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Colorful plastic packages of tofu in a Japanese refrigerator case. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

15 Tofu Dishes in NYC That Will Make You Forget About Meat

You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to appreciate NYC’s best tofu dishes

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Long before meat alternatives funded by tech companies — the Impossible and Beyond Meats of the world — took over, plant-based eating was a lot simpler. Enter: tofu.

According to one origin story mentioned in The Encyclopedia of Asian Food and Cooking, tofu was invented between 200 BC and 200 AD during China’s Han Dynasty by a panel convened by the emperor intent on developing new medicines. Another story suggests that around the same time, a hapless cook dropped some seaweed into a bowl of boiled and pureed soybeans and it curdled. Voila to one of the world’s most nutritious substances, low in fat and carbs and infinitely adaptable.

As a building block of many vegan and vegetarian dishes, tofu (also known as bean curd) is not only tasty but versatile. Soft tofu is perfect in soups, stews, and even puddings. Firm blocks of the soy-based product are often used in stir fries or deep fried. And don’t forget the evolving multitude of offshoots and byproducts, including rubbery tofu skin, fermented stinky tofu, pressed bean curd, bean curd sticks, flavored tofu, silken bean curd, and bean curd cheese, among other lovely permutations.

However it was conceived, it spread throughout Asia and beyond, and it’s rare not to find an Asian country that doesn’t have a national specialty that involves it. Here are some of our favorite uses of tofu found in NYC.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Spicy Dried Tofu at Atlas Kitchen

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This two-year-old restaurant on the far Upper West Side boasts of its proximity to Columbia University, whose students and staff make up a good proportion of the clientele. The menu is a lighthearted journey around China, including stops in Sichuan, Hunan, and Beijing. From Hunan comes this dish of sheets of compressed tofu cut into diamonds, slicked with sesame oil, and dotted with hot pickled chiles. It’s served at room temperature, so you may regard it as a species of salad.

Diamonds of cream colored tofu heaped on a greenish blue plate and dotted with colorful red and green chopped chilis. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Tea Smoked Vegetable Tofu Roll at Hutong

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Showcasing improvisational Chinese food from Hong Kong and Shanghai, this Midtown fine dining establishment gets creative with tofu, often dressing it up in alternate guises. A great example is this appetizer, that wraps assorted finely minced and seasoned vegetables in tofu skin that’s been tea smoked, a cooking technique often associated with Sichuan duck. Each roll is topped with a thin slice of fresh okra, adding another layer of texture, and each bite explodes with flavor in your mouth.

Maki type rolls made of tofu skin on a long white plate lined up with vegetables inside. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Ma Po Tofu at Szechuan Mountain House

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One of the city’s finest Sichuan restaurants (which has an additional branch in the East Village) produces a spectacular version of ma po tofu. This signature dish of Sichuan cuisine — one story claims it was supposedly invented by a street vendor on the northern edge of Chengdu around 1862 — features cubes of wiggly soft tofu in chile oil and a fermented bean paste, enriched with speckles of ground pork. And this rendition has liberal quantities of ground Sichuan peppercorns on top.

A white bowl with blue children depicted on the sides filled with white bean curd in red oily sauce. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Soon Dubu at Cho Dang Gol

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Tofu is so important in Korean cuisine that entire restaurants are devoted to it. Koreatown’s Cho Dang Gol, open since 1997, is one of the most prominent. Soon dubu is the name given to a fresh tofu stew laced with chiles and here, it’s presented with an egg on top. Other seafood, beef, and pork jigae (spicy red stews) prominently feature tofu, too.

A raw egg yolk sits in the middle of a bright red stew with ragged blobs of white. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Stinky Tofu at C&L Imperial Main Street Taiwanese Gourmet

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One of the most aggressive uses of tofu comes in the form of stinky tofu. It consists of bean curd cubes that have been allowed to ferment till they become, well, stinky, and then are deep fried to crustiness. At this Flushing Taiwanese old-timer, the dish is served as an appetizer decorated with a fermented cabbage similar to kimchi or sauerkraut. This remarkable form of bean curd can also sometimes be found in Hunan restaurants.

Vein and dark cubes of tofu on a blue plate with pickled cabbage on top. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Pork Roll at Happy Stony Noodle

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When I reviewed this place in 2017, I declared the pork roll to be the tastiest item on a menu loaded with Taiwanese small dishes intended to be enjoyed in concert with tea or a beer rather than as an appetizer or a main course (a list that sometimes overlaps with Cantonese dim sum, as seen with dishes like scallion pancakes, beef tripe, and steamed dumplings). Here, tofu skin is wrapped around seasoned ground pork and deep fried, greasy but delicious, and totally irresistible at this Elmhurst café just off Broadway.

A deep fried roll with one end cut off and placed beside the main roll, with dark pork peeping out of both pieces on an oblong white plate. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Tafu Isi at Awang Kitchen

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The idea to use tofu as dumpling skin and stuffing it is a wonderful one. At this Indonesian pit stop in Elmhurst’s big box shopping district, the tafu isi arrives with pieces per order with short green chiles that render quite an impact when nibbled between bites of the boiling hot, stuffed-curd dumplings. The stuffing, by the way, consists of shrimp and diced vegetables.

A pair of beer battered and fried tofu dumplings with some tofu peeping out and a couple of small green chiles on the side. Sietsema/Eater NY

Agedashi Tofu at Kanoyama

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This is one of the classic Japanese preparations of tofu, offered in a particularly lush rendition at East Village sushi bar Kanoyama. Cubes of soft bean curd are coated in sweet-potato starch and deep fried. Then they are sunk in a medium brown and translucent tsuyu sauce, comprising of soy sauce, bonito flakes, and mirin. Finally, more bonito flakes are heaped on top like beige snowflakes, decorated with a parsley sprig, a wad of crushed ginger — all flavors contrasting nicely with the creaminess of the curd. 

A deep white bowl with clear brown broth in the bottom and white fried tofu blocks rising up in the center covered with brown bonito flakes. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Sea Urchin Egg Tofu Stew at CheLi

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Few recent appearances of bean curd in the city have been as startling as this one, at a restaurant that showcases historic recipes from Shanghai. While sea urchins — known as uni in Japanese cuisine — are usually treated as a luxury ingredient to be served chilled, here they are incorporated into a thick soup with tofu as a backdrop, lending a flavor that reminds you of being on an ocean boat ride with a stiff offshore breeze. 

A bright and murky stew bobbing shards of tofu in an orangeish soup. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Tofu Sizzling Sisig at Mama Fina’s

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Sisig is a popular street food in the Philippines, originating near a military base on the island of Luzon, according to one story. While the original was made with various parts of the pig, including ears and snouts, an infinite range of substitutions has evolved, several of which are featured at this East Village restaurant that specializes in the dish. The tofu version preserves many aspects of the original: cubes of nicely browned bean curd sputtering on a cast-iron plate, sliced red onions, and a creamy white sauce that’s made according to the restaurant’s secret recipe. My guess is there’s plenty of mayo in it.

White cubes smothered in white sauce and purple onion shreds. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Heirloom Tomato Salad at Kimika

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Creative uses of tofu have abounded in the last few years but few have been quite as exciting as using tofu to replace mozzarella in a Caprese salad. At Kimika, where the menu showcases Japanese-Italian fusion, a diverse selection of ripe heirloom tomatoes are scattered along with herbs and a micro dice of cucumbers on a lake of freshly poured tofu. When the dish arrives, you almost can’t see the bean curd, but it quickly makes its presence known.

Green, yellow, and red tomatoes on top of a bowl of faintly seen tofu. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Wensi Minced Tofu Soup at August Gatherings

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This largely overlooked Chinese haute cuisine spot, located on the western stretch of Canal Street in Chinatown, offers many tofu options, such as freshly made bean curd with foie gras, and baked eel in spicy tofu. A specialty of the house is a mainstay of Huaiyang cuisine supposedly invented by a Buddhist monk named Wensi. The recipe involves laboriously hand-shredding tofu and placing it in a consommé made by boiling chickens, ducks, and ham. The result is an extremely agreeable soup with the tofu behaving a little like hand-pulled noodles.

Chopped noodles of soft tofu thickly floating in a yellowish broth with mushrooms in an ornate bowl. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Banh Mi Chay at Banh Mi Co Ut

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This Chinatown newcomer offers nine versions of the famous Vietnamese sandwich, of which #9 is the classic vegan banh mi, featuring the usual pickled vegetables, cucumbers, and cilantro on a crisp baguette smeared with mayo with fresh jalapenos added at your request. But this one improves on the formula with baked organic tofu steeped in lemongrass, which adds an extra bright flavor to the sandwich.

A sandwich on a baguette cut in cross section with vegetables and planks of tofu bursting out. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Matcha Tofu Flan at Ichiran Ramen

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It isn’t just for savory courses anymore. Tofu functions just as well in desserts, especially those that usually utilize cream or other dairy products. At Ichiran Ramen, a branch of the Japanese chain that opened here in Bushwick in 2016, tofu is used to make a flan that sinks deep into its cenote of deep green matcha syrup. A dried red date adds a nice touch of decoration and color contrast.

A black bowl with green fluid and a spoon dredging up some white stuff. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Fried Tofu at Corthaiyou.

