Eating out as a vegan can at times be a challenge since what’s on the menu may not always fall within the scope of our dietary choices.
But no need to get demoralized! With a bit of creativity and ingenuity on your part, eating/dining out as a vegan doesn’t have to be challenging!
More and more restaurants are becoming sensitive to the dietary preferences of their patrons meaning it’s only getting easier by the day.
Do note that most restaurants use plant-based oils (since it’s much cheaper) such as corn oil, canola oil, soyabean oil, sunflower oil, yet some restaurants (especially upscale) may cook with butter, ghee, lard or animal fats (duck/goose). You can always request yours to be cooked plain or with plant-based oils instead.
With this guide and the tips & tricks we’ve put together, you would know a list of vegan meal options available in many of the popular restaurants in US & worldwide which can be helpful wherever you’re.
Vegan Eating Out Tips
1. Tech is Your Friend—Use Vegan Websites and Apps
The information age has made it that much easier and faster to find a suitable eatery, especially in an area you’re unfamiliar with.
A simple online search is a good place to start, with all the great apps and websites dedicated to helping users find suitable vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants wherever you’re.
When you’re searching for great vegan food near you, you’ll be presented with a collection of vegan or vegan-friendly options.
You will also see the reviews from customers who have already visited, which can be an invaluable resource for planning and be proactive.
Below is a list of resources you can turn to:
- Google Maps: enable GPS on your phone and just type “vegan” in the map search bar and you may get vegan restaurants nearest to you
- Happy Cow Site & App
- Vegman Site & App
- Veganxpress App
- VegGuide.Org: a crowdsourced guide to veg-friendly restaurants and shopping
- Trip Advisor
- Yelp: massive crowdsourced directory & likely to give you a number of local possibilities
- What the Health App: app for restaurant health inspection scores
- Ask your friends on social media
There are many reviews and ratings in these sites & apps, so you can read what others had to say about the restaurants. You’re bound to find what sort of food and beverages people tried, what they liked & disliked or how they altered certain menu items to be vegan. Tech is certainly an invaluable tool in your vegan eating out experience!
2. Check For Vegan Clues With Menu Codes
Once you find a vegan-friendly restaurant the next question is, how to order vegan food? This tip will certainly help you with that!
Many restaurants display small icons next to menu items which denote whether it’s vegan or vegetarian, similar to how they indicate whether it’s plain or spicy.
Keep an eye open for the following common menu symbols and what they denote:
- V+ : Vegan
- VE: Vegan (mostly vegan, but check the menu bottom to see what it denotes)
- VG: Vegan (mostly vegan, but check the menu bottom to see what it denotes)
- VA: Vegan Available
- VO: Vegan Option
- V: Either Vegan or Vegetarian (check the menu bottom to see what it denotes)
- A leaf: Either Vegan or Vegetarian (check the menu bottom to see what it denotes)
- VT: Vegetarian
The golden rule is, ask if anything is unclear to you to make sure it really is a vegan option. If the establishment only has vegetarian options, find out what the non-vegan ingredients are and simply ask for these to be omitted from your order, or replace with a vegan-friendly option. You’ll find dishes you can ‘veganize’ on almost every menu!
3. Do Your Homework—Check Restaurant Menus Online and Plan Ahead
In the real world of course, it simply isn’t always possible to find a restaurant that has vegan-friendly options. Friends’ birthdays, family get-togethers, work celebrations and other events all have to be attended at some point, but it doesn’t have to be an issue if you do some planning ahead of time.
Check online the menu of the venue and see what options are available to you so you don’t feel overwhelmed when you get there. See which items or ingredients you can easily avoid to leave you with a vegan-friendly alternative. For example, if the restaurant offers a beef or a chicken noodle stir fry, you could simply ask for the meat component to be left out of your order.
Don’t feel afraid to make inquiries before hand if you’re in doubt about any of the menu items.
4. Pick Up the Phone and Ask!
It might feel like you’re being a royal pain in the you-know-what, but the vast majority of restaurants would actually love to have the heads-up that you’ll be in attendance, and many even enjoy the challenge!
In either case, it is less stressful for both parties if the chefs know what they can prepare for you ahead of time, and you know you’ll be accommodated!
So don’t shy away from calling and discussing your vegan eating out options.
Have some suggestions ready, like asking if they could do a meat-free stir fry or cheese free pizza for you, and see what suggestions they might have in return.
Remember that some restaurants may have hidden menus (especially, vegan menus may be given only upon request) or items that just don’t appear on the menu, but they’re perfectly capable of preparing. While it isn’t the norm for every restaurant, it never hurts to ask, and you’re doing your bit to let them know that there’s a growing demand for vegan food.
5. Innovate and Get Creative With Existing Menu Items
Most restaurants offer at least a few vegetarian items, and these are often particularly easy to ‘veganize’. Simply ask for a dish that’s usually prepared with butter to be made with a suitable plant oil, or ask them to leave the cheese, dairy or eggs out of a vegetarian dish.
At times, when you omit an ingredient you may need another replacement just to make sure your consumption will be acceptable. Peruse the whole menu to get an idea of what suitable ingredients they already have in the kitchen that could make for good substitutes.
