10 Tips for Eating Out as a Vegan

122 comments

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One of the most requested topics in my Vegan How To series is about eating out at restaurants as
a vegan. I can totally relate to your struggles with eating out. Even to this day, I find restaurant
experiences as a vegan can be very hit or miss depending on the restaurant/chef. The good news is that more and more restaurants are becoming sensitive to dietary restrictions and allergies, opening up new options on menus for those who need them. Plus, the more demand there is for something, the more change there will be in the future. I personally look forward to the day when vegan options on a menu are the norm, rather than scarce or uncommon. Oh yes, it will happen!

I’ve put together some of my tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the past few years. I hope they’re
helpful for you. As always, I’d love to hear your own tips and experiences below!

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1. Happy Cow Website

Searching the Happy Cow website is probably my best tip when you are looking for a veg-friendly restaurant in your area or when traveling. You simply type in your location and a list of veg-
friendly restaurants usually pop up. I use this website almost exclusively when I travel or just looking for new options in my own area (of course, asking you on Facebook is always helpful too!). There are also reviews and ratings, so you can read what others are saying about the restaurants. Many times people will write what dish they modified to be vegan or what the chef prepared for them on the spot.

2. Plan ahead and look up the restaurant menu online

Of course, it’s not always possible to eat somewhere that’s veg-friendly. Whether it’s a family gathering or a friend’s birthday, I attend my fair share of non-vegan restaurants. Before I go to a new restaurant I always scope out the menu online to see if there are any obvious vegan menu items. Hopefully, I can find a couple vegetarian menu items that can be veganized, but vegan options are often non-existent on many restaurant menus. If there are a couple vegetarian options or dishes that might easily modify to be vegan (such as removing chicken from a noodle stir fry), I will make a note of them.

3. Call restaurant for options

If there aren’t any obvious meal options on the menu, I will often call the restaurant and ask whether
they can accommodate a vegan. Don’t feel like you are being a pain in the ass because restaurants actually like to get a heads up whenever possible, or so I’ve been told. I’ve never been turned away (not surprisingly), but I have received my fair share of enthusiastic promises (“Oh yes we can make anything you want!!”) only to get there and find out that the chef thinks a small plate of vegetables qualifies as a satisfying vegan dinner. It helps to be specific about what you would like. If there is a dish you have in mind (for example, a pizza or tofu stir-fry) don’t be afraid to ask if they can make it happen!

4. Ask if they have a vegetarian menu

Did you know that some restaurants have secret menus? What the heck! I discovered this only because my friend Heather told me that a local restaurant (Paradiso in Oakville) has a vegetarian menu. But guess what? They don’t even put the vegetarian menu on the table unless you ask for it. The horrors. I was so thankful that Heather told me about the menu because it has several vegetarian options and a delicious vegan option that I order every time I’m there (kinda obsessed with portobello steaks). I realize this isn’t the norm for restaurants to have separate menus, but it never hurts to ask and let them know that you’d love the option!

5. Get creative with sides

Sometimes vegetarian menu items can be made vegan quite easily by just replacing the butter for oil or
leaving off the cheese. If my options are limited I always ask if these swaps can be made. One thing I’ve done in the past is to order a few side dishes (asking them to hold the butter) to create a meal. A few sides of brown rice, beans, and veggies easily adds up to a balanced meal.

6. If you think options will be severely limited, eat beforehand

When I’ve done my research and suspect my options will be severely limited, I usually have a light meal beforehand to ensure that I don’t feel deprived at the restaurant. No big deal.

7. Seek out ethnic cuisines

Many cuisines have a lot of “naturally” vegan options or they can easily be modified. I absolutely love dining at Indian, Mexican, and Thai restaurants because they have so many options for me. Even dishes with cream can easily be made without impacting the overall flavour too much.

8. Try a fun beverage

Treat yourself to a fun non-alcoholic or alcoholic drink. Even if the food options are limited it will still feel
special to have a fun drink you normally wouldn’t have! [Side note: Barnivore is a good site for looking up vegan alcohol brands. Check out the apps too.]

9. Comment card or online review

As I was writing this, I asked myself…do restaurants even do comment cards these days? And then I realized, well, duh, people do online reviews! Silly me. Well, whether it’s a comment card or an online review, they are great ways to let your voice be heard. Feel free to ask for more vegan options – you can bet that most restaurant owners will be reading and taking note of common requests!

10. Don’t sweat it

I generally have low expectations when it comes to dining out at restaurants that aren’t veg-friendly, so I don’t let a less than stellar experience ruffle my feathers. Instead, I focus on the experience itself – the great company – and know that in the grand scheme of things it’s really not a big deal. Cheers to that.

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Getting caught up on my How-to series? See these posts: Introduction (Why this series), How to make the transition, Replacing Dairy Milk, Homemade Oat Milk, Homemade Almond Milk

What have your experiences been like eating out as a vegan? I’d love to hear any tips you may have below!

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{ 122 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anele @ Success Along the Weigh February 6, 2013

Ooh thanks for this! I’m planning a trip for some friends who are vegans and didn’t know what restaurants to recommend without having to scour Yelp. You’ve likely just saved me a whole afternoon! :-) You ROCK!

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2 Erica {Coffee & Quinoa} February 6, 2013

Love this post. I’ve found eating out as a vegan to be so challenging, and often when I’m on vacation I end up cheating. Love your tip about having a fun drink so the meal is still special!

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3 Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table February 6, 2013

These are such great tips! WHen I was eating vegan, I found if I called ahead, 80% of the time the chef would prepare something especially for me… and 100% of the the time my friends thought I had the best food at the table! It forces creativity, which is often a beautiful thing. :)

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4 Ashley February 6, 2013

I love these tips! Though I’m not a vegan, my boyfriend is a vegetarian, so I like to do my research before going out to places. I also like to choose vegetarian options when I’m out to eat as well, so having the research done ahead of time leads to a more enjoyable meal!

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5 Stacy L. February 6, 2013

Great information Angela!

