6 Tips for Eating Vegan at Any Restaurant
If you’re contemplating switching to a vegan diet, you may have reservations about adhering to it when dining out. Although most restaurants have some sort of salad, we all know the caliber of salads and their paired dressings can be a bit disappointing. Not to mention you may want a more filling meal.
Regardless of whether you’re in the mood for vegan fine dining or a casual meal at a food truck, you can find plenty of meat- and dairy-free menu items dining out just about anywhere. Here are six tips that help us to ensure we’re keeping our palates vegan pristine.
Learn the Prime Suspects
Sticking to a vegan diet at most U.S. restaurants isn’t that hard to do. To prevent yourself from inadvertently eating meat or another animal byproduct, it’s a good idea to become familiar with some of the animal-based ingredients typically found in ethnic cuisine.
Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy a Mexican feast without meat, fish, or dairy. You can’t go wrong with a plate of vegetable enchiladas accompanied by beans and rice. Avoid cream, cheese, lard, and rice made with chicken broth. And don’t forget to wash it all down with a refreshing coconut margarita!
At Asian restaurants watch out for eggs, fish sauce, curry paste, bonito flakes made of dried fish, and oyster sauce. At Italian restaurants, ask if pasta is made on-site. If it is, there’s a good chance it contains eggs. You can typically request a gluten-free option in that situation. Be sure you also inquire about butter-based sauces and parmesan toppings.
Image Courtesy of Elizabeth St. Cafe
Greek and Indian restaurants are among the easiest to navigate from a vegan diet perspective. When ordering Greek food, steer clear of yogurt and cheese. Although you’re unlikely to find beef on the menu at Indian restaurants, you should be diligent about their use of butter, ghee (clarified butter), cream, and paneer (cheese) in dishes.
On the other end of the spectrum, barbecue joints, steak houses, and French restaurants are some of the toughest places to find vegan options. At barbecue and steak places, be on the lookout for bacon in baked beans, cheese, sour cream, butter, mayonnaise in potato salad, and batters that contain buttermilk. If you’re thinking about ordering fries, ask if the staff uses the same fryers for chicken and seafood. If all else fails, order a baked potato. At French restaurants, look for dishes made without butter, cream, or chicken and beef stocks.
Know the Tips & Tricks
- Scope out the menu online or call ahead
Modern technology has blessed us with the ability to access just about any information, including restaurant menus, at our fingertips. Vegans everywhere can rejoice in scoping out a restaurant’s menu ahead of time. If the restaurant you plan to visit doesn’t have an online menu, don’t be shy about calling ahead. You can ask specific questions about ingredient substitutions, and you may even learn the restaurant has a separate vegan menu.
- Decode the menu
A lot of modern menus feature icons — typically a V or an image of a small leaf — to denote dishes that don’t contain animal byproducts. If you’re unsure whether the icons indicate a dish is vegan or vegetarian, look for a legend on the menu or ask your server for clarification.
- Substitute ingredients
Eating vegan at traditional restaurants isn’t insurmountable, thanks to the power to substitute ingredients. Does that burrito come with cheese and sour cream? Ask for guacamole instead. Is the house salad doused in buttermilk dressing? Ask for vinegar and oil.
If you’re having trouble finding a potential substitution for a menu item you want to order, peruse the side dishes. There may be a vegan-friendly appetizer or small plate option that you can use to replace an animal byproduct.
- Download vegan dining apps
If you’re traveling or new to town, tap into technology to find the best vegan dining options. Happy Cow and Vegman function as a digital concierge that can recommend vegan-friendly establishments in your area. If you need to find vegan menu options at popular chain restaurants, look to VeganXpress for guidance.
- Get social
You know Facebook’s little icon that resembles a lightning bolt wrapped in a thought bubble? That’s the messenger function, and you can use it to contact restaurant management. Visit a restaurant’s Facebook page to send a message before your visit. You can gauge how vegan-friendly the menu is and how receptive the chef is to making substitutions that align with your dietary needs.
Armed with this advice, you’re ready to dine out vegan-style just about anywhere. Most restaurants are used to accommodating special dietary requests, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with your waiter to ensure your meal aligns with your principles. And don’t forget, most cocktails are vegan!
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