You could ask for a suitable replacement, like having more of your favorite toppings for a pizza, or mushrooms/tofu in place of eggs for example. If another menu item has pesto, salsa or guacamole in it for example, ask for this as a replacement for cheese on a baked potato or pizza. If they offer dishes that include mushrooms, spinach or extra garlic, these can be substituted for meat items in pasta dishes.
Use your creativity and you might just come up with something equally good or even better than the original! As always, don’t feel shy to ask in order to make the vegan eating out experience pleasant.
Make sure to use the word ‘replace’ or ‘substitute’, so that if you’re lucky you won’t be charged anything extra!
If there aren’t any obvious substitutes on the menu, take a look at the side orders, many of which may well be vegan-friendly. Combine a couple of side orders of veggies like spinach, baked beans, cauliflower, baked potatoes, and onion rings or ask any of your other favorites to be bumped up to a full plate.
Another great way to compensate for any limited or unappetizing food options is to consider a fancy beverage you wouldn’t normally have. Think of an unusual cocktail, mocktail you haven’t tried before, a craft brew or something entirely new just to make it special and fun!
6. Completely Out Of Options? Eat Before You Go!
Let’s face it, there are some restaurants that just really aren’t designed to cater to vegans, and that’s fine.
Take the pressure off by having a snack or light meal before you attend so you won’t be completely ravenous and feel left out.
If you don’t have time to grab something from home, make sure to munch on some fruits, granola, muesli or other healthy snack before the event, and then you won’t feel deprived if all you can have is a plate of chips and maybe a salad!
Again, making sure you do your homework before the event is key in knowing that this might be your only option.
7. Leave Reviews and Comments
If a restaurant has gone out of their way to make your vegan eating out experience a pleasant one, make sure to leave a glowing review and mention that they catered for your vegan requirements. This not only rewards them for making the effort, but lets other vegans know that this is a spot they can count on. If you were disappointed at the options available, leave a polite and constructive comment.
Any restaurant worth their salt will be paying attention to the reviews they receive online or comment cards, and will be sure to make steps towards catering for requests they see coming up often. By doing so, you’re adding your voice to the demand for vegan food, and also help other vegans to let more options open to them in the future.
If they don’t want to be left behind, they will surely look at expanding their offerings and consider including some vegan options on the main menu!
8. Be Clear & Gentle, But Never Technical
It makes it so much easier for both the waitstaff and the chef if they know exactly what the limitations are so they can prepare your meal accordingly. So try to avoid confusion and be clear in what you require from them.
When making your requests, smile, be polite, and friendly! Ask what vegan options they have, but be mindful that not everyone understands exactly what ‘vegan’ really means.
Instead, explain to them exactly what you don’t eat—mention meat, fish, milk (dairy), cheese, eggs, honey, etc., rather than saying ‘all animal products’ for example. Don’t grill the waiter on every minute detail unless you have a genuine allergy or medical condition. Use clear, plain language to keep it as simple as possible.
Remember that people are going to be far more likely to do their best for you if you have a respectful and polite approach.
9. Keep It Light, Positive and Cheerful!
There’s really very little point in expecting the moon and stars from a restaurant that just isn’t vegan-friendly, so keep your expectations realistic and you won’t be disappointed.
Note that each experience with non-vegan friends is an opportunity to showcase the vegan lifestyle in a good light.
Hence, the way we project ourselves to everyone else is absolutely important! Last thing we want is to give an impression that vegans are overly demanding, rude, impossible to please, this way of eating is terribly complicated or vegans simply can’t have a good time which makes dining with them a nightmare.
Conversely, you should very well know you’re one of the nicest people on earth being a vegan. So why spoil it over a meal, which may even fail our animal friends? That is why we always say, that being vegan isn’t about being perfect, it’s about doing our best. A bit of compromise if at all, may get us a great deal further than being nitpicky or technical about every minuscule ingredient in a dish.
Just be relaxed, easy-going and friendly so that you may even change some minds to consider pursuing a vegan lifestyle. Be cheerful with the lively company you have and enjoy the moment!
Now you have all the arsenal as a vegan to eat practically anywhere!
Read Further to Know Vegan Options in Different Types of Restaurants!
Here, we’ll offer some advice on specific restaurant categories, starting off with vegan eateries which are a vegan’s dream and work our way down towards restaurants which might appear at first glance to be a vegan’s nightmare.
Having said that, even in the most unlikely places like seafood restaurants we’ll show, how you can create your own vegan food!
Do note that, pricier restaurants are more accommodating in general to specific dietary requests.
List of Vegan Restaurants
Eating out at a vegan restaurant is a delightful experience for any vegan.
Not just one or two options, but an entire menu devoted for you!
Aside from the ease & variety a vegan restaurant has to offer, it’s always a great feeling that you’re supporting a business that’s in line with your values.
This is also a wonderful way to show non-vegan friends, just how amazing vegan food can be and you may even meet some new like-minded vegan friends who share your values.
Check our list of vegan restaurants here.
Vegan Options in Other Vegan-Friendly Restaurants
While you still have to be careful to avoid accidentally ordering something that contains eggs or dairy, vegetarian restaurants are still a great vegan-friendly opportunity, as so many of the menu items can be easily ‘veganized’ or are already vegan.
Older vegetarian restaurants may be a bit behind the times and rely heavily on cheese and eggs in most of their dishes, so you need to pay attention, but they’re still an excellent choice. Most of the newer vegetarian establishments will have been more aware of the increasing interest in vegan food, and will probably have more vegan-friendly options.