I’ve found myself becoming more and more comfortable eating out at non-vegan friendly restaurants. This likely comes from realizing that its not really that big of a deal (what you said in #10) – although it can feel like it sometimes, to see it as an opportunity to be creative and think outside of the box with dishes they have on their menu, and to be more open to questions from those I’m eating with as they see me creating my own dish rather than feeling embarassed or defensive. It finally dawned on me that if I love the things I eat so much why wouldn’t I want to tell others about it?! :)

Restaurants seem more than happy to accomodate, especially when asked kindly and with an extra big smile. :)

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6 Laura February 6, 2013

Hi Angela,
I really love reading this series and I am considering transitioning to a more vegan diet. However, I constantly have this worry about my health. I struggled with low iron as a vegetarian before but I know this was because I was not educated about nutrients and how to get them. I was wondering if you could do a post on how your health changed when you became vegan? Everyone says that they felt absolutely amazing after going vegan but what are the negative effects to look out for and how did you combat them? Would you mind sharing this experience? Thanks!
And thanks for this post :)

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7 Meghan February 6, 2013

I would love this too. I have been a strict vegan for three years and it took having my nails go brittle and my hair falling out (even though I did have some initial positive side effects) to surrender to the fact that I could not be a french fries and boca burger kind of vegan. It took a while to get there, but I had to find out the hard way that things like seeds, nutritional yeast, and crazy varieties of grains and produce had to be part of the deal – that it wasn’t enough to just not eat meat, dairy and eggs. Now I have my health (and my hair), and all the positive health benefits of being a vegan. It was not – however – easy to get there and I think a post of this kind would be helpful.

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8 Courtney February 7, 2013

If you click on “My Story” at the top, you will she see she explains this. =)

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9 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 7, 2013

Thanks for the suggestion Laura, I hope to explore this more throughout my series! In the meantime, you can check out resources/guides online (I think vegetarian resource group has a guide, if I recall) and consider speaking with your doc.

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10 Whit G February 6, 2013

Thanks! These tips are exactly the way I approach dining out! It is actually pretty neat how many chefs are willing to try their hand at something vegan, just to get a chance to do something different and express their creativity.
Also, I was very pleasantly surprised that all the restaurants at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas have vegan options, as Steve Wynn is now a vegan. I had a wonderful lunch there with absolutely no stress about conveying how my food needed to be prepared–they knew just what to do and did a wonderful job. :)

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11 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 6, 2013

I had a great meal at one of his restaurants too. :) A very pleasant surprise!

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12 Vegan Radhika Sarohia February 7, 2013

I’ve heard about this Wynn Hotels vegan options thing, that is so great!
I don’t think I’ve ever been to Las Vegas, good to know for future though

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13 Kathryn February 7, 2013

Oh the Wynn….such amazing vegan food!

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14 Joan November 2, 2013

Las Vegas has multiple vegan options. In the Mandalay Place between the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Luxor you will find Slice of Vegas (pizza and pasta) and Hussongs (Mexican) which are both run by the same company and they have vegan and gluten free menus.

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15 Shannon February 6, 2013

Any words of wisdom for assuring the friends you celebrate with that no, you’re not “on” a diet, no, you’re not miserable, or yes, you really did eat before hand? Or more importantly, that they should not feel guilty about not accommodating your preferences?

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16 Angela February 6, 2013

I gave up trying to please everyone a long time ago. You really just have to do what’s best for you. If you are happy and healthy, they will hopefully see that!

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17 Ariel February 7, 2013

I agree with Angela – the more you act like you are having a good time, the more people will believe you. Those that don’t – well, that is there problem. My boss, for example, loves steak, and nearly every client dinner/lunch ends up at a steak place. I order whatever I like/come up with that is not meat related, and it almost always works out that no one cares what I’m eating. Having a canned response on hand if anyone asks helps, too.

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18 Sarah @ Yogi in Action February 6, 2013

This is a great post! I use to be vegetarian, but have added chicken back into my diet, mostly for ease of other people. I got so tired of being unable to eat anything on the menu, or to not be able to eat anything at dinner parties. I am amazed with the dedication it takes to eat a vegan diet! Good for you.

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19 Lindsay {life and kitchen} February 6, 2013

This is definitely helpful! I was surprised to learn that Chili’s has a menu with a list of foods that are vegetarian (they are from the normal menu, but it makes the whole process easier). You can find it on their website.

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20 Andrea February 6, 2013

Thanks for this Angela! I was just trying to figure out how, as the only vegan, I was going to manage brunch with the girls this upcoming weekend. I find lunch or dinner at any restaurant can be pretty easily accommodated to a vegan meal. I typically order a plain baked potato, a large salad (no dressing) and salsa on the side to pour over both the potato and the salad. However, I have found breakfast/brunch to be a bit more challenging, because I also have a gluten sensitivity. Last time I simply ordered two of the side fruit bowls and it was very satisfying. But I think I’ll take your advice and call ahead to ask for something specific.
I’ve also found that a lot of chain restaurants have allergy menus, where they list every ingredient in each meal, making it easier to identify any animal products.
Thanks so much for such a great series!

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21 Jessica @ Dairy Free Betty February 6, 2013

Happy Cow has an app too. I find it useful when I’m out and about – because it let’s you know what’s close to you – and has reviews! Also urban spoon app is awesome too – it has a vegetarian option in the search!!

Great round up!

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22 Angela February 6, 2013

Thanks for the tip, I can’t believe I don’t have that app yet… must download!

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23 Angie Hewitt February 6, 2013

I recently found an iphone/ipad app called HealthyOut that shows restaurants, dishes, and maps the location of veg-friendly restaurants. LOVE it! Just used it yesterday while traveling with my hubby. You can set your diet on the app so it will find friendly restaurants for you. Not just for veg-friendly – also has paleo, diabetic, gluten-free, high protein, and many other options. :)

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24 Katie Anne February 6, 2013

I have had such poor service at restaurants here in Scotland as a vegan and it makes me furious, I really have to remember that you eat out for the company not (always) for the food. Will have to remember that next time!

I have to admit also that a secret part of me almost enjoys receiving a plate of plain veggies, I love knowing that I can make easily make something better, and am therefore better at cooking than most chefs ;)

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25 Angela February 6, 2013

hah that’s too funny!

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26 Casandra February 8, 2013

I got served steamed vegetables regularly when I was in France. I had high expectations from Michelin chefs, but apparently they’re not interested in being creative!

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27 Abby @ The Frosted Vegan February 6, 2013

Love this post! I am pretty good about looking beforehand, but I’ve found one of the best things to do is be nice to the waitstaff! If they find a friend in you, they will be more likely to advocate for you in the back of the house : )

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28 Angela February 6, 2013

Yes, I’ve found the same thing too!

