Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated May 25, 2019.
Updated on May 25, 2019: I updated information about opening hours, and they also have a new website.
Original blog post:
Cafe Viva is a vegetarian restaurant on Manhattan’s upper West Side. I visited it back in May 2011, but put off writing the review until now.
I started this website to promote businesses which cater to vegan customers, so when I encounter a business which tries to do just that, but then gets it oh-so-wrong, it’s a huge disappointment. Hence the procrastination in writing this review.
Cafe Viva is quite literally the worst Italian restaurant I have ever visited.
I am lucky to live in Vienna, Austria, where we have many Italian-owned restaurants. After all, Italy borders on Austria, and Venice lies just across the border. I’ve eaten the best pizza in Italy, but many Italians live and work in Vienna, so we get the real deal, too. I love Italian food and all Italian restaurants usually have some vegan options (including pizza), even if they don’t specifically cater to vegetarians or vegans.
I stopped by Cafe Viva shortly after 11:00 AM, wanting to buy a slice of pizza before I continued with my day. The restaurant’s opening hours are listed as 11:00 AM to 10:45 PM (daily). Not true; it didn’t open until 11:45 AM. When it finally did open, I was disappointed right from the start: Cafe Viva isn’t much of a restaurant; it’s a take-out joint with a handful of tables alongside one wall. There’ only counter service, and you get your pizza served on a paper plate.
Rynn Berry had writen a positive review in The Vegan Guide to New York City, and recommended the Santa Rosa pizza (no cheese). I asked for a slice and it wasn’t available. My second choice, a slice of Zen pizza, was also not available, though both are listed on the menu.
I had to choose between pizza Naturale and a slice of Mother Earth (vegan back in May 2011, now prepared with mozzarella); I decided on Mother Earth: a whole wheat crust pizza with vegan soy meatballs, a light sauce, and some vegetables (US $ 5.40 including tax).
It tasted awful. Way too much sauce (advertised as “mild,” but quite spicy). The pizza was drowning in it. There’s not much more I can say. I’ve never had worse.
It makes me sad to write this review, I wish I could say something positive. I appreciate the owner’s decision to open a vegetarian Italian “restaurant” (take-out joint), but he doesn’t quite seem to understand that there are all kinds of vegetarians, all with very different dietary needs.
For example, Cafe Viva offers a few “vegan” choices – dishes served with soy cheese. However, a note was posted at the counter informing customers that their vegan cheese was in fact not vegan: it contained L. casei, which is produced in the stomachs of animals.
What’s the point of offering soy-based cheese pizzas, if vegans can’t eat them? Who are the target customers for these pizzas? Lactose-intolerant (but non-vegetarian) people? Even worse: the pizzas, which contained the non-vegan soy cheese, were listed as “vegan” on the menu.
It seems to me that the owner’s intentions are good, but that he seems to have no real understanding of his customers (and doesn’t seem to know much about strict vegan diets). That’s something I expect from restaurants which cater to omnivores, but not from a restaurant which specifically targets vegetarians.
There were a few 100% vegan dishes on the menu, but clearly they’re not available at all times. Maybe only for dinner? Or only for customers who order a whole pizza?
Who knows? Who cares? I won’t be coming back.
Address: 2578 Broadway at 97th Street, 10031 Manhattan.
Opening hours: Monday – Wednesday: 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM, Thursday: 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Friday: 11:00 AM – 11:30 PM, Saturday: 11:00 AM – 1:00 AM, Sunday: 11:00 AM – 12:30 AM.