthodox cathedrals. The smaller St. Illuminator’s (at 221 East 27th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) began services in 1935, and now also serves as an Armenian elementary school. The larger St. Vartan’s sits as an impressive Armenian-styled structure at 2nd Avenue and 35 Street, the same intersection where Kip’s farmhouse once stood. Beyond these churches, surprisingly little evidence of Armenian heritage remains; Little Armenia’s restaurants and stores have completely disappeared.

Beginning in the 1970s, Little Armenia faded underneath a wave of South Asian immigration, redefining the neighborhood’s culinary scene. In 1976, Curry in a Hurry (still at Lexington Avenue and 28th Street) became Kips Bay’s first Indian restaurant. By the 1990s, the area became best known for its Little India, with one of  the densest concentrations of South Asian restaurants in the city.

Curry Hill

Outside of Little India, the Kips Bay culinary scene is now largely mundane, with Irish-style pubs along 2nd and 3rd Avenues, and a few locally respected bakeries and delis. However, the stretch of Lexington Avenue from 26th Street to 29th Street is Little India’s Curry Hill, the spice rack of the NYC kitchen, with unique resources for New York’s vegetarians.

Kalustyan’s (123 Lexington between 28th and 29th Streets) is the neighborhood’s oldest surviving food store, built in 1944 as a specialty grocer providing Armenians with the Caucasian ingredients not available elsewhere in the city. In 1988, the store was purchased by its current Bangladeshi owners, who expanded to offer a wider range of ingredients from throughout the world. The multilevel store is now jammed with Middle Eastern, Mediterannean, and South Asian cooking utensils, ethnic foods, and a global array of thousands of herbs and spices. Particularly exciting for kitchen chemists, Kalustyan’s shelves stock the hard-to-find culinary chemicals used in molecular gastronomy.

Two other spice stores on the same block of Lexington Avenue have less variety, but better prices. Spice Corner sits at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 29th Street. Foods of India (also known as the Sinha Trading Co.) can be found directly south of Kalustyan’s at 121 Lexington, and is well worth visiting; prices average about 25% lower and the inventory is 100% vegetarian.

Curry Hill has seven Indian vegetarian restaurants. Our favorite is the recently renovated Chennai Garden at 129 East 27th Street (between Lexington and Park Avenues). For a more surreal dining experience, we also recommend Vatan at 409 3rd Avenue (the restaurant’s interior is a designed to resemble a kitschy Indian village).

Other good options can be found along Lexington Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets, including Pongal, Bhojan, and Madras Mahal. Many of Curry Hill’s restaurateurs own at least two of the neighborhood’s venues, so expect to find identical menu options and very similar qualities of food regardless of your dining choices (for instance, Chennai Garden also operates Tiffin Wallah, and Bhojan’s founder also owns the non-vegetarian Dhaba).

Getting There & Getting Home

The 28th Street subway stop on the 6 line is one block west of Curry Hill. Thanks to the plethora of quick-eat options and the proximity of the Queens Midtown Tunnel, Curry Hill is the rare neighborhood where finding a cab is rarely a problem.

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