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29 jodye @ chocolate & chou fleur February 6, 2013

Secret menus!? That is a good thing to know. I don’t eat out very often, but there are 2 or 3 places that I can go to without any worries every time. If I’m traveling, happycow is always my best friend, and I’ve yet to find a restaurant where I could eat absolutely nothing.

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30 Brittany February 6, 2013

I’ve worked as a server in several restaurants (one vegetarian, currently work at a local family-style Italian restaurant). Calling ahead is always, always a good idea. At least so they can let us (the servers) now that we should anticipate a special order.

On the flip side, don’t be disappointed if you go to a place that doesn’t advertise as vegan/vegetarian and all we can offer is a salad. I was yelled at (full on screaming from the customer) in college when the only vegan/vegetarian dish we could offer was a larger portion of the side salad. It was a seafood restaurant. All our sides had seafood/bacon in them and even the warm prepared vegetables were cooked using seafood stock/broth. It was an unfortunate situation that could have been prevented had the customer called ahead.

Most of the time a dish may appear to be meat/dairy free but some sort of chicken/veal/seafood stock was used in the cooking process. As a server it’s our job to let you know that so please ask about how the food was prepared if you’re unsure.

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31 Nina February 6, 2013

Great list Angela! I agree about calling ahead. Lots of menus online have wonderful mouth watering veg that come with the steak or chicken or fish entree. I call ahead to find out if those specifically mentioned that I am interested in are without butter/cheese/milk/stock, etc. (I find people don’t always know what vegan means but I am in TX too:). Still not a complete guarantee but have had good experiences. Thanks Angela for the inspiration!

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32 Fit Missy February 6, 2013

Great post!

I love ethnic cuisines. Eat at them all the time. =)

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33 Em @ Love A Latte February 6, 2013

This is a great post! Eating out can definitely be tough being vegan, but I think a lot of restaurants are becoming much more understanding. Ethnic cuisines definitely do the trick! :)

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34 Jessica February 6, 2013

I just found out that every single restaurant inside of the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas has Vegan menus available…..all you have to do is ask!! I have been meat-free for over a year, and my hubby just turned Vegan recently too, so we want to plan a trip to Vegas to eat at all the restaurants, LOL.

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35 Angela February 6, 2013

Ahhh yes they do….someone told me that when we were there last time and I was over the moon. The buffets also had a lot of vegan options. very expensive, but a fun treat!

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36 Lili February 6, 2013

Many chain restaurants also have an ‘allergies’ guide that can help you figure out what things contain things like dairy. When travelling in the USA, we usually head to Ruby Tuesday or the Olive Garden because they have those guides available.

I’ve also noticed that many waiters don’t know that the allergies guide even exists, I usually have to ask the hostess or manager.

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37 Angela February 6, 2013

Oh wow I haven’t seen anything like that around here…what a great idea.

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38 Audra February 6, 2013

Urbanspoon also has a main category for vegetarian restaurants, and if you pull one up it will tell you if it’s vegan friendly and list neighboring vegan friendly places. Sometimes easier to use as an app than Happy Cow, although I love the Happy Cow website.

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39 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 6, 2013

Another great tip…man Im going to have to incorporate these websites at the bottom of my post!

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40 Casandra February 6, 2013

I definitely pre-eat when I’m not going to vegan-friendly restaurant. I don’t want to be forced to eat unhealthy food such as french fries because of a lack of options!

Three other great restaurants with separate veg menus in Toronto are Khao San Road, Woodlot, and the Windsor Arms.

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41 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 6, 2013

Thanks for the tips…I’ve been meaning to get to WA! Have you been? Havent heard of the others so I will look them up too.

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42 Casandra February 6, 2013

I haven’t been to WA either but I’m dying to go for brunch! I love both Woodlot and Khao San Road, though!

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43 Claire February 6, 2013

There’s an Italian chain called Bertuccis that has a GREAT roasted veggie side plus seasonal dishes like roasted butternut squash with candies walnuts, roasted beets (hold the blue cheese), roasted mushrooms. Two sides for only $8 makes a great meal. That’s now our go-to restaurant. Look for it! Super yummy.

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44 Katie McCullough February 6, 2013

Hey everyone! If you’re in Guelph, Einstein’s Cafe will veganize anything on the menu! I was unsure that they would but they will replace any cheese with avocado, for example.

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45 Angela February 6, 2013

I miss Guelph :) Thanks for the tip!

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46 Julie Boyer February 6, 2013

Many restaurants also now have gluten-free menus if you ask!

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47 Angela February 6, 2013

Really? That is fun…do you know of any specifically that do? I’ll have to let my GF friend know.

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48 Julie Boyer February 6, 2013

Interestingly, Paradiso’s in Burlington (I just ate there on Friday) and although not gluten-free menu but great salad that is gluten-free and vegan at Spencer’s on the Waterfront in Burlington too. And of course Kind Food is gluten-free and I just got the newsletter – they expanded their seating!! Sunday brunch anyone?

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49 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 6, 2013

Thanks Julie! Yes, brunch sounds like a great idea. :) I will need to celebrate once I have my manuscript handed in!

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50 Herbivore Triathlete February 6, 2013

I’ve used both Happy Cow and Barnivore a lot since transitioning to a vegan diet. I also like to look up menus online ahead of time and having a plan on what I will order. Building your own meal using sides is a great idea as well. I have found that restaurants will accommodate if you just ask. The best advice I think though is to just relax, it’s not a big deal, enjoy the company.

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51 Michael February 6, 2013

Great tips, although it seems like eating before you go to the restaurant would be kind of disappointing! But you’re right – it should be all about the company!

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52 Rebecca February 6, 2013

great post! I’m a vegetarian who is flirting with veganism so this was very helpful :)
tr[i]b[e]cca

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53 Shannan February 6, 2013

I am only a vegetarian and find eating out pretty difficult sometimes. I really wish restaurants would be very specific about what’s in their food. For instance, I ordered a house salad the other day and it came with a few slabs of pepperoni on top. Uh, not what I ordered, guys! It’s sad that I usually have to ask “Does this salad have any meat on it?” when just ordering a basic salad. Some restaurants are moving in the right direction, though!