The other benefit of many vegetarian restaurants is the opportunity for buffets and as a result, you have the ability to control and choose a variety of vegan food making your meal completely vegan. Even if there is no buffet, vegetarian restaurants being a good vegan-friendly option for a vegan to dine, you will still have many vegan choices by keeping eggs, dairy, and cheese out.
Some cuisines of certain countries can be remarkably vegan-friendly, while for others you need to use a bit of right brain (your creative mind) to veganize! Either way, we have begun with most vegan-friendly cuisines to the least options, yet showing how each cuisine can be adapted to your advantage.
i. Restaurants with Ethiopian Cuisine
Ethiopian food is a good option for vegans, as eggs and cheese are hardly used.
Due to the religious influence in the region to observe Lent (where they’re obliged to avoid all animal products during the season), the Ethiopian cuisine is very accommodating and has many vegan-friendly options.
Where you do need to be careful is with injera, where a topping of sour cream may occasionally be used. In some recipes clarified butter (ghee) taken from yaks may be used for frying, so you would need to ask for a suitable plant oil to replace this.
Luckily, because the traditional butter option is more expensive, many Ethiopian restaurants are already using vegetable oils as a replacement for their entrées.
Try some of the following traditional Ethiopian dishes which are vegan-friendly—injera, yetsom beyaynetu (a veggie platter), shiro wat, misir wat, couscous, and salata. Just make sure they use vegetable oils, do not garnish the final dish with sour cream and you’ll have a great variety of dishes to choose from at an Ethiopian restaurant.
ii. Restaurants with Middle Eastern & Mediterranean Cuisine
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants are some the most vegan-friendly restaurants as the cuisine has many plant based options.
By simply avoiding meat dishes except for tzatziki (a sauce made with yogurt) almost everything will be vegan!
Choose from delicious vegan options like falafel, tahini, ful medames (cooked fava beans in olive oil), hummus, baba ghanoush, couscous, dolmas, tabbouleh and pita bread.
iii. Restaurants with Mexican Cuisine
Mexican food is also a great vegan-friendly choice, and boasts a great variety of extremely healthy options as well!
Their emphasis on fresh tomatoes, avocado, and vegetables combined with quality protein sources like beans, and corn tortillas are as satisfying and filling as they are nutritious and health promoting!
Choose from delicious options like bean or vegetable burritos, vegetable tacos, corn or wheat tortillas, beans, rice, guacamole, vegetable fajita, corn chips, vegetable chimichanga, salsa, and seasoned or pickled vegetables that are all vegan options you have!
Another useful practice in Mexican restaurants for vegans is that they tend to list all of the ingredients of each meal on their websites, very useful for the vegan who likes to plan ahead and prefers not to go through the hassle of asking counter staff for information!
A few things to be cautious however is, you may need to ask that rice is not prepared with chicken broth, and make sure to avoid lard, sour cream and cheese in your order.
Due to the popularity of Mexican food, there are plenty of Mexican restaurant chains. Have a look at some of the burrito chains below and see the vegan options you have:
Taco Bell: Taco Bell has really gone out of their way recently to accommodate the growing vegan market, and you can even find a list of their “vegan certified” ingredients on their website to make your life much easier! Have a look at the ingredient statement which opens the way for making all sorts of creative decisions for vegan options at taco bell!
- Here are some ideas:
- Taco Salad: Substitute the beef with beans at no extra charge and leave out the sour cream and cheese. Feel free to add potatoes, guacamole, and red sauce to suit your taste buds.
- Bean Burrito or Black Bean Burrito: Ask for no cheese and add in potatoes or guacamole, or try it ‘Fresco Style’, which means to remove the cheese and replace it with salsa fresca (pico de gallo).
- Seven-Layer Burrito: Order it without sour cream and cheese, and to that add potatoes with salsa fresca (pico de gallo). Add some red sauce for a spicy kick.
- Crunchwrap or Double Decker Taco: Ask for beans instead of beef, and hold the cheese and sour cream.
- Tostada: Order it without cheese or creamy chipotle sauce, and add chunky salsa or guacamole at a small extra fee.
- Tacos: Ask for beans instead of beef and no cheese. You can add pico de gallo and guacamole to make them extra delicious.
- Mexican Pizza: Replace beef with beans and remove the cheese, and add some guacamole to the toppings as well.
- Veggie Power Burrito: Ask for it without cheese, sour cream, and avocado ranch sauce (which is not vegan) and you’re good to go.
- Cinnamon Twists (vegan dessert sorted!)
- Chipotle: Now offers Sofritas, which is organic tofu braised with peppers and spices! You can order it in a bowl, burrito, taco, or with a salad. Another option is black or pinto beans and brown or white rice. The restaurant also has a great selection of vegan toppings, fajita veggies, lettuce, guacamole, and salsas.
- Taco Del Mar: Vegan mondo burrito and mondito vegan burrito, tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells, salad shell, rice, black beans, whole pinto beans, refried beans, and guacamole are options you have. Sauces: salsa, habanero, and green sauce. Taco del mar is doing us a favor since they list every single vegan option they offer!
