Veganism can be intimidating if you like to eat out because you can’t simply walk into any restaurant off the street and have a meal. Eating out requires a bit of planning and research since veganism is all about intentional eating and living: we care about where our food comes from and how it reaches our plate.
Fortunately, vegans have plenty of options when it comes to eating out. Thanks to the internet, researching vegan options at various restaurants is quick and easy, and over time you’ll learn which types of restaurants to seek out and which restaurants to avoid.
While I don’t recommend eating out because it is very expensive and less nutritious overall, if you like eating out and can afford it, by all means enjoy it!
Here are my tips for eating out:
Check Yelp reviews. If you have a restaurant in mind, browse their reviews on Yelp. Search for the keyword ‘vegan’ in the reviews. Hopefully, a fellow vegan left a review if the restaurant has vegan options. This will give you some idea about what’s available and the quality of the meal. Additionally, if you happen to enjoy a smashing vegan meal, help other vegans out by leaving a wee review on Yelp.
Call ahead. Even if you can find a menu online, it doesn’t hurt to call the restaurant in advance and inquire about their vegan options. Depending on the restaurant, some chefs may even prepare a special vegan meal, just for you! Or at the very least, they will give you all the information you need so you know which items on the menu are safe for vegans.
I find it’s easiest to tell restaurants you are allergic to eggs, milk, meat, and seafood. This way you can be certain the people preparing your food will honour your decision to avoid these ingredients. Not all chefs and cooks prepare meals with a blatant disregard for veganism (or dietary restrictions in general), but having worked as a chef, I can tell you that it is disturbingly common that those working in the restaurant industry couldn’t care less about it. In fact, they openly mock veganism and view it as a fad, so they rarely take it seriously. To be safe, just tell the restaurant you’re allergic!
Branch out. If your favourite restaurants don’t offer much, be adventurous and try new places. Check out Happy Cow for a list of vegan-friendly restaurants.
Beware of sneaky ingredients. Chefs love to add milk, cream, cheese, and butter to everything, so always ask about dairy. Make sure to ask about fish oil in Asian food, as well. I’ve been fooled a few times with pad thai. (Gross!) If you fancy chips or other fried foods, always ask if these are fried in the same fryer as meat or seafood.
Table bread is usually safe. Most bread is vegan. Sourdough, baguettes, pizza crust, and any standard white bread should be vegan. Exceptions do exist, as I’ve heard of pizza places brushing focaccia with butter, which is ridiculous because that is a far cry from traditional olive-oil based focaccia. Wheat bread may contain honey so ask the servers the verify it. Enriched bread (bread with a shinier crust that tastes a bit sweet) isn’t vegan because it contains eggs, milk, and/or butter. When in doubt, ask. (And if someone asks you if vegans can eat yeast, try not roll your eyes so hard that you do a backflip. Yeast is a fungus so yes, vegans can eat it and enjoy as much bread as we want.)
When in doubt, send it back. If you notice anything wrong with your meal, perhaps they sprinkled cheese on top of your pasta when you specifically asked several times for no cheese because you’re allergic, never feel bad about sending it back! You are paying for this meal, so it needs to be made exactly to your liking. Mistakes happen because cooks are so used to making dishes as they’re listed on the menu, so you need to be extra firm and remind them to skip the cheese! Politely explain to the server that you absolutely cannot eat cheese, because you are very allergic (like you mentioned earlier), and that you’d like a new, dairy-free entree instead.
These are generally safe options:
Pizza places. Traditional pizza dough and marinara (red) sauce is vegan. Even if a pizza place doesn’t have a vegan pizza listed on the menu, simply ask for a cheese-less pizza with red sauce (as opposed to white sauce, if they offer that) loaded with veggies. Remind them to hold the cheese. Vegan pizza without the addition of fatty vegan cheese is a healthy, high carb option that makes great leftovers for brekkie the following morning. Yum!
Sandwich shops or delis. Since most bread is vegan, you’ll always be able to find a vegan sandwich no matter where you are. Some sandwich chains like Subway and Quiznos offer vegetarian sandwiches on the menu. Local shops might not have veggie sandwiches on their menu, but they can easily whip up a sandwich full of veggies. Remember to skip the mayo and cheese, but feel free to season it or add oil and vinegar if you fancy those. Some places even offer hummus or guacamole if you’re lucky! I like Quiznos back in the States because they offer guacamole and mushrooms on their veggie subs. Subway is still my favourite, though, because you get more sub for your money and usually you can convince them to pile on the veg for no extra cost. Subway was a staple of mine on many road trips across the States!
Chipotle was another road trip staple since they’re widely available and affordable. All burrito fillings and wraps including both types of beans (yes, the pinto beans don’t contain pork any longer) are vegan with the obvious exception of meats, cheese, and sour cream.
Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Jamaican food. Ethnic restaurants all have vegan options and can easily veganize their vegetarian offerings. American restaurants, on the other hand, won’t offer much. You might need to settle for chips or various veggie sides. If you’re unlucky and find yourself stuck at a steak house for a meal, try ordering a plain baked potato and a few sides depending what they offer. Most restaurants, no matter how meat-heavy, can prepare plain steamed veggies, rice, or pasta.
All-vegan restaurants or cafés – obviously! If you are lucky enough to live near all-vegan restaurants or cafés, I would definitely choose these over non-vegan establishments. It will give you peace of mind knowing that the entire restaurant is free from animal products, plus your money directly supports vegan businesses and ideas.
Watch your budget.
Remember that eating out is extremely costly when you consider how much food (and the type of food) you receive. Preparing these meals at home costs a fraction of what you’d pay in a restaurant. You’re also able to control exactly what goes into your food, so your meals are healthier, lower in fat and salt. Cooking at home also gives you more practice in the kitchen. With more practice, you’ll learn that cooking isn’t as intimidating or as time-consuming as you’d expect.
If you can afford these meals, by all means go ahead, but don’t complain about the high cost of fruits and veggies. Unless you’re made of money, you can’t have it both ways. Just a wee rant!
This post is dedicated to my sister Donna, as she recently made the commitment to go vegan and I’m so proud of her! She asked me for eating out tips so I figured I could share them with others as well. I hope you find these tips useful!
Do you have any tips for eating out as a vegan?
What places or foods do you enjoy most when eating out?