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54 Shawna July 4, 2015

I was going to say the same thing! Thankfully someone reviewed the restaurant and mentioned that the garden salad automatically comes with bacon bits. I was glad to know ahead and have them hold them…..wait staff couldn’t believe I wouldn’t want bacon bits!?!

Thanks so much for the post and other’s tips too!

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55 Kel February 6, 2013

Also, when traveling be sure to check out Veg Dining .com. It has helped me MANY times. Best thing…if you go to PETA business friends Veg Dining’s ad is under there and they give PETA a small donation for using them through PETA business friends. You just put in the town where you are and it tells you where the veg friendly places are.

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56 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 6, 2013

Thanks for the tip, I’ve never heard of that site before but I’m off to look it up!

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57 Sarah @ Making Thyme for Health February 6, 2013

This is such a helpful post! I have used HappyCow for quite a while and find it to be very useful. I also like Tripadvisor as it allows you to select vegetarian in the search options. I found the.best.vegan restaurant in Paris on HappyCow.

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58 Angela February 6, 2013

Oh I didn’t know that about Tripadvisor, thanks for the tip :)

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59 Margaret February 6, 2013

The biggest thing I’ve learned when dining out as a vegan is that you have to advocate for yourself. I’ve always been a soft-spoken person who wants to please others but in this instance, its not worth putting yourself in a situation at, say, a chain restaurant with only meat and cheese dishes. Whenever my friends are discussing where to go I make sure I suggest veg-friendly places instead of going with the flow and figuring out if I can eat anything when I get there.

Also, I honestly feel like you have to lower your expectations of what your meal will be. When I was vegetarian I was usually satisfied or excited with restaurant meals but now being vegan I’m usually disappointed because most things I order are so simple and I could make myself! Although I do think that Thai, Indian and Japanese meals out are always worth it because the spices and ingredients are so unique and interesting.

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60 Averie @ Averie Cooks February 6, 2013

When I was strictly vegan, eating beforehand, and not sweating it were the two best things I could do and did. I realized that there may not always be a ton of options for me at a certain restaurant, but I was happy to be in the company of friends/family and out at the restaurant enjoying the atmosphere and their time and company. I could always eat a snack before or after if that one meal wasn’t perfect and left me not quite satisfied. It’s nice if there are great options, but sometimes there aren’t, so you just move on, work around it, and have a snack :)

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61 J.C. February 6, 2013

When we moved to Texas last year & I’d ask what vegetarian options they have at restaurants, I got a lot of enthusiatic responses like “sure, we have plenty of chicken & fish!” Ummm–not exactly what I was looking for. I swear, they must think I have a third eye or something, judging by the way they look at me sometimes!

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62 Angela February 6, 2013

hah oh my gosh thank you for the laugh. I’ve had a similar comment before too. Are you near Dallas at all? I heard they have a lot of vegan restaurants.

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63 J.C. February 6, 2013

No, but I’ll keep that in mind if I ever go there!

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64 Katie February 6, 2013

This is a great summary! Nobody ever believes me when I say that eating out isn’t a big deal and I can always find something on a menu – it just may be a salad :) With minimal fuss and attention drawn to myself, I am often satisfied and pleasantly surprised!

I do have some more tips:

1) In Indian restaurants, watch out for ghee. 95% of the time the curries are made with oil, but there’s the odd restaurant that uses ghee instead. Also, na’an bread is not vegan, but chapati is.

2) In Asian restaurants, make sure to specify that you do not want fish sauce or oyster sauce. Often these are used as a seasoning base, and the chef may not even think about it. But with this clarification I have enjoyed the most amazing curries, noodle dishes, and pho!

3) I have yet to find less than 5 options at a Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Lebanese, or Ethiopian restaurant. In fact, I am often overwhelmed with delicious choices!

4) If no vegetarian menu is available, check out the gluten free menu. “Gluten free” is the current fad, and while the general population don’t recognize the difference between gluten free and celiac, these same people often associate gluten free with vegetarian. The gluten free menu often has healthier sides as well – “fancy” rice, baked potatoes, crudités and beet hummus (vs. pita in butter), etc.

And I agree wholeheartedly – when in doubt, eat beforehand! Stashing granola bars and dried fruit in your purse are a good stopgap if you forget. But at the end of the day, enjoy the company that the meal comes with. And cook yourself a decadent five-course meal the next day to “recover” if required ;)

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65 Angela February 6, 2013

Amazing collection of tips Katie! Thanks for sharing.

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66 Liz @ Tip Top Shape February 6, 2013

Really great post!

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67 Julie T. February 6, 2013

I had a similar “secret menu” experience at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub in Las Vegas. I was trying to assemble a meal out of sides, and mentioned to the waitress that they didn’t have any vegetarian entrees. She says, Oh, we have a nightly vegetarian chef’s special, and goes on to describe it to me. It involved potatoes and brussels sprouts, polenta and fried thyme, it was awesome! I was a teensy bit irritated that I had to ask, but I guess it does pay!

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68 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 6, 2013

Wow that sounds lovely! I always feel so special when I get the secret menu. hah

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69 Andrea February 6, 2013

Although I’m not vegan (I don’t eat dairy, but do eat lean meat) I found this post very helpful. I often order a vegan or vegetarian meal when I’m eating out simply because I enjoy trying something new, and it is usually healthier than most items on the menu. It’s also shocking how many things have cheese on them! Even if it doesn’t say cheese in the description, always ask!

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70 allison February 6, 2013

we can usually find something at every restaurant we eat at. I find going to asian food places the best for options. Also italian…most of them will make anything without cheese! and if we have to hit a subway or booster juice after…so be it. haha

i have noticed no negative effects to being vegan. All positive.

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71 Tanya @ playful and hungry February 6, 2013

German restaurants are definitelly not vegan friendly. We usually dine at an Indian, a Thai or an Italian place, they all have vegan options for me!

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72 Kelly February 6, 2013

My boyfriend loves wood fired pizza so whenever we go to a restaurant that serves this I bring my own bag of daiya cheese. Provided that the dough is vegan, I will ask the server or the chef if they’d be willing to use the daiya in place of whatever cheese usually goes on the pizza. Occasionally I will get a funny look but I’ve never been turned down! I have also done this at a popular Tex Mex restaurant and they have happily replaced shredded cheddar with daiya.