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One of the most pleasant and ubiquitous ways to consume tofu is in a Thai restaurant, where fried tofu is a durable, classic bar snack or an appetizer seen on nearly every menu. At this Brooklyn Thai spot a few blocks south of Prospect Park, the dish is rendered with particular flair: The triangular hunks of tofu are spongier than usual, and the sweet sauce that usually dances attendance has been enriched with ground pork. 

Jagged hunks of browned tofu rise up, with a pink sauce and a dark green kale leaf garnish flank the serving. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Spicy Dried Tofu at Atlas Kitchen

Diamonds of cream colored tofu heaped on a greenish blue plate and dotted with colorful red and green chopped chilis. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

This two-year-old restaurant on the far Upper West Side boasts of its proximity to Columbia University, whose students and staff make up a good proportion of the clientele. The menu is a lighthearted journey around China, including stops in Sichuan, Hunan, and Beijing. From Hunan comes this dish of sheets of compressed tofu cut into diamonds, slicked with sesame oil, and dotted with hot pickled chiles. It’s served at room temperature, so you may regard it as a species of salad.

Diamonds of cream colored tofu heaped on a greenish blue plate and dotted with colorful red and green chopped chilis. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Tea Smoked Vegetable Tofu Roll at Hutong

Maki type rolls made of tofu skin on a long white plate lined up with vegetables inside. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Showcasing improvisational Chinese food from Hong Kong and Shanghai, this Midtown fine dining establishment gets creative with tofu, often dressing it up in alternate guises. A great example is this appetizer, that wraps assorted finely minced and seasoned vegetables in tofu skin that’s been tea smoked, a cooking technique often associated with Sichuan duck. Each roll is topped with a thin slice of fresh okra, adding another layer of texture, and each bite explodes with flavor in your mouth.

Maki type rolls made of tofu skin on a long white plate lined up with vegetables inside. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Ma Po Tofu at Szechuan Mountain House

A white bowl with blue children depicted on the sides filled with white bean curd in red oily sauce. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

One of the city’s finest Sichuan restaurants (which has an additional branch in the East Village) produces a spectacular version of ma po tofu. This signature dish of Sichuan cuisine — one story claims it was supposedly invented by a street vendor on the northern edge of Chengdu around 1862 — features cubes of wiggly soft tofu in chile oil and a fermented bean paste, enriched with speckles of ground pork. And this rendition has liberal quantities of ground Sichuan peppercorns on top.

A white bowl with blue children depicted on the sides filled with white bean curd in red oily sauce. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Soon Dubu at Cho Dang Gol

A raw egg yolk sits in the middle of a bright red stew with ragged blobs of white. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Tofu is so important in Korean cuisine that entire restaurants are devoted to it. Koreatown’s Cho Dang Gol, open since 1997, is one of the most prominent. Soon dubu is the name given to a fresh tofu stew laced with chiles and here, it’s presented with an egg on top. Other seafood, beef, and pork jigae (spicy red stews) prominently feature tofu, too.

A raw egg yolk sits in the middle of a bright red stew with ragged blobs of white. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Stinky Tofu at C&L Imperial Main Street Taiwanese Gourmet

Vein and dark cubes of tofu on a blue plate with pickled cabbage on top. Robert Sietsema/Eater

One of the most aggressive uses of tofu comes in the form of stinky tofu. It consists of bean curd cubes that have been allowed to ferment till they become, well, stinky, and then are deep fried to crustiness. At this Flushing Taiwanese old-timer, the dish is served as an appetizer decorated with a fermented cabbage similar to kimchi or sauerkraut. This remarkable form of bean curd can also sometimes be found in Hunan restaurants.

Vein and dark cubes of tofu on a blue plate with pickled cabbage on top. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Pork Roll at Happy Stony Noodle

A deep fried roll with one end cut off and placed beside the main roll, with dark pork peeping out of both pieces on an oblong white plate. Robert Sietsema/Eater

When I reviewed this place in 2017, I declared the pork roll to be the tastiest item on a menu loaded with Taiwanese small dishes intended to be enjoyed in concert with tea or a beer rather than as an appetizer or a main course (a list that sometimes overlaps with Cantonese dim sum, as seen with dishes like scallion pancakes, beef tripe, and steamed dumplings). Here, tofu skin is wrapped around seasoned ground pork and deep fried, greasy but delicious, and totally irresistible at this Elmhurst café just off Broadway.

A deep fried roll with one end cut off and placed beside the main roll, with dark pork peeping out of both pieces on an oblong white plate. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Tafu Isi at Awang Kitchen

A pair of beer battered and fried tofu dumplings with some tofu peeping out and a couple of small green chiles on the side. Sietsema/Eater NY

The idea to use tofu as dumpling skin and stuffing it is a wonderful one. At this Indonesian pit stop in Elmhurst’s big box shopping district, the tafu isi arrives with pieces per order with short green chiles that render quite an impact when nibbled between bites of the boiling hot, stuffed-curd dumplings. The stuffing, by the way, consists of shrimp and diced vegetables.

