Dining out as a new vegan (or even for long-term vegans) can sometimes be challenging because it evokes the feeling of difference. You begin to think how you can order without bringing attention to yourself or making a big scene. I can totally relate with you. As a vegetarian for many years and now vegan, I still face these feelings and situations from time to time. Even with a cuisine that continues to grow each day, I sometimes still find it difficult to dine out – especially when trying to find a restaurant with non-vegan friends and family.
The good news is that with more and more restaurants offering vegan-friendly meals it’s becoming a lot easier to dine out. Of course, the ideal scenario for any one of us would be to find both casual and find-dining exclusive vegan restaurants. While there are a few out there, each city can use a few more. But I always get excited when I find restaurants that are 100% vegan – boy do I get excited! I particularly love these hidden vegan gems because it means I don’t have to spend time with my server trying to modify an item or spend time reviewing the menu’s ingredients. While I personally don’t mind doing this, it’s not the most convenient or sustainable way of eating out. However, I do appreciate when restaurants offer vegan options and clearly add the ‘vegan’ symbol on their menu. This makes ordering a much more enjoyable experience.
Whatever challenge you may be facing at this time, I want to help lessen that. I’ve put together a few tips that can help you that I took from my own personal experience.
The best place to start is to do some homework ahead of time.
My favorite place to look is actually Yelp. This user-friendly app (and website) has become more popular than any other app on my phone. What I love about it is that it allows you to see the location of restaurants on a map, photos of food and the restaurant itself, link to their menu, and reviews of what other customers have to say. I have used key words such as, “vegan restaurants”, “vegan food”, or “vegan options”. It’s worked quite well. Some of the listings specifically say Vegetarian/Vegan under the description. I have found some of my favorite restaurants through here.
This friendly site offers vegan-friendly and vegetarian-friendly restaurants based on the location you enter. It provides you a little description of what each restaurant or store offers and you can read reviews. It allows you to add or update a listing as a feedback for others to be aware about – which I find quite helpful! I don’t rely on HappyCow so much but I do recommend it. It’s most helpful while traveling because it requires a little less research than Yelp.
What would we do without Google. A quick Google search for vegan restaurants in your area will result with plenty of options to choose from. It’s not quite a one-stop-shop like Yelp or HappyCow but it will give you options that are veg-friendly. You do have to spend a little more time with Google when it comes to making sure the menu offers vegan-friendly options.
- CHECK THE MENU
Aside from researching vegan-friendly spots to eat at, you also have to check out their menu. Most restaurants have their menu online nowadays which allows you to review it ahead of time. If a menu doesn’t clearly mark that it’s vegan, whether on the title of the item or with a symbol, check for items that can be easily modified. This can be by finding a vegetarian entrée and be able to omit cheese or egg and/or substituting with an alternative such as tofu. Majority of restaurants have a vegetarian entrée that can sometimes be modified. The Yelp app helps you in this process by looking at photos of their menu, that is of course if customers uploaded one. This just helps speed up the process in your search by not having to go to their website.
If making modifications seems uncomfortable because you don’t want to stand out, no problem, there is a way around this. When I began my vegan journey, I remember feeling a tiny bit embarrassed about my way of eating. I didn’t quite know how to notify my server or if the kitchen could even accommodate. My trick is to find a vegetarian entrée that can easily be modified and let your server know that you have an egg and dairy allergy. They won’t question it, I promise. I have done this in the past with my husband and the servers are happy to communicate this with the kitchen and/or provide an alternative plant-protein such as tofu. Most restaurants accommodate to any allergy request. Now, I don’t recommend doing this all the time but it may help you when you’re just starting out. I encourage you to speak with your server as majority are happy to find options with you.
- LOOK FOR ETHNIC RESTAURANTS
There are a couple of ethnic restaurants that are more vegan-friendly than others. My three favorite are Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese. For Mexican restaurants, choose rice & whole bean dishes that can easily be modified. Sometimes this just means picking a vegetarian entrée and omitting the cheese. I’ve had good experiences where I modified cheese enchiladas and asked if they can replace the cheese with potato or beans. Many restaurants do not oppose to this.Thai and Vietnamese restaurants are probably the easiest of all to find vegan-friendly dishes. You can easily find several cold or hot noddle dishes with a veggie broth and tofu. If the ingredients are not listed under the description, ask your server if the dish you’re about to pick is made with fish sauce. Many veggie entrees are not but it’s always good to ask and be certain.
- SEEK OUT SIDE DISHES
This isn’t the most fun way to eat out but if you find that there are limited options for you, seek out the side dishes. Most of the time you can find roasted vegetables, hummus plate, minestrone soups, rice, French fries, or a simple green salad. With these side entrees you can easily create a fun (and random) meal.
- MISTAKES HAPPEN
So you ordered something and realized there was a non-vegan ingredient on your plate. That will happen and it’s happened to me accidentally in occasions. If you find yourself realizing that your hamburger bun has butter or that your burrito has cheese, don’t worry too much about it. Veganism isn’t about being perfect all the time. Yes, you may be bothered at the fact that your meal isn’t 100% plant-based but being a vegan means you are choosing a compassionate way of eating – not perfectionism. The best thing to do is to be okay with the mistake. You can simply bring it up to your server in a polite manner, you can pick out the non-vegan item off your plate, or you can eat it for this one time. It may not be easy to choose any of those three options but accepting the mistake will help you become a much more compassionate diner.
Eating out doesn’t have to be difficult, we simply just have to do a little research to know where vegan-friendly places are located in our area. It is possible to dine out as a vegan without feeling different or the center of attention and enjoy a delicious and filling meal. And with time, I promise you will become more confident in your search and in dining out as a vegan - no matter the circumstances.
Come check out some of my vegan eats to see what I've ordered at restaurants. It also includes a short description of my personal experience.