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73 Abbie February 6, 2013

This is a great list of tips! I am lucky to live in a small town and the chef and cooks at my favorite restaurant have even gone out of their way to whip me up appetizers, entrees and desserts in the past! I’ve discovered that simply communicating with the restaurant staff, even if you’ve never been to that establishment before, is one of the best tools of the trade. I feel like if I am a paying customer, I want my money’s worth (and to leave with a fully belly and maybe even a doggy bag). It’s also great when my fellow diners take a look at my plate when it comes to the table and they say that they’d rather be eating the vegan dish.

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74 Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat February 6, 2013

Mmmm you’ve just reminded me of that portobello steak at Paradiso! (We should totally go back, by the way!) This is a great list. I agree – it’s all about being prepared. Even though I’m not vegan, I used to feel like I was being a huge pain when I asked for things like cheese to be removed etc. But now I figure that we pay enough as it is to eat out, so you might as well have a dish that you can enjoy all of! I also think it’s really nice to see restaurants becoming more willing to make accommodations now, as more people are turning to alternative diets. I can only hope the trend will keep growing! :)

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75 Jane February 6, 2013

Agreeing with previous poster re: Asian food. I have a particularly difficult time with Thai food because of the fish sauce. Middle Eastern food, on the other hand, is a vegan dream.

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76 Mary February 6, 2013

Ha ha! I was just sweating and worrying about an upcoming business dinner at a famous steak and seafood place in Washington DC when I saw this post. Great idea to call ahead of time to see if the restaurant can accommodate vegans. In this day and age, it floors me that better restaurants wouldn’t anticipate at least vegetarians and/or have something on the menu or in the freezer that is veg-friendly or easily modifiable.

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77 Carie February 6, 2013

I would change #7 to #1. Whenever I am out with non-vegan friends, unplanned and they want to know what is easiest for me– eating ethnic solves the problem every time. It’s good to research, but also nice to know you don’t have to all of the time if you have a consistent plan b in your pocket.

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78 bethwyn February 6, 2013

hey there.
just have a look at THIS website also using the same domain name prefix…just a different suffix
http://www.happycow.com.au
the horror!
i wrote to them and told them i was disgusted!

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79 Angela (Oh She Glows) February 7, 2013

Yikes…I wonder if Happy Cow has a trademark to protect their brand? That is a shame.

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80 bethwyn February 7, 2013

they wrote back to me and directed me to their page: http://www.happycow.com.au/recycled-leather-bags-sustainable.
They argue that they are using offcuts, which would otherwise be thrown away, and thus they are cruelty free and not creating a demand. how outrageous. All hides would be thrown away if we had not found use for them. I seriously doubt men first killed animals for their skin. That came later. I dont even know how to reply to him. So sad. thanks for your acknowledgement by the way.

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81 bethwyn February 7, 2013

also i think i will write to happy cow and ask if they have a trademark.

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82 Carey February 6, 2013

I have found the hardest places to find vegan fare is at BBQ/Southern restaurants – the veggies, especially greens are cooked with ham as well as the beans. Very frustrating! Most everything is pre-made, not made to order – so asking for things to be made without butter or meat is a bit of a challenge.

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83 Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin February 6, 2013

If you’re ever in the London area, you need to come check out Organic Works – I’m actually working there now. It’s a bakery (that supplies GF and vegan bread to places like Whole Foods and Kindfood) and also a cafe that serves both vegan and non-vegan options. I think you’d like it! :D

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84 Kait February 6, 2013

So I just discovered the VeganXpress app and I’m in love! It lists the vegan options at a ton of major restaurants. In writing this, I’m not sure if it lists Canadian restaurants but it has a ton of US ones and it was worth the $1.99 I spent. It makes travelling and eating at mainstream restaurants soooo much easier. :)

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85 Sarah L. February 6, 2013

Love these tips!! I might have to try ordering the portobello steaks at Paradiso…I LOVE that place (got their olive oil as a bday present!) but didn’t know about the secret menu. I’ll keep an eye out for you next time I’m there :)

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86 Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl February 6, 2013

This is a great post and a really important topic for people who are new to the vegan lifestyle. I love the Happy Cow website, and I always find that previewing menus online before going to a restaurant is so, so helpful. Eating at ethnic restaurants generally is pretty successful. Maybe that is one reason why I am absolutely loving Indian food right now.

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87 Kari @ bite-sized thoughts February 7, 2013

I really love these posts Angela :)

I have found it surprisingly easy finding vegan options at most restaurants, such that the ones where it isn’t possible are the exception rather than the norm. The nice thing about wanting vegan food is that there isn’t much I won’t want if it’s vegan – compared to being fussy about other aspects of food, it’s easier in some ways. I’ve been out to dinner with friends who are ‘detoxing’ or dieting and they are really limited, whereas I only need 2 vegan options to feel like I have sufficient choice because usually I could happily eat either.

I also laughed at the thought of secret menus. Maybe that’s what has gone wrong at the restaurants that just didn’t seem to have any veg options!

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88 Vegan Radhika Sarohia February 7, 2013

Great post, hopefully this helps people who are considering transitioning to a vegan diet with all that it entails

I’m probably in a worse boat than everyone here (haha) because in addition to being vegan for the animals, I’m also on a low-carb diet. Finding things that are both low-carb and vegan is almost impossible while dining out, so what I do is just order delicious salads everywhere I go. A lot of restaurants in LA have great salads on the menu both as sides and as entrees, and if the salad is non-vegan, I ask for a substitute [olives or avocado or something in place of the pepperoni strips or whatever. They’re always cool about it]

I think salad dressing is sometimes a challenge at a non-vegan place [I’ve actually smuggled vegan dressings in my purse into restaurants, and yea it feels a little ridiculous but who cares haha]

I also order lots of fresh fruit plates and stuff. I love fresh fruit [it’s always lovely in SoCAl with like cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberries, etc] so if I can have that and nice chilled vegan diet soda or juice or whatever, then I don’t feel deprived at all, b/c I wouldn’t want to be eating chickens fried or whatever my friends are having, and they wouldn’t want to be eating the fruit plate I ordered either

Anyway, it all works out, and no worries, and yea I agree to always be polite to wait-staff and everyone, just in general, and then no problems and all:D

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89 Vegan Radhika Sarohia February 7, 2013

