Going out to eat as a vegan does not have to be frustrating. This comprehensive guide will take all the struggle out of it so you can enjoy a meal away from home, no matter what the cuisine!
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Going out to eat should be a treat and a joy. Not only is it a time to socialize with friends and family, it's fun to take a night off from cooking and let someone else do the dirty work.
Yet for many vegans, it can feel like such a hassle to figure out if there's anything available for you to eat, especially if you aren't the one who chose the restaurant.
So today, I'm taking the struggle out of it for you. By the end of this, you're going to learn how to eat practically anywhere (even a steak house!) with just a few simple adjustments!
Plan Ahead of Time
One of my biggest tips is to plan plan plan ahead of time if at all possible. Obviously, sometimes this won't be an option if it's a last minute thing or plans change last minute and you end up somewhere you aren't familiar with.
If you can plan, first I'd start by trying to find their menu online. Give it a once over to see if there's anything you can work with. If the main menu isn't looking promising, check out the sides to see if you can put something together.
I would also go an extra step and give the restaurant a call. I know, we live in the age of being able to access everything online, and most of us HATE talking on the phone, but you may be surprised where it could get you.
One time, I found a menu online for a restaurant I was going to and there really weren't any options, but I gave them a call and they actually had a new separate vegan menu that wasn't posted online yet. What a great surprise!
I know we WANT everything to be up to date and current online, but that's just not the case for every business.
Attitude is Everything
I cannot stress this one enough. When speaking to the restaurant staff, whether it's the hostess, server, or chef, it's important to do so with respect and kindness. They are all usually overworked and underpaid, so their patience may already be stretched thin as it is.
the last thing you want is to annoy the kitchen staff and have them "mess with" your food!
Most restaurants are more than happy to help you figure out a great meal, especially if you have some ideas in mind already. Some chefs and servers are very familiar with vegan fare, and others may need a little reminder that that means no butter, milk, eggs, cheese, etc.
Speak to the staff with respect and come in with a kind attitude of collaboration. And of course, don't forget to leave a generous tip when they are especially helpful in accommodating your needs.
Check the Apps
Another great part about being in the age of technology is that we have so many apps that can help us find vegan grub right at our fingertips.
When trying to choose where to eat, especially in a new city, I like to start with the Happy Cow app. The app will give you lots of options depending on the filters you choose (vegan, vegetarian, veg-options, etc). So even if you're eating with others who don't want a full-on vegan restaurant, you'll know there are options for everyone.
Also, many restaurants have their own apps with updated menus. There you can often filter down to their veg options or look for the symbol (usually a "V" or a plant icon) on the full menu.
If you're wanting to stay in and have the food delivered, food delivery apps like DoorDash even have specific categories for "vegan near me" which will automatically sort restaurants for you. Turn on your location settings and watch the magic happen as you find and receive vegan food right to your front door.
Finding vegan food at restaurants can take a bit of creativity and innovation. Often, it's as easy as saying, "hold the cheese" or "no bacon please." Other times, the ingredients you're wanting to avoid are incorporated in a dressing or in a pre-mixed dish.
Sometimes, you'll find that once you've omitted all the non-vegan ingredients from a dish, you're not left with a whole lot. No one wants a boring salad with greens, tomatoes, and shredded carrots.
This is where you'll want to explore the menu to see what items they may have in the kitchen that you could add to your dish. See an avocado burger? Add the avo to your salad or pasta dish! A scoop of black beans or chickpeas. A crumbling of tofu if they have it. Even extra croutons can bring a sad salad back to life. And at the end of the day, a simple oil and balsamic vinegar dressing can save you from a dry salad when other dressings are full of dairy or egg products.
Common Substitutions and Options for Different Cuisines
Some restaurants are easier than others to make vegan-friendly, but I've learned some tips and tricks for pretty much all cuisine
Naturally, I'm starting with Thai because it's my all-time favorite cuisine, and I feel like it's uber easy to make vegan friendly. I love a good curry or lemongrass soup. Vegetable curry. Pad Thai. Vegetable rice dishes with tofu. Often, you can choose your protein for any of the dishes, and tofu is always available. Just be sure to ask if the dish contains egg, fish sauce, and if the curry paste is vegetarian.
There are so many options at Asian restaurants. Edamame and spring rolls for starters. Vegetable tempura and veggie sushi rolls. Even if you don't see a veggie sushi roll on the menu, just ask (with kindness!) and they can make you one for sure.
Miso soups, fried tofu, noodle soups, vegetable dumplings, vegetable fried rice. Again just make sure to ask about the egg, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. Those ingredients are sneaky!
Italian can be tricky with all the cheese but totally doable. Most pastas don't contain egg, but be sure to ask just to be sure. Pastas with marinara sauce, vegetable pastas, veggie flatbreads with no cheese, bruschetta, bean salads, bread with olive oil and balsamic. Just be sure to clarify no cheese/parmesan just to be sure it doesn't make it on the dish as a garnish.
Middle Eastern Restaurants
This is another super easy cuisine to order vegan. Hummus, falafel, pita bread, Greek salad, grilled veggie wraps, roasted eggplant, grilled veggies, couscous, tabouleh, rice. Just be sure to ask for no cheese or yogurt.
BBQ and Steakhouse Restaurants
Believe it or not, I've had a great meal at a steakhouse and didn't feel deprived at all. No, there's generally nothing on the main menu, but this is where the sides are your friends. Baked potato, sweet potato, broccoli, beans, french fries, vegetable chili, fried pickles. Just be clear that you don't want any cheese, sour cream, butter, mayo, and make sure none of their batters have buttermilk. Also ask if the veggies or beans have been cooked with bacon or bacon fat.
American restaurants can also be difficult, but there are usually a couple options to choose from. Of course, french fries, potato wedges, onion rings, and now even veggie burgers. Just be sure to ask about cheese, mayo, and eggs in the ingredients.
Gah I LOVE me some Mexican food, and it can be really easy to veg out. Salsa, guacamole, chips, veggie or bean burritos, fajitas, veggie tacos, veggie nachos. Just be sure to watch for cheese, sour cream, and lard. Ask if their rice is made with chicken broth as well.
Lentil dishes, curries, veggie samosa, naan bread, channa masala, and a lot of other great veg dishes. You'll just want to be sure they aren't made with butter, ghee, yogurt, or cream.
I'D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR FAVORITE WAYS FOR ORDERING VEGAN AT RESTAURANTS! LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW.