Nikki Green is a new fast-casual restaurant in Downtown Ithaca that brands itself as a “plant-based eatery.” This means it serves exclusively vegan food. If you think this means eating kale that actually tastes like plants, don’t give up yet. Nikki Green is trying to change this very stereotype by promoting the idea that healthy, natural food can be for everyone, not just vegans, is actually delicious, and is definitely Instaworthy. Staying true to the Ithaca vibe, the eatery emphasizes that its food is sourced from local farmers and vendors whenever possible.
When I walked into Nikki Green on my first visit, I was surprised by the décor and vibe I noticed right away. The hanging lights, wooden tables and chairs, and succulent plants dispersed for decoration seemed atypical of most Ithaca eateries, and more likely to be seen in a café in New York City’s Soho, or another trendy area. There was indie rock music playing low over the speakers, which also served to make the atmosphere calm and casual, as one would expect a vegan eatery to be.
Nikki Green offers four savory salad/grain bowls in small and large sizes, four sweet bowls made from bases like banana and açai, a soup of the day, avocado toast, and drinks such as matcha and tumeric lattes. Desserts, such as beetroot brownies and chocolate almond ‘bliss balls’ are displayed and listed in a glass case next to the cashier. An additional savory bowl was listed as a special on the day I visited.
Although I was excited to visit Nikki Green, I’ll admit I was a bit worried about finding something to eat. I’m a pretty picky eater, preferring to stick to certain specific foods especially when it comes to vegetables. I thought an entirely vegan menu would be pretty limited. However, the menu includes a variety of veggies and everyday ingredients, combined into pre-designed, aptly named bowls. I could tell a lot of time, thought and taste-testing went into creating each menu option, so I trusted that one would be to my liking.
When I asked which bowl was the most popular, I was given a ranking of the savory bowls according to how frequently customers order them. Although the ingredients are not right in front of you to pick and choose to make your own bowl, I was able to make substitutions and replace or remove ingredients I did not want based on other menu choices. I found that the division of the menu into two main categories of bowls made it much easier to navigate than a typical create-your-own type deal. I ended up ordering my own version of the “protein bowl,” filled with greens, nuts, some veggies, rice and tofu. The staff was very friendly, patient and helpful while I ordered my meal.
My order successfully undermined my initial hesitation. Not only was the bowl prepared beautifully, it was also delicious, satisfying and filling. I felt like I was eating ~clean~ but didn’t feel bad for myself while doing so, because it actually tasted good. The carefully curated mix of ingredients, like maple pecans and seasoned chickpea croutons, went surprisingly well together. I felt even better about eating healthy because I wasn’t breaking the bank. Many people assume healthy, natural food is excessively overpriced, but the food at Nikki Green is very reasonable.
A quick pass by Nikki Green makes it evident that it belongs in Ithaca. The convenience, affordability and overall vibe make it a great option for college students. To my surprise, when I came around early dinner time on a cold Friday night, I was the only college student, surrounded by a couple of adults ranging from younger women to two older white-bearded men. The owner said these individuals were typical of the adult customers who visit, but overall she has seen a split between college students and locals.
As a non-vegetable lover, I was a little skeptical about the idea of vegan food being for everyone, but a visit to Nikki Green made me realize it’s easier to eat healthy, wholesome food than we may often think. Nikki Green really is a great option for everyone here in Ithaca, from college students interested in new, trendy eating like quinoa nuggets and açai bowls, to locals concerned about natural, sustainable food products.