Also I sometimes not only carry salad dressings but also little stuffs like cashews and almonds or roasted squash and melon seeds [whenever I cut open a spaghettis squash, butternut squash or cantalopup or honeydew, I roast the seeds with salt, so delicious!]
So yea, I carry those seeds and/or nuts in my purse too, and snacking on those along with having a terrific healthy salad when I meet up with friends means I’m totally full and not sitting there feeling very hungry and uncomfortable
With how much I love animals, I can’t ever imagine going back to non-vegan foods, I just can’t do it….so maybe part of this is also just having a positive attitude about the whole thing and not getting all irritated and cranky like a mad little steam engine just because they don’t have a specialized vegan menu option everywhere I go and whatnot

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90 Mrs G February 7, 2013

Hi, Angela! Same can be said for other dietary restrictions. We are flexitarian with gluten intolerance and need to keep low carb (mostly). It’s quite difficult to accomodate us. And that’s the main reason why I would never go vegan, because life would be far too difficult and when it’s possible to accomodate 1 diet restriction, 2 or more is frankly impossible. The same can be said when you eat at friends/family, who very often cannot think of a meal without a lot of carbs and animal protein.
Since eating out is so very difficult, I began to review restaurants on tripadvisor, lonelyplanet and happycow, expecially when I received excellent service.
I would encourage all your readers to do the same, for 2 reasons.
a) it’s our small way to reward them for the extra mile they went through to provide us with a good dinner. It’s like giving a tip to the whole restaurant and not only to your server.
b) It helps potential customers to make the right choices and avoid bad surprises. This is quite important, expecially if you go abroad and you are not very familiar with the local language/culture, etc

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91 saniel February 7, 2013

I check out the menu ahead of time and call to verify if the items do not have any animal by-products i.e. chix stock (veg stir fry), butter(bread), whey(smoothies), lard(taco shells)when eating out i bring my own dressing, spinach.

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92 AnnR February 7, 2013

I’ve been vegan and following the Eat to Live plan for 7 months, so eating out can be a challenge. At first I was too timid to ask for anything special, but during one long and hungry day at the Wisconsin State Fair I decided to plaster a smile on my face and ask a steak sandwich concession stand for just the vegetables from a sandwich. The owner just said, “Sure, are you vegan?” and then fired up a clean unused grill to cook some fresh mushrooms, onions, and peppers for me. She piled it all on a plate and even found a fork for me. And charged me less than half price! She said she was thinking of adding the veggie plate to the menu. After that I realized that most places want happy customers. The more we speak up (politely) and request vegan options, the more available they will become…even at the State Fair!

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93 Vegan Radhika Sarohia February 7, 2013

^ That’s awesome. So glad to hear that.
I’ve had many similar experiences here in LA where I’ve asked for only vegetable/fruit sides in unlikely places and the owner or waiter will be like “You’re vegan? My sister in law is vegan, hang on, I think we can do x and y” or whatever.
I agree about speaking up politely–always very politely–and requesting vegan options. If we keep doing this, they’ll eventually be everywhere. [Eternal optimist here hehe:p]

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94 Kathryn February 7, 2013

The vegan express app is pretty great when you are in a chain restaurant wasteland. I’ve used it many times when traveling and we are stuck in an area with chain restaurants and nothing else! It has snack foods and alcohol too.

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95 Lauren (@poweredbypb) February 7, 2013

I always use happy cow when travelling, and looking up menus online is always a good idea too. If there’s nothing suitable I try and customize dishes by asking to replace certain items with others off the menu, this usually works pretty well.

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96 Courtney February 7, 2013

I’ve recently made the switch from vegetarian to vegan and eating out has been difficult but I couldn’t agree more with all of these tips.
When I was vegetarian, I did a lot of research before I went out to eat to make sure that I had SOME options. If it didn’t offer options, I just didn’t eat there.
I’ll be moving to Chicago in August and thankfully there are LOTS of vegan options.

I couldn’t agree more with calling or emailing the place before you go. Some chefs are open to making a vegan meal and some of them aren’t.

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97 Katie February 7, 2013

I have found success in eating out by choosing side dishes as my meal. Most places usually have salads and veggies they can put together for you! A lot of the time my friends are actually jealous of how great MY food looks compared to theirs ;) I do look online ahead of time when I am unsure about the restaurant and these days servers usually have an idea of what you can eat – just let them know you are a vegan (and sometimes what that means) and they can be really helpful and creative ;) Most servers in restaurants eat “off the menu” and have the cooks whip different things up for them besides what is on the menu. Sometimes the chef will do that for you as well! Cheers!!

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98 Alley @ Alley's Recipe Book February 7, 2013

I used to get so frustrated when there weren’t any vegetarian options on the menu, I can only imagine how much more frustrating it would be for vegan options. I feel like it is starting to get better though… or maybe I know what to look for now and don’t frequent big chain restaurants as often. It seems the more local the restaurant, the more vegetarian/vegan items on the menu.

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99 Sabrina @ Living, Learning, Eating February 8, 2013

I’m not even vegan, just vegetarian – but I have troubles digesting cheese. If you’re a vegetarian and aren’t down with everything dripping in cheese, it’s already a little more difficult to eat out! I still do with my omni bf a lot, so these tips are great!

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100 Laura February 8, 2013

Thanks for sharing Happy Cow . . . Didn’t know about that. Very useful!! Have a great weekend!

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101 Deborah February 8, 2013

I have learned through my son that if you say you are vegetarian and allergic to meat, fish, dairy and eggs the restaurant will go out of their way to prepare something for you. If you say you are vegan they look at you as if you have three heads!

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102 Nat February 8, 2013

Some great tips Angela! I’m a Vegetarian and do find it difficult sometimes to find vege meals at restaurants but I think it’s still a lot easier now than it used to be… meat-free is slowly becoming more common :)

I find the easiest way to ensure a good outcome when I’m eating out is research the restaurant, and if that’s not an option, ask to substitute things on the menu. The waiters never usually mind and you can always find something that works.

Thanks!

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103 Kristine February 9, 2013

Couldn’t agree more – I rely on Happy Cow whenever we travel. Great tips!

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104 Kris February 10, 2013

I have to disagree with a couple of those tips, just from my own perspective.

This list is great for people who only eat out occasionally with friends. But for those of us who have to travel with work, only a few of these tips were helpful. As travelers, many of us already knew to look up menus online and call ahead of time when we can. But sometimes we don’t know where we’ll end up eating with travel, and we can’t eat ahead of time because we’re on the road, and so we’re really hungry and stuck with the awkward situation of having to explain that we are vegan and need some assistance.