Qdoba: Make your choice of burrito, taco, or salad bowl with the following vegan ingredients: corn or flour tortillas, black beans, brown or cilantro-lime rice, fajita vegetables, grilled vegetables, salsa fresca (pico de gallo), potatoes, guacamole, pinto beans, and most salsas. The tortilla soup is definitely worth a try!
iv. Restaurants with Italian Cuisine
Italian food, with its heavy emphasis on tomatoes and veggies, is likewise a great choice for vegans. Just bear in mind that chains that make their own fresh pasta might use egg whites, whereas almost all dried pasta is vegan.
Ask beforehand if in any doubt, but in theory, something like spaghetti with marinara sauce is likely to be vegan, as is pizza with the cheese left off (some pizza doughs/crusts & sauces may not be vegan; refer more options at Pizza Fusion under fast casual restaurants, and Pizza Hut, Domino’s under fast food restaurants below).
Independently-owned pizzerias usually make their own pizza dough from scratch with just flour, yeast, water, and a pinch of sugar and salt, which is of course completely vegan.
Pick your vegan options from some of these delicious dishes: bruschetta, caponata, verdure grigliate (grilled vegetables), minestra di verdure (vegetable soup), carciofoallaromana (marinated artichokes), sorbet, bean salads, olives, bread with olive oil and balsamic, and salads.
v. Restaurants with Indian Cuisine
As Indian cuisine is renowned for its vegetarian options, you might think it’s a no brainer for finding vegan options. While this is often the case, there are actually fewer minor irritations you may have to deal with!
Unfortunately, dairy products like ghee and butter can sometimes creep their way undetectably into dishes that might look to all intents and purposes like a vegan option. You will just need to clarify that these don’t slip accidentally into your meal.
Once that’s out of the way, there’s a huge variety of options to choose from, like vegetable samosa, dosas, vegetable pakora, meduvada, saag, dal, rice, channa masala(curried chick peas), naan bread and heaps of vegetable dishes. Ask your waiter or chef to omit any yogurt, butter, ghee, cream or paneer (cheese), and you’re all set for some spicy goodness!
vi. Restaurants with Chinese Cuisine
As long as you make it clear to your server exactly what you don’t eat, there are plenty of vegan options available at a Chinese restaurant.
There are few things to be wary of, as many restaurants use chicken or fish stock in many of their sauces and soups, even in dishes that might appear vegan, like the tofu, and vegetable dishes.
Some meals such as lo mein are often prepared with eggs, so keep your eyes open and ask the waiter about any dishes you aren’t 100% clear.
It’s very important to communicate exactly what it is you don’t want in your dishes, as just saying you’re vegan might be open to a lot of interpretations!
Explain that you don’t consume any meat, (mention chicken and fish in particular), milk, cheese, butter, eggs, honey, fish or chicken broth, fish sauce or lard. Yep, it is quite the list, but it’s really the only way to make sure you don’t get served something you don’t want. The more clear and specific you are, the less likely your chef is to be confused about.
Once the message is conveyed clearly, you have delicious vegan options like:
Appetizers: Veggie spring roll, steamed vegetable dumplings, pickled cabbage and cucumber, noodles with sesame sauce, chinese scallion pancakes (cong you bing), fried tofu nuggets, and salad with ginger dressing.
Soups: Vegetarian hot and sour, tofu vegetable, and vegetable.
Entrées: Vegetable fried rice (specify no eggs), steamed rice, vegetable lo mein, steamed vegetables, sautéed green beans, sautéed snow peas, fresh asparagus, sautéed broccoli, chinese bean curd, tofu with black mushrooms and bean sprouts, chinese eggplant, szechuan tofu or seitan, veggie chow mein, and buddha’s delight.
vii. Restaurants with Thai Cuisine
Your vegan options in a Thai restaurant are a bit more limited, but one great option is to order your own plate of veggies and tofu made with plain coconut milk, seasoned with just salt and lemon juice and accompanied by jasmine rice.
Even without the curry component, the coconut milk makes this a nice treat all on its own, or you have the option of adding some stir fried vegetables too. Just make sure to ask that they are prepared with soy sauce rather than fish sauce and you have quite a vegan meal full of flavor!
Of course, don’t forget what is perhaps the most popular and well known Thai dish in the West, pad thai.
This satisfying and filling meal is made with rice noodles prepared in a tamarind sauce and often served with a garnish of crunchy mung bean sprouts and chopped peanuts. Phone the restaurant ahead of time and find out if they can prepare an egg-free version for you.
If all else fails, you won’t have to look far for dessert, even at the least accommodating Thai restaurant, the popular, sweet sticky rice with mango which is always vegan!
Your main guidelines with Thai restaurants is to ask that dishes are made without eggs, fish sauce and that they use a vegetarian curry paste. Once this is clear, you can look forward to options like vegetable cold rolls, green mango salad, lemon grass or coconut soup, vegetable curries and rice dishes.
viii. Restaurants with French Cuisine
Unfortunately, French cuisine can present quite a challenge for vegan diners as they are so fond of using butter and cream in their recipes, but there are always options available to the innovative vegan!
Combine dishes to create your own meal from options like fresh crudités, steamed veggies, vegetable soups, roasted vegetable platters, bread, and salads.
Another delicious option is the familiar favorite Ratatouille—just ask that yours is prepared without a meat based stock.
A few things to watch out for:
Sauteed veggies are sometimes finished off with chicken stock and a knob of butter, so ask for this to be omitted in your order. Some other dishes like side vegetables and vegetable lasagna may also be prepared with chicken stock in them, so it might be a good idea to phone ahead and request whether they could arrange a plant based stock to prepare your food.
