I get a lot of requests for tips on how to order or what to get as a vegan at a restaurant or on the go. As someone who grew up a lactose-intolerant vegetarian in meat-and-dairy land Wisconsin, I have quite a bit of experience in this area, and thought I’d share with you, some of my favorite tips and tricks for eating out vegan.
I hope you find this advice practical and useful in all scenarios, including those in which you may find yourself at a non-vegetarian friendly restaurant. If you have any other tips you think I missed, or any further questions, please do drop them in the comments section, and or message me on Instagram.
1. Scope out the menu ahead of time.
If possible, it can be helpful to look up the menu of the place you plan to eat so you can gauge how vegan friendly a restaurant is, which may help you plan ahead a little.
If it doesn’t look super vegan-friendly, it may be worth calling and asking about vegetarian and vegan options. Most places are willing to accommodate and may even have unlisted vegan options available upon request.
2. Search on Yelp.
I’m a big fan of Yelp. I find it so entertaining to sift through people’s emotions on the crowd-source-review platform that is Yelp. And yes, sometimes I even write reviews. One of my professors at Mailman is quite a proud Yelpie, and his reviews are fun to read too. That’s not relevant to this post at all, but is somewhat entertaining.
Anyways, in addition to finding Yelp to be an endless source of amusement, I also find it to be a sometimes helpful resource for vegan dining.
In addition to searching “Vegan” restaurants “Near Me,” I find it can be useful to search keywords “vegan” and “vegetarian” in the “Search Review” tab for a specific restaurant, especially for non-vegetarian and non-vegan dining establishments.
Many times, previous vegan and vegetarian diners will leave tips on what is and what is not veg-friendly, or may mention how to make existing menu items vegan. And yes, sadly, sometimes, they may mention “not vegan or vegetarian-friendly,” which can help you prepare to tackle the menu in confidence.
3. Customize, customize, customize.
Don’t be afraid to customize your entree. I do this all the time. Rather than see a menu void of vegan options, I see menus as full of vegan possibilities.
A lot of times I will order salads, sandwiches, wraps, tacos, and pastas with small modifications. For example, if a menu is covered in cheese, it’s easy and effective to ask for no cheese on your salad, appetizer, pasta, pizza, sandwich, or taco, etc and instantly make it vegan.
When it comes to condiments, it’s simple to swap creamy dairy-based dressings for oil and vinegar, mayo for mustard or pickles, creama or cream cheese for avocado or hummus, and things like chipotle aioli for sriracha or hot sauce.
If vegetable dishes are cooked in or topped with butter, it’s worth asking if they can cook the veggies in oil, instead, or omit the butter on top.
For tacos and salads, I often ask to swap meat for beans or avocado, and change any creamy sauces to a dairy-free alternative.
You can even build a satisfying pizza at places with zero vegan cheese options by piling on all your favorite veggie toppings, and topping with oregano or red pepper flakes, balsamic, or hot sauce, for extra flavor. Some veggie toppings, like artichoke hearts, olives, tomatoes, peppers, and jalapeños add so much flavor and texture your cheese-pizza-eating-friends will probably end up jealous.
4. Make a meal off sides and appetizers.
When vegan pickings are extra slim, or if I’m not feeling whatever vegan item may be on the menu, I make a meal off of sides or appetizers. What do I mean by this?
Well, I see what side options and appetizers are available, and order a smorgasbord and DIY a meal. For example, if I’m out to dinner and there’s not a vegan entree in sight, I may order a garden salad, a side of avocado, a side of bread, some fries or potato wedges, and maybe a veggie-side if it sounds good, like veggie tempura, chips and guac, a hummus platter with pita, or fried Brussels sprouts, etc.
Even the most boring and basic of dining establishments usually have sides of carbs and steamed veggies available, and in desperate moments I’ve subsided off an order of brown rice and an order of steamed veggies, along with a side of dressing, for a quick tide-me-over meal.
If I’m at brunch or breakfast and vegan options are scarce, I’ll often order toast or some English muffins, and ask for a side of avocado or peanut butter, and order a side of fruit and maybe some breakfast potatoes. With avocado and toast and a little S&P, I can DIY avocado toast at the table. Oatmeal can also usually be made vegan, just double check to make sure the restaurant cooks the oats in water instead of dairy milk.
Honestly I kind of like eating this way, since my taste buds like eating a lot of different things at ever meal. Heck, I’ve made a whole meal off veggie apps many-a-times at places like True Food Kitchen and been happy as a clam. But I hope the eating-sides-for-a-meal concept may inspire you if you feel stuck when there appears to be no vegan options on a menu!
And for dessert – remember that sorbets and Oreos are vegan! I’ve ordered chocolate sorbet with Oreo crumbs in ice cream places that don’t appear to cater to vegans whatsoever, and happily enjoyed my sweet treat. Or, if you can’t find any, try making your own dessert at home instead 😉.
5. Seek out vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants.
Obviously, searching for restaurants that cater to vegans or vegetarians can increase your chances of having a satisfying vegan dining experience.
Though you may not always be in control of selecting where to eat, when you do have the flexibility, googling things like “vegan restaurants in insert city here,” Yelping “vegan food” near “insert city here,” or scoping out Happy Cow (which is an online resource for vegetarian and vegan dining out) may give you some yummy ideas for places to eat.
And for my vegan guide to NYC, click here! #shamelessplug
6. Go with it.
Occasionally, you may find yourself at a meat-heavy meal where the dietary patterns of vegetarians or vegans is not being considered. Instead of feeling like you’re having FOMO, remind yourself that it’s okay to be flexible and go with the flow, customize an entree, make a meal off sides, or simply order a small snack and fill up on other food later on.
Not every meal has to be a gourmet, blow-your-mind experience. Eating is a social activity, and sometimes it’s more about hanging out with people and exchanging conversation over food than the food itself. So if you have a meh meal but a good time, in my opinion, that’s better than missing out on a social or dining experience because you’re worried there won’t be anything veg-friendly on the menu.
And for those instances where someone may misunderstand “vegan,” if you’re comfortable picking cheese off your salad or sandwich and going with the flow, I encourage you to do so. Sometimes ya just gotta roll with it, feel me?
If you have any other specific questions on dining out vegan or feel like I missed something important, feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below, or holler on Insta.