I thought the “secret menu” tip and the looking at Happy Cow reviews was great so that you can try to plan out your eating destinations a week ahead of time, if at all possible. If not, I’ve found these tips help most:

1) as you’ve already mentioned, try to find an ethnic food place, because they tend to have better options than a pizzeria or steakhouse. Having said that,
2) go for city and urban areas. I know sometimes work has you in the deep red states or caught between a suburban/rural area and all you seem to have is the local diner. I promise you, driving an extra hour just to go to get a better eating area (and a better hotel) is worth the time and money. You don’t want to take a shower in cold water, and you don’t want to go to bed hungry. So what’s this have to do with #1? Ethnic food places can also be less vegan-friendly in less urban areas. Mexican, Thai, and Indian food tends to have vegan options no matter where you are (although not always). But a Japanese sushi bar? If you’re in San Fransisco they’ll have vegetarian and vegan options. If you’re in upstate NY at the Ichiban, you’re not going to find anything to eat besides a small side salad and a glass of water.
3) Know your big-name restaurants. Ruby Tuesdays, Panera Bread, Olive Garden, and your typical “Insert Name Here” Chinese/All You Can Eat Buffet, are much much MUCH more veg-friendly than TGIF, Ponderosa Steakhouse or Outback Steakhouse, Charlie Brown’s, Friendly’s, Red Lobster, the Cheesecake Factory, iHOP. In fact, I would advise you completely avoid the second list. Those seem like pretty obvious distinctions, but I’ve been surprised to find that restaurants I was told had a vegetarian menu actually couldn’t help me at all, because their idea of a vegetarian menu is a small garden salad, french fries, or mac & cheese.
If you don’t mind the implications of fast food: Burger King has a veggie burger (pretty sure it’s not vegan, but I don’t actually know… you can check, though!), whereas McDonald’s is pretty much impossible for the veg folk. All you can eat there is the fries, even the salads can’t be made without meat and cheese (unless you’re only getting a side salad). Don’t even think about Arby’s or Roy Roger’s. You won’t find anything there.
Pretty much the only fast food places I bother with are Subway and Taco Bell. Taco Bell has those all-bean burritos with lettuce, tomato, and optional salsa and they call it a “side”. (I guess one good thing has come out of super-sizing America). I’ve found that most places I’ve been, though not always, the Taco Bell people are very accommodating and will change up any meal to include the bean instead of the meat. (They pretty much all taste the same that way, but you can get a bigger veganized burrito or quesadilla at a cheaper price than you normally would, so hey!, why not?!) … Subway, duh. Customizable veggie sub in spinach wrap. Done.
4) Acknowledge that you are sometimes not going to have a real meal tonight. It sucks. It’s painful. I know, trust me. But there are ways to do this and not starve, even though it’s not as comfortable or convenient as being able to sit at a table and eat…
Stock up. Whenever you are in an even remotely urban-ish area, go to the health food store and get some pre-made subs, naanwiches, soy yogurts / almondmilk yogurts, etc. Every time you go to the gas station and can spare a couple bucks, get those fruit cups and see if you can get some granola bars and vegan-friendly trail mix. A lot of gas stations have a subway too, so that’s great! If you’re in NJ, don’t even bother with the WaWa. It’s all pre-made tuna subs, salami on rye, and egg salad. No veg-friendly meal choices there. Coffee, maybe. If you’ve been blessed with the opportunity to make it to a Wegman’s, you have hit the drive-route jackpot for vegans. Go to the health food sections, find the pre-made drinks, sandwiches, and snacks and STOCK UP. You will be eating these in the car and hotel. Not like a nice home-meal, but it’s SOMETHING.
If you are lucky to be traveling via camper or bus, and you have a refrigerator, freezer, toaster, oven, microwave set up… U SO LUCKY. Go to the frozen foods section, get some boca burgers, van’s waffles, and kashi meals.
5) For breakfast. … Again, just avoid the local diners and iHop. Forget it, they aren’t there for you.
Go for the local bagel shops and local cafes, get some coffee and some make-you-own veggie sandwich thing. Get a bagel and peanutbutter. Make your own vegan nutella when you’re at home and carry that in your travel bag or purse so that you have it when you go out for breakfast. Honestly, as soon as you get away from the pancake house, the local cafes and bagel shops are probably the most vegan friendly places you will go out to eat at all day.

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105 Kris February 10, 2013

6) Also, Dunkin Donuts allows you to modify your special pumpkin flavored ice-coffee to be made without added milk (and without added sugar, too). Again, if you don’t mind the fast-food thing, you can get bagels without anything on it. You can get french rolls, you can get a croissant (though I’m sure that is probably made with butter, but you can ask!), and very rarely, but sometimes they’ll let you special order a vegan flat-bread. There’s also the hash browns.

7) That Nutella recipe from number 5: chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2012/01/09/better-than-nutella/ and wikihow.com/Make-Vegan-Nutella

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106 Kris February 10, 2013

8) If you have to travel A LOT…. you are going to cheat sometimes… now I’m not talking about caving on those butter slathered pancaked or cheesy quiche. No.
I’m talking about that granola bar with a little bit of whey powder in it. You are going to run out of vegan nutella. And you are gonna buy regular old nutella. You are gonna get a bagel, and not be sure if they made it they veg-friendly way. But you’re so hungry at that point, that you don’t care.

I’m not saying this to make you feel bad, but the unfortunate truth is that the all the optimistic veg-promotion did not prepare you for what taking the high road honestly means.

You are not any less vegan than other vegans, for being less purist than some when you absolutely have to eat something. Yes, you have made the best, most ethical choice you could possibly make in this moment. Don’t beat yourself up.

10) When you are in a rural-ish area in the lat spring, summer, early fall… Farmer’s Markets. Fresh fruit, fresh veggies, often times there are people there serving cooked food. Usually it’s some kind of barbecue or fried fish… but sometimes they have veggie pinwheels and awesome things. You can eat these things while you take a quick break from the driving and travel lag. Walk around, get some fresh air, and browse the cool local clothes, soaps, and artisans.

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107 Alejandra @ wishfulshrinking February 14, 2013

I always, always call the restaurant ahead of time about veg-friendly options. There’s just no way in this day and age that they can’t swap out something as simple as butter for an oil. Thanks for the great tips!