The French tend to prepare their mashed potato with what seems like equal parts potato and butter, and even vegetable soups may include chicken stock. If you’re really out of options, you’ll be safe with a baguette and a large salad with an oil-based dressing.
Golden rule, remember to ask about butter, cream, and chicken or beef stock.
ix. Restaurants with Japanese Cuisine
While Japanese cuisine has a strong connection with fish in the minds of most Westerners, there are actually a lot of dishes that are vegan-friendly too.
Remember that famous longevity-boosting Okinawan Diet? It is actually very low in fish, only about half a serving per day, so the more traditional recipes were almost vegan.
However, to adapt to the tastes of Westerners, the modern Japanese restaurants have taken to including Japanese soup stock or dashi, (which contains bonito or fish extract) in almost every dish. Bonito flakes are often sprinkled as garnish or topping too.
But with this foreknowledge, it becomes quite easy to avoid menu items that contain them, while the experience of broadening your culinary horizons with Japanese cuisine may be well worth the hassle!
Choose vegan toppings (or neta), and there are a wide variety of vegan sushi options open to you. Sushi rolls with avocado and other vegetables, avocado nigiri, kappa cucumber roll, natto (or fermented soybeans), edamame (young green soybeans served boiled, with a pinch of salt), oshinko (Japanese pickle roll), ume (Japanese plum roll), horenso (spinach roll), shiitake mushroom roll are just some of the options!
Also keep an eye open for kampyo (dried gourd strips often seasoned with soy sauce and sugar), ohitashi (boiled leafy greens, such as spinach), miso soup (made with fermented soybeans) and tofu dishes.
As you can see, as long as the restaurant staff knows you don’t want Bonito or eggs, there’s a huge variety on offer for a vegan meal.
Fine Dining Restaurants
Times are changing in the world of fine dining, and your days of having to be content with a salad are over!
This means it’s truly an exciting time for us vegans; not to mention that there are many dedicated vegan restaurants that tend to fall under the category of fine dining!
With interest in the vegan movement growing, the world’s top chefs are taking note in their quest to stay on trend and remain competitive, and menus are starting to reflect it.
Top restaurants are realizing that there’s a big market they’re missing out if they don’t offer more plant-based, vegan-friendly dishes on the menu.
Next in Chicago: In 2013, Chef Grant Achatz surprised his patrons when he wowed customers with an innovative vegan-only menu. Today, the restaurant offers some delectable vegan dishes comprised of unusual ingredients like rambutan shells, purple potato skins, asparagus with wine poached pears, avocado-lime puree, tempeh bites, artichokes, a cornucopia of different mushrooms, curry roasted cauliflower, and cherry-blossom & almond dessert just to mention a few!
Freds at Barneys: For a larger meal at Freds at Barneys Beverly Hills and Chicago restaurants, go for the whole wheat pizza topped with vegan cheese! If you love your healthy vegan snacks, then you’re in for a treat with crudités with a trio of raw vegan cashew dips and dips flavored in a variety of ways such as hummus style, sundried tomato basil, and castelvetrano olive.
Slurping Turtle in Chicago: Take a look how ramen has been reinvented and Chef Takashi Yagihashi’s vegan take comprised of shoyu tofu mushroom ramen with rice noodles, vegetable broth, edamame, soft tofu, Japanese mushroom medley, fried brussel sprouts, asparagus, trio of vegetarian kimchi, eggplant, kabocha squash, and chili oil!
Tanta Chicago: Peruvian food is something we don’t get to explore often, but Chef Jesus Delgado has started to offer some easily veganized dishes like the quinoa solterito, which is a quinoa salad served with lima bean hummus, beets, and tomatoes. Just avoid cheese.
The Corner Office Restaurant and Martini Bar (Denver, Colorado): Try their vegan pho made of rice noodles, miso broth, mushrooms, and jalapeno.
Departure in Portland (Oregon): Vegan options include misozuke carrot roll, edamame, brussels sprouts and long beans, as well as their carrot and avocado salad served with pickled cucumber.
Casual Dining Restaurants
Sitting somewhere between fine dining and fast casual, casual dining restaurants are the kind of place you go for a night out with friends that offers good food, a relaxed atmosphere and prices that won’t blow the budget.
For vegans, these vegan-friendly chain restaurants are a good option for finding items that are either already vegan or can be easily made so with a few tweaks.
While the chefs might not be able to go all out customizing like in a fine dining establishment, you have the advantage of seeing their menus and ingredients available online, meaning you can plan ahead.
While these restaurants tend to be of the chain variety, the chefs might want to stand out from their rivals and impress with vegan food! They tend to offer a good selection of drinks, wine and beer too.
Olive Garden: Because the ‘butter’ topping is made with soy instead of dairy, the Olive Garden’s famous breadsticks are vegan! Many of the pasta dishes are vegan-friendly as well. Angel hair, cavatappi, fettuccine, spaghetti, gluten-free rotini, rigatoni, bruschetta caprese (request without cheese), small shells, and whole-wheat linguine, topped with the vegan marinara sauce or kid’s tomato sauce are all vegan options at olive garden. The minestrone is now free from dairy at all locations, so you can order the soup, salad, and breadsticks combo. Just remember to hold the croutons (made with butter & milk) and choose the oil and vinegar dressing. Order a side of steamed broccoli to complement your meal.
