How To Eat Out Vegan at Any Restaurant

During my transition to a plant-based diet alongside veganism, I questioned the long-term practicality of a vegan lifestyle because I worried about the difficulty of finding convenient plant-based food options and losing the ability to eat out at my favorite restaurants. As it turns out, this is a very common concern among aspiring vegans, but it has a very simple solution. Ideally, you always want to know generally what foods may or may not contain animal products, and in my experience asking restaurant staff, or Googling the ingredients when applicable, always turns out to be helpful. And of course, you learn as you go. 

Plum Bistro, an all-vegan upscale restaurant located in Seattle.

Checking Yelp for restaurants that have vegan menu items and calling them before visiting to ask what vegan options they have is where you want to start. Generally speaking, international restaurants are the safest bet where you will undoubtedly find plentiful delicious options. One reason for this is that veganism manifests itself in many cultures and religions around the world: from Buddhists in Thailand to Ethiopia’s heavily plant-based diet, or from Hindus in India to Rastafarians practicing ital in Jamaica, plant-based eating and living by a “do no harm” principle is a long-held tradition in dozens of cultures around the world. My personal favorite international cuisines include Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, and Vietnamese, but you can find great options at a lot of Mexican and Tex-Mex places and other various Asian restaurants. French and Italian cuisines can get a bit more tricky as they tend to rely heavily on animal products in cooking, but it’s usually still possible to find at least one vegan option at any given restaurant, and we see more options all the time. Even a lot of German-inspired, American-Nouveau, and burger restaurants now serve Beyond meat or the Impossible burger, though they will usually charge out the ass for something you could easily buy at the store and make at home; granted restaurants generally know how to do it right. So now you’ve checked Yelp or given the establishment a call, and you’ve picked the restaurant you want to eat at. Now what?

When your server is taking your order let them know, say, “I would like everything to be made vegan, please.”

Restaurant staff generally always know what ingredients go into certain menu items, and if they don’t happen to know they always find out. When your server is taking your order let them know, say, “I would like everything to be made vegan, please.” It isn’t uncommon for servers to not always understand what “vegan” means though, so then it falls on you as the aspiring vegan to generally know what is in certain foods. If I have a concern that my server may not understand, I will ask what ingredients are in a certain menu item. Sometimes they will ask, “Is egg okay?” or “Is honey okay?” in which case I kindly decline and ask for there to be no egg, honey, fish sauce, or whatever other animal product is relevant to the dish. Thai foods, for example, often contain egg or fish sauce, so it doesn’t hurt to ask your server and mention that you would like your meal without it. Most of the time, it’s as easy as saying, “I would like mine to be made vegan, please.” If for whatever reason your meal comes out wrong and it does contain egg or fish sauce, you may either send it back and ask for it to be remade if you are at a point where consuming the secretions of animals disgusts you, or you can do as PETA recommends and just eat it as to not make vegans seem “difficult.”

Beyond Famous Burger at Carl’s Jr. – order no mayo, no cheese to make it vegan.

If you’re looking for something more on the go than a sit-down restaurant, check Google for fast-food vegan options. PETA also has an excellent guide on how-to order vegan at most of the widely-accessible fast-food chains. At Taco Bell you can order a Seven Layer Burrito no meat, cheese, or sour cream, or a Crunchwrap with beans instead of beef made “fresco-style” meaning they replace cheese and sour cream with pico de gallo. Burger King, which also has vegan french toast sticks, now serves the Impossible Whopper, and Carl’s Jr. has the Beyond Famous burger, but be sure to order them without cheese and mayo to make it vegan. French fries are almost always vegan, unless they come from McDonald’s where their fries contain beef tallow (beef fat), but you can always ask the workers what they fry their fries in, or look it up Google. McDonalds should be avoided at all cost as their vegan menu is non existent, but their apple pies are vegan, as of this writing. Starbucks also has very little in the way of vegan eats, but you can maybe nab a bagel with avocado spread, blueberry or classic oatmeal, or an 8-grain roll and get yourself a coconut, almond, or soy milk based beverage using your own reusable cup and straw. Chipotle is another great option where you can build your own burrito using a corn or flour tortilla, white or brown cilantro-lime rice, black or pinto beans, fajita vegetables, sofritas, a variety of salsas, and guacamole. Their chips, like 99% of tortilla chips, are also vegan. There are plenty of options at most chains, so just be sure to do a quick Google search when in doubt.

Another great way to find out about great local vegan eats is to join a local vegan community group and ask around for recommendations. You can find groups through Facebook, or again, by searching for them online or on other apps like MeetUp. I still find neat local restaurants with amazing plant-based options, or cool vegan products in local grocery stores that I would not have found out about had it not been for my local vegan Facebook group. It probably goes without saying, but it’s a good idea to keep these restaurants and grocery stores on your radar for convenience sake in the future. 

So to recap, for dining out take these simple steps:

  • Check Yelp / call and ask about vegan options and if dishes can be made vegan
  • Tell your server you would like your meal made vegan

For finding vegan fast food:

  • Google for vegan fast food options, ideas, or for ingredient inquiries
  • Ask staff about ingredients or to leave out ingredients
  • Check out PETA’s guide to fast food for additional resources