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108 Margaret February 15, 2013

I live in China and thought eating vegan would be easy here. One day a friend and I were in a small restaurant trying to tailor our meal. We explained carefully that we don’t eat meat, don’t eat fish, only vegetables, and ordered a dish of greens – without meat, please. The waiter smiled and nodded his understanding. When it arrived there was meat in it so we called the manager over. He smiled and listened and then said, ‘But it tastes better with meat.’

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109 char eats greens February 16, 2013

I try and always scout out the menu before I go anywhere new…it’s a must!! I do still get anxiety sometimes because I’ve had slip-ups before thinking something is veganized, only to find it’s a soup in chicken broth or dairy is added, for example. Those suck!!

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110 Amy February 16, 2013

“Urbanspoon”

If you don’t know about it yet, trust me. It makes looking for vegan and vegetarian places so easy! Where ever you are, if there is a place in your local that has options for you, Urbanspoon will give you the menu, favorite dishes, pics, prices, maps to get there, reviews… WAAAAY better than Yelp. You can search according to type of food you want.

urbanspoon.com or download the app to your phone.

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111 Kristy February 21, 2013

I’ve worked in restaurants for a few years now and the best advice I can give is just ask your server. Some restaurants are more open to modifications than others, but to me there’s nothing more frustrating than someone not saying anything and then leaving an complaint that there was nothing for them to order. I’ve veganized and vegetarianized tons of items at the restaurant I work at and am more than happy to pass those ideas on to guests!

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112 Jennica March 31, 2013

Great article! I have been working in restaurants for almost 10 years now and I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that most restaurants put butter in EVERYTHING. I mean everything. I make a habit of checking the menu online as you suggested, but then calling before hand to ask the specifics (is there butter in it, can it be made without, are there any hidden dairy or eggs?) Also a lot of seemingly vegetarian dishes really aren’t, so I have learned to never assume. For example, a lot of restaurants marinate fajita veggies in chicken or beef broth so even just omitting the meat wouldn’t help. I also ALWAYS say I have a dairy allergy because that gets their attention. A busy (or lazy) server might forget or just assume something is OK for you to eat but the word ALLERGY gets their attention and usually the manager’s involvement in making sure the meal is prepared as you requested. I also just say I don’t eat meat. Anyways, that’s how I do eating out!

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113 Brandon Frye April 1, 2013

Thanks for your post. I’m glad I found your website. I think it is extremely important, perhaps a responsibility as a vegan, to inform others of how to survive as a vegan. It’s not that difficult but we can make it seem that way. I recently went on vacation and ran into a few snags, but made it out ok. I decided to write and article for Vegans on Vacation. You can find it here: http://www.forkstofeet.com/2013/03/staying-vegan-on-vacation.html

Let me know what you think!

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114 Brandon Frye April 20, 2013

Hey Angela,
I love your site. I have actually found myself here once or twice before looking for pointers. I recently took on a vegan lifestyle, well in the last year. It’s articles such as this one that paved a firm foundation for me to learn and grow, experiencing the ease of being vegan. It really is simple isn’t it? I recently wrote an article on some of my own pointers. Funny thing is, our advice is scarily similar, lol. Yes, reviews are the way to go. You mentioned Happy Cow, which is awesome! I also look at UrbanSpoon because they have a vegan friendly option now I believe. I know they have vegetarian. I like how you mentioned side items. At some restaurants, I swear that the vegan menu is labeled, “Side Items”. This is okay like you said. We can make a balanced meal out of it. Anyway, great advice and love your blog. I will be sure to bookmark it and add it to my blog’s “other great sites”. Thank you for doing your part in informing others. It’s a beautiful thing!

If you wanted to check out my article, it’s at:
http://www.forkstofeet.com/2013/04/restaurants-for-vegans.html

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115 aneesh ahmad January 9, 2014

Thanks so much for this post.

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116 S April 8, 2014

Hi Angela, Lovely tips. In the GTA, are there any places you go to a lot or could recommend for us? I have a friend visiting from Chicago in a few days and she is vegan. Thank you, S

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117 Jaclyn October 23, 2014

Hi Angela, first off thank you for your lovely website, it has been very helpful in my path to a healthy vegan lifestyle! I’m heading to Cuba next month for a 2 week all inclusive vacation and am a little apprehensive about the food situation. Thoughts on how to survive? I’m worried I wont get enough of the essential nutrients or if I can bring my Vega protein powder with me (love that stuff! ). Any suggestions from you or your readers will be appreciated!

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118 yo August 10, 2015

When tf have you ever been to a Mexican restaurant that didn’t have an exclusively meat and cheese menu? I’m getting tired of ordering guacamole no cream!! I used to eat at Indian places fairly recently until I realized ghee or milk is in basically everything.

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119 Reiki Nurse February 3, 2016

Brilliant tips and post, Angela! We have an awesome restaurant here in West Palm Beach called ‘Darbster’ that is nothing but Vegan/Vegetarian fare. Next time you’re in the area, check it out! :)
http://www.darbster.com/

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120 Nathan Johnson February 29, 2016

My wife and I have started eating vegan this year and have been very successful so far. I am getting nervous because we are visiting family next month and it is a tradition to go out to eat and I know that is hard as a vegan. All of these tips are great to help while eating vegan. I really love Thai food, so maybe I’ll suggest that so I can have more vegan options. Thanks for the ideas!

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121 Michael March 18, 2016

My approach is slightly different. Rather than insisting on one hundred percent vegan, I talk to the waiter or chef to see what can be done. I am vegan out of principle, not for health reasons, and I think that I will help my principles more if people take a bit of time to think about things and make an effort (and are glad that I show honest appreciation) than I will by being difficult. Which is actually a reason not to look for special vegan restaurants, quite apart from the fact that I usually prefer the sort of vegetable side-dishes people usually serve to meat here in Germany to the rather, well, creative things one finds in many vegan places.

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122 Tim Hordo August 9, 2016

Hi Angela, excellent post. I follow many of the points myself, especially eating beforehand (although I used to do that before turning vegan anyways because my bill would get enormous if I didn’t).

But yes, like many other commenters, an excellent point is to talk to the staff and see what they can do, as it definitely communicates demand for vegan options, as well as ends up usually resulting in a really, really good meal, maybe not always jealousy inspiring to meat-eating folk at the table, but creative and delicious nonetheless.

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