A pair of beer battered and fried tofu dumplings with some tofu peeping out and a couple of small green chiles on the side. Sietsema/Eater NY

Agedashi Tofu at Kanoyama

A deep white bowl with clear brown broth in the bottom and white fried tofu blocks rising up in the center covered with brown bonito flakes. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

This is one of the classic Japanese preparations of tofu, offered in a particularly lush rendition at East Village sushi bar Kanoyama. Cubes of soft bean curd are coated in sweet-potato starch and deep fried. Then they are sunk in a medium brown and translucent tsuyu sauce, comprising of soy sauce, bonito flakes, and mirin. Finally, more bonito flakes are heaped on top like beige snowflakes, decorated with a parsley sprig, a wad of crushed ginger — all flavors contrasting nicely with the creaminess of the curd. 

A deep white bowl with clear brown broth in the bottom and white fried tofu blocks rising up in the center covered with brown bonito flakes. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Sea Urchin Egg Tofu Stew at CheLi

A bright and murky stew bobbing shards of tofu in an orangeish soup. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Few recent appearances of bean curd in the city have been as startling as this one, at a restaurant that showcases historic recipes from Shanghai. While sea urchins — known as uni in Japanese cuisine — are usually treated as a luxury ingredient to be served chilled, here they are incorporated into a thick soup with tofu as a backdrop, lending a flavor that reminds you of being on an ocean boat ride with a stiff offshore breeze. 

A bright and murky stew bobbing shards of tofu in an orangeish soup. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Tofu Sizzling Sisig at Mama Fina’s

White cubes smothered in white sauce and purple onion shreds. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Sisig is a popular street food in the Philippines, originating near a military base on the island of Luzon, according to one story. While the original was made with various parts of the pig, including ears and snouts, an infinite range of substitutions has evolved, several of which are featured at this East Village restaurant that specializes in the dish. The tofu version preserves many aspects of the original: cubes of nicely browned bean curd sputtering on a cast-iron plate, sliced red onions, and a creamy white sauce that’s made according to the restaurant’s secret recipe. My guess is there’s plenty of mayo in it.

White cubes smothered in white sauce and purple onion shreds. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Heirloom Tomato Salad at Kimika

Green, yellow, and red tomatoes on top of a bowl of faintly seen tofu. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Creative uses of tofu have abounded in the last few years but few have been quite as exciting as using tofu to replace mozzarella in a Caprese salad. At Kimika, where the menu showcases Japanese-Italian fusion, a diverse selection of ripe heirloom tomatoes are scattered along with herbs and a micro dice of cucumbers on a lake of freshly poured tofu. When the dish arrives, you almost can’t see the bean curd, but it quickly makes its presence known.

Green, yellow, and red tomatoes on top of a bowl of faintly seen tofu. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Wensi Minced Tofu Soup at August Gatherings

Chopped noodles of soft tofu thickly floating in a yellowish broth with mushrooms in an ornate bowl. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

This largely overlooked Chinese haute cuisine spot, located on the western stretch of Canal Street in Chinatown, offers many tofu options, such as freshly made bean curd with foie gras, and baked eel in spicy tofu. A specialty of the house is a mainstay of Huaiyang cuisine supposedly invented by a Buddhist monk named Wensi. The recipe involves laboriously hand-shredding tofu and placing it in a consommé made by boiling chickens, ducks, and ham. The result is an extremely agreeable soup with the tofu behaving a little like hand-pulled noodles.

Chopped noodles of soft tofu thickly floating in a yellowish broth with mushrooms in an ornate bowl. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Banh Mi Chay at Banh Mi Co Ut

A sandwich on a baguette cut in cross section with vegetables and planks of tofu bursting out. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

This Chinatown newcomer offers nine versions of the famous Vietnamese sandwich, of which #9 is the classic vegan banh mi, featuring the usual pickled vegetables, cucumbers, and cilantro on a crisp baguette smeared with mayo with fresh jalapenos added at your request. But this one improves on the formula with baked organic tofu steeped in lemongrass, which adds an extra bright flavor to the sandwich.

A sandwich on a baguette cut in cross section with vegetables and planks of tofu bursting out. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Matcha Tofu Flan at Ichiran Ramen

A black bowl with green fluid and a spoon dredging up some white stuff. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

It isn’t just for savory courses anymore. Tofu functions just as well in desserts, especially those that usually utilize cream or other dairy products. At Ichiran Ramen, a branch of the Japanese chain that opened here in Bushwick in 2016, tofu is used to make a flan that sinks deep into its cenote of deep green matcha syrup. A dried red date adds a nice touch of decoration and color contrast.