- P.F. Chang’s China Bistro: With a section of their menu devoted just for veggie items (which are already vegan), this is a great option for vegans. Their food just happens to be excellent, amazingly affordable and served in generous portions too!
TGI Friday’s: Hold the cheese or sour cream, and the nachos on offer at TGI Fridays become a vegan treat served with tortilla chips, jalapeños, salsa fresca (pico de gallo) and guacamole. Accompany it with the house salad served with balsamic or cilantro-lime vinaigrette, and enjoy the Jack Daniel’s Sauce and BBQ sauces which are both vegan and go well with the crispy fries or Cajun onion rings.
Denny’s: Veganize the veggie burger by holding the cheese and butter, go for the garden salad with the light Italian dressing or choose Fit Fare Veggie Skillet by asking them to omit the egg whites.
Chili’s: At Chili’s your options include the tostada chips and salsa as an appetizer, followed by the veggie quesadillas where you can ask to have the cheese and sour cream replaced with extra vegetables. Another option is the Cadillac Fajitas served without meat.
IHOP: At IHOP, for vegan options, you can choose from hash browns, fresh fruits, grits, sautéed spinach and mushrooms, plain baked potatoes or a salad with the fat-free or regular raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
- Ruby Tuesday: Their Endless Garden Bar is a great place to create your own custom vegan salad.
- Johnny Rockets: Try The Streamliner, a vegan Boca burger served with a topping of grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mustard.
- Applebee’s: Explore the following vegan options—chips and salsa as an appetizer with a topping of extra grilled onions, sides like baked or crispy red
potatoes, french fries, mexi rice, and fruit sides. Hold the cheese and usual dressing for the house salad. Avoid cheese, chicken, shrimp and usual dressing for the following: fiesta chicken chopped salad, grilled shrimp ‘n spinach salad or grilled oriental chicken salad. Choose from fat-free Italian or champagne vinaigrette for your dressing, and add your favorite sauce to your order from a choice of guacamole, black bean corn salsa.
Fast Casual Restaurants
Fast-casual finds its place somewhere between casual dining and fast food restaurant chains.
The idea is to offer quick and fairly affordable meals that are relatively healthier and contain fewer processed ingredients. You can expect the food to be slightly expensive than fast food outlets.
Like so many sectors of the food industry, these chains are also starting to cater for plant-based patrons and those looking for healthier alternatives.
By adding quick options like bean burgers, vegan pizzas, dairy free options and more filling and comprehensive salads, these establishments find it relatively easy to offer vegan options without losing out on cost and speed of service—a win-win all around for them and for their vegan clientele.
Lyfe Kitchen: You’re in luck with Lyfe Kitchen, because they already have a fully vegan menu! Branches are open in California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, and New York. You’ve got heaps of options here: tofu wrap, sweet corn chowder, edamame hummus plate, vegan kale caesar, baked garlic sweet potato fries with vegan chipotle aioli, tofu tacos, crispy Gardein (meat substitute brand) chicken sandwich, art’s unfried Gardein chick’n, vegan burger topped with vegan Daiya cheese, crispy scallopini & shishito sandwich, quinoa crunch wrap and pomegranate sangria.
Pizza Fusion: Leading the pack for vegan pizza options, Pizza Fusion offers not one but two vegan cheese options! Choose from Daiya or Follow Your Heart brands, and their dough and sauces are vegan too.
Bruegger’s Bagels: Bruegger’s vegetarian sandwiches can all easily be made vegan by leaving off the cheese and dressing. They also offer several suitable breakfast and lunch bagel options, including blueberry, chocolate chip, cinnamon-sugar, cinnamon raisin, cranberry-orange, pretzel, pumpernickel, and rosemary–olive oil bagels. Add fresh vegetables, Dijon mustard or vegan hummus spread as a topping for your savory bagel.
Dig Inn: With a helpful menu that has all vegan items clearly labeled, you have the choice of creating your own custom vegan meal! Pick from ingredients like brown rice, tofu, sautéed kale, sweet potatoes, and wash it down with watermelon lemonade.
- Panera Bread: Choose from the Mediterranean veggie sandwich (just hold the feta), black bean soup or vegetable soup without pesto.
- Boston Market: Take your pick from cinnamon apples, customized veggie sandwiches, fresh steamed vegetables, rice pilaf and cranberry walnut relish.
- Burger 21: Try the black bean or Greek burger ordered on a wheat bun without the feta spread to make your burger vegan.
- Culvers: The following options are vegan-friendly: crinkle cut fries, dinner rolls, apple slices, lemon ice, fries, applesauce, sweet and sour dipping sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and raspberry vinaigrette. Ask them to hold the cheese and meat on any of their salad options, and some branches also offer vegan soups.
- Newk’s Eatery: Offers a vegan grilled veggie salad with zucchini, aubergine, and asparagus layered with fresh roasted corn, sundried tomatoes, green onions, and crisp romaine lettuce. They also offer a large assortment of vegan dressings such as ginger & wasabi, Greek dressing, balsamic vinaigrette and sherry vinaigrette.
Noodles & Co.: Oodles of vegan noodles! Pick from five dedicated vegan dishes: the Chinese chop salad without wontons (dumplings), the Indonesian peanut sauté, the Japanese pan noodles, the Penne Rosa (ask them to hold the cream and cheese), and the whole grain Tuscan Fresca. You also have the option to add tofu to any dish to make it more satisfying.
