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Stroll down Bleecker Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village almost any day of the week around lunchtime, and you're likely to see a line of people waiting outside a white brick building on the corner of Macdougal. Invariably, there's a mix of art students from nearby NYU sporting all black, stylish girls who spend half of their paychecks on their outfits, slightly more formally dressed folks in their 30s who have slipped out of the office for lunch and even a bike delivery guy, helmet in hand. It's an unexpected mix of people, but New York restaurant phenoms can make for eclectic line patrons.
The mélange of diners are huddled outside By Chloe, a vegan fast-casual spot that has acquired a surprising celebrity-like status since it opened last summer (so much so that the team already has two other locations in the works). The restaurant's mega success could be pinned to timing: With the debut of Brooks Headley's Superiority Burger, the relaunch of Dirt Candy and vegetable-forward menus sprouting around town, New Yorkers have never cared so much about their veggies—or veggie burgers, for that matter (see our take on By Chloe's guac-topped burger).
But more of the success is owed to By Chloe's owners: vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli and partner/creative director Samantha Wasser, who in their late 20s have built a restaurant brand identity that's more of the mainstream hip moment (healthy but not without dessert, California-inspired, avocado-topped everything, affordable, colorful, and playful yet chic) than almost any other restaurant to open in the city last year.
Thank Wasser, the daughter of restaurant group ESquared's CEO Jimmy Haber, for the restaurant's interior design—hanging pod chairs, succulents on the tables and geometric-patterned tiles—and By Chloe's highly curated artistic Instagram account.
Meanwhile, Coscarelli, who broke onto the food scene when she won Food Network's Cupcake Wars with her vegan chocolate strawberry shortcake cupcakes in 2010, helms the meat- and dairy-free menu, which offers several dishes that won over a group of decidedly meat-loving Tasting Table editors. It's "a mix between California-inspired with comforting classics made with a healthy twist on them," Coscarelli says. That includes burgers, mac and cheese, and cupcakes that vegans like herself might feel nostalgic for from their pre-vegan days and non-vegans won't find too intimidating.
While the menu includes a satisfying quinoa taco salad with warm spicy seitan chorizo, black beans, avocado and tortilla strips, and Coscarelli's signature Instagram-ready sweets like a giant crispy chocolate chip cookie, her guac burger has quickly become the star, helping drive the lines (yes, we are still in the age of guac).
The creamy, crunchy and just slightly spicy patty made with sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, salsa and guac is hard to put down, even for meat eaters. It sits comfortably in the camp of veggie burgers that don't try to imitate meat but confidently do their own thing.
"I love avocado. I'm obsessed with it; I probably eat avocado in some form at least three times a day," Coscarelli says. "So any type of veggie burger that centers around avocado is my kind of thing." Still, when the team started testing out recipes before the opening, Coscarelli got some anti-avocado feedback: "You have to understand not everyone loves avocado. So if you put it on every single item, that could be alienating," someone told her. "I was like, 'Well, I don't care; this is our restaurant, and we love avocado.' So we just kind of went with it," Coscarelli says.
The decision paid off. The recipe for the hit guac burger is closely guarded, but our Tasting Table Test Kitchen team came up with our own version, swapping corn salsa for the makings of salsa fresca that's mixed into our guac and topping it with tortilla chips from our neighborhood bodega instead of making them from scratch. It's not an exact replica, but it's just as hard to put down. Promise.