- El Pollo Loco: Simply order the BRC burrito without cheese for a vegan option, and accompany it with a vegan side like pinto beans and corn on the cob.
- Five Guys: Choose from their Cajun or regular fries, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, grilled or raw onions, pickles, and tomatoes.
- Elevation Burger: They offer two veggie burgers and one is a vegan option, which can be served either on a bun or as a lettuce wrap. You can also order mandarin oranges and fruit cups as a sweet snack.
Fast Food Restaurants – Vegan Fast Food Options
While they might seem far from your first choice when looking for a vegan eatery, life gets in the way, or due to some other reason, we might be left with no option but to get a meal from a fast food chain.
But even fast food chains are waking up to the demand for fast food vegan options, and you might even find some really pleasant surprises!
Almost anywhere you go, you’re usually safe with at least the fries, salad or baked potato, and veggie patties for burgers are becoming a vegan fast food option almost everywhere.
What might surprise you is how many other hidden gems there can be on the menu for the vegan who has their eyes open. Read on to find out more on vegan fast food options!
Subway: One of the biggest and fastest growing restaurant chains in the world, Subway specializes in, you guessed it, subs or submarine sandwiches. What’s really great about this place for vegans is that you’re in complete control of what you choose, and there are many vegan-friendly options to choose from! Even better, they are always expanding their range of vegan and vegetarian options, so don’t feel shy to ask about new exciting additions to the menu.
- Here’s a list of vegan food you can choose at Subway:
- Bread options:
- Hearty Italian
- Salad selection (as a salad bowl or for the sub)
- Shredded lettuce
- Green peppers
- Red onions
- Yellow mustard
- Deli brown mustard
- Sweet onion sauce
- Fat-free Italian dressing
- Apple slices
- Lay’s Classic potato chips
- Oven Baked Lay’s
- SunChips Original
- White Castle: Vegan breakfast options include maple & brown sugar oatmeal with your choice of berry blend or Harvest Nut Blend oatmeal topping, and for a lunchtime meal you have the option of vegan veggie sliders with optional Sweet Thai sauce.
Starbucks (refer our full Starbucks vegan guide): All the basic drinks are vegan, and you usually have the option of soy, almond or even coconut milk to go with them, although there may be a small additional charge. Enjoy a hot or iced coffee, and feel free to add a flavored sweetener syrup like vanilla, caramel, or hazelnut! Hot or iced tea is another vegan option. Remember to mention your choice of plant milk first, and then remember to exclude the following ingredients: whipped cream, java chips (in the java chip Frappuccino and double chocolaty chip Frappuccino), protein powder (sometimes added to smoothies), and caramel drizzle (caramel macchiato and caramel Frappuccino). Starbucks also offers a sesame noodle dish with ingredients like broccoli, carrots, red pepper, snap peas, tofu, pickled cucumbers, and sesame peanuts, and you even get a free accompanying Starbucks dark chocolate for dessert! Other vegan-friendly options include the hearty veggie & brown rice salad bowl, plain or multigrain bagels, classic or blueberry oatmeal and the Seasonal Harvest Fruit Blend.
Pizza Hut (full vegan guide here): Pizza isn’t just about cheese anymore with Pizza Hut’s Thin ‘N Crispy or Hand-Tossed pizza crusts, which are both vegan! For some extra zing, try adding the salted pretzel flavoring or having some fries along with your order. For your sauce, you could choose from the classic marinara sauce, premium crushed tomato sauce or even the buffalo sauce which are all vegan. Now for picking your exciting toppings, load on the mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions, Peruvian cherry peppers, red onions, black olives, rocket, green bell peppers, roquito peppers, banana peppers, pineapple, jalapeños, and Roma tomatoes. To finish off your meal, the cinnamon sticks with icing dip are up for grabs too.
Domino’s: Make sure to choose the thin crust as other options may not be vegan, accompanied by the regular sauce, and pile on all the veggie toppings available. For something special, why not order some of the dips? The garlic sauce, barbecue sauce, hot buffalo sauce, and Italian dips are all vegan-friendly and make an interesting addition to any pizza.
Dunkin’ Donuts: Though sadly, none of the actual doughnuts are vegan, there are nonetheless quite a few options here. You could order the cinnamon raisin bagel or cinnamon raisin bagel twist, hash browns, English muffin, french roll, and pretzel twist. All drinks can be ordered with almond milk instead of dairy, just make sure to ask for no whip. Choose coffee (in blueberry, caramel, cinnamon, hazelnut, mocha, peppermint raspberry, and toasted almond flavors), espresso, hot or iced latte, peppermint mocha latte and turbo shot. Other beverage options include coolatta (in frozen arnold palmer, mango passion fruit, minute maid orange, and strawberry flavors), tea (hot or iced, in blueberry, raspberry, earl grey, green, peach, and sweet flavors).
Wendy’s: This is another place that surprises with their vegan-friendly menu items! Wendy’s fries are made with plant oil with the skin on and are sprinkled with sea salt, and the baked potato is also an option if you hold butter, cheese, and sour cream. For a fresh snack, try the apple slices or garden side salad—remember to ask for no croutons (made with butter & milk), but you have the option of adding some extra zing with apple slices, extra tomatoes or red onion with vegan dressing. The Asian cashew chicken salad is easy to veganize by holding the chicken and asking for extra cashews instead. It’s already a large salad crammed with edamame and peppers, so is surprisingly filling. Likewise, the veggie sandwich can be made vegan by replacing the mayo with ketchup and mustard, and also you can hold the chicken and cheese crumbles for the apple pecan chicken salad. For something different, try the Frywich, which is a veggie sandwich with fries inside! Some locations also offer a black bean burger which you can order with ketchup instead of cheese or ranch sauce.
- Burger King: While there aren’t endless options, you’re safe with the garden salad, fries, and hash browns. To sweeten the deal, the French toast sticks and Dutch apple pie are both vegan!
- McDonald’s: Let’s face it, not the most appealing place to a vegan. Believe it or not, even the fries are made with added beef flavoring – gasp! If you do find yourself with no other option, however, you can get away with creating a custom sandwich from a bun or wheat tortilla and adding lettuce, onions, mushrooms, pickle slices, and tomato. The side salad is another vegan option, and you can create a bit of interest by adding chili lime, tortilla strips, diced apples, grape tomatoes, leaf lettuce, and a lime wedge. For breakfast, you can order the oatmeal with fruit and without cream. For drinks, you’re always safe with a good old-fashioned black coffee, apple juice, orange juice or iced tea.
- KFC: Again, not a vegan favorite, but at least the fries are safe as they’re made separately in vegetable oil! You can also order corn on the cob without the butter, or the green beans and house salad with optional golden Italian light dressing.
- Dairy Queen (DQ): Vegan beverages available include the Arctic Rush (previously Mr. Misty) range such as Blue Raspberry, Cherry, Grape, Lemon Lime, and Strawberry Kiwi. For a small meal, the side salad with balsamic vinaigrette or Italian dressing is suitable, along with the french fries, hash browns, banana, and lays crisps (barbecue and classic).
Steak, Barbecue/BBQ, and Seafood Restaurants
At first glance, these restaurants could appear to give you a conscience explosion, though beneath the surface, there are actually a few plant-based options for the innovative vegan dinner!
With a bit of creativity and clever customizing, you might just be able to show your non-vegan friends that a vegan can still make it in a carnivore’s den! Because the menus tend to be quite simple, it’s actually relatively easy to create your own custom meal from the ingredients on offer.
Just be on the lookout for veggies that might be prepared in butter or lard and ask specifically for yours to be either steamed or prepared with vegetable oil instead.
Steakhouse: The popular steakhouses often take great pride in their salad options, either ordered from the menu or collected yourself from the salad bar with quite a variety! You can also order a dinner-sized salad that can be compared even with dedicated vegan restaurants!
- The filling salad: Create your basic salad base with the usual suspects like tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, beans, olives, artichokes, and scallions, etc. Then take it up a notch by adding some avocado, sweet potato, guacamole, almonds, sunflower seeds, nuts or any other vegan-friendly options available. Accompany your creation with an Italian dressing, oil, vinegar or balsamic dressing. Just avoid the cheese, eggs, creamy dressings and croutons (made with butter & milk).
- Soups: Minestrone soups, plain veggie soups, black bean, and potato-based soups all tend to be vegan-friendly.
- Sides, dips & sauces: There are usually plenty of suitable sides on offer, like sweet or regular baked potato, grilled asparagus, steamed spinach, roast tomatoes, caramelized or fried onions, marinated mushrooms (just check that they’re done with oil and not butter), and baked or black beans. Add guacamole, salsa/hot sauce, or even mustard as sauce or dips.
- Rice or pasta: Order brown or wild rice, and ask before ordering pasta that it’s prepared from dry and isn’t the kind that contains eggs. Both rice and pasta will blend well with roasted tomatoes, steamed spinach, artichokes, olives, and mushrooms. Then round it off with a side of guacamole, sweet potatoes or beans.
Barbecue/BBQ Restaurant: Just ask for your orders not to contain cheese, sour cream, butter or mayonnaise and check that batters aren’t prepared with buttermilk. Then feel free to try some deep fried pickles, french fries, barbecue vegetables, sweet potato fries, vegetable chili or even BBQ tofu if available. There are also often vegetable sandwiches, salads, and baked potatoes on offer.
Seafood Restaurants: Well this could turn out to be a bit of a challenge, but it can be done and we promised at the beginning of this post that we will find a way to cheer you up even in a seafood restaurant! Seafood restaurants almost always offer brown rice, so you could ask for this to be served with stir-fried vegetables. Other options might be baked potato, breadsticks, steamed broccoli, corn on the cob, French fries, green beans, cashews, and salads. Some seafood restaurants might even offer tofu. Worst case scenario, ask the chef to prepare a simple pasta with olive oil and vegetables.
If you know where to look, and with what you’ve learned so far, you’ll be able to find vegan-friendly restaurants or some vegan option to stave off the hunger pangs practically anywhere you may find yourself eating.
We would also love to hear your own tips, suggestions, and experiences in the comments below!
Most restaurants use plant-based oils (it’s cheap as well) such as corn oil, canola oil, soyabean oil, sunflower oil, yet some restaurants (especially upscale) may cook with butter, ghee, lard or animal fats (e.g.duck/goose). You can always request for yours to be cooked plain or with plant-based oils instead.