Making It Work

Plant Based Dining Out – Optimizing Your Experience


Dining out as a Vegan Does Not Need to Be a Challenge

A plant-based diet does not necessarily have to feel challenging. Even when you are eating out in a non-vegan or non-vegetarian restaurant, you can still have fun and have a wide variety of choices. All it takes is a bit of preparation and knowledge on what the restaurant serves so you can continue with your diet.

As a vegan, when you are dragged to a non-vegan or non-vegetarian restaurant, don’t fret. Chances are, these restaurants will offer salads, potatoes, rice, steamed vegetables, and other non-meat items. Of course, it would be great if you avoid fast food restaurants, as most of these establishments mostly have meat-based menus and the vegetable meals are either drenched in cheese or in salty dressings. We will summarize some of the common restaurants that you will probably find within your vicinity, with suggestions for your meals.

Perhaps Not Your First Choice, There Are Usually Plant-Based Options

Let’s begin with a Steak House.  The word steak alone might have you scurrying out. But the great thing is, a lot of steak houses do have good salads as part of their menu. And these are not just served as sides. In fact, the majority of restaurants that serve steak also offer dinner-sized salads aside from their solo plates. This can be due to the fact that a lot of meat-eaters do love to pair off their meat with fresh, crisp greens. Choose from a wide variety of garden fresh salads. Just remind your waiter to put the dressings on the side, instead of drenching it on your meal. Or you can also ask if they can serve your salad with olive oil instead of a mayo ranch dressing.  Sides of rice and potatoes are usually also available.

If you find yourself in a fast food or large chain restaurant, plant based dining can be a bit difficult.  Not a lot of fast food offers vegan and vegetarian options. Steer clear of vegan burgers in these chains, as most of them, will also cook your vegan patty in the oil where they cook the rest of their hamburgers. However, there are also some restaurants such as Chipotle which serves vegan options that are quite delicious. Another great fast food place that you can go to is P.F. Chang’s. The restaurant is quite commendable with the vegetarian-friendly food choices in their menu. Of course, if you are following a non-egg, non-dairy diet, you will still have to ask to be sure. For beverages, Jamba Juice has great vegan juices that are at par with their best sellers.

With regard to ethnic restaurants, this one is either a hit or a miss. Some ethnic cuisines are vegan-friendly, while there are some that have a rather smaller selection of vegan food choices.

veggie diners aerial view

Ethnic Restaurants Offer the Best Choices for Veggie Diners

Probably the best type of ethnic restaurant for vegans and vegetarians are Middle Eastern and Ethiopian restaurants. Except for their kebabs and lamb shanks, the majority of their dishes are vegan-friendly, although if you are vegan, you might want to avoid the tzatziki since it is yogurt-based. When ordering their falafel, just ask to hold the yogurt and you are good to go. The same thing happens in Ethiopian restaurants, as they have a wide variety of vegetable meals on their menu. The great thing is that their dishes are also devoid of cheese, so you can be sure that once you avoid the meat-based ones, you are in the clear. Popular choices in Middle Eastern restaurants are couscous, tahini, vegetable samosas, rice, tabouleh, pita bread and falafels. Make sure to ask your waiter not to include yogurt and sour cream in your dish. In Ethiopian restaurants, you can order their lentil or pea dishes, cabbage dishes, and injera or flatbread.

Another good choice may be Indian Restaurants.  Although they have a very vegetarian-friendly menu, most cuisines have dairy which comes undetectable when already mixed in. You can order vegetable samosa, dal, rice, saag, and a host of vegetable dishes in Indian restaurants. It would also help if you can clarify if their naan bread is made of butter or yogurt, and that their vegetable dishes does not contain paneer, cream or ghee, which is clarified butter.

buffet with fresh salads

Japanese, Thai, and Chinese restaurants all have great vegetable dishes for plant based dining. For Japanese, you can order vegetable tempura, veggie sushi, noodle soup, and edamame. In Thai restaurants, you can get really good soups such as lemongrass and coconut soup, fresh vegetable rolls, vegetable pad thai, green mango salad, and vegetable rich curries over rice. And in Chinese restaurants, you can order beancurd, noodle dishes, vegetable fried rice, vegetable dumplings and vegetable soups. Make sure that in Asian restaurants, you have to specify that no egg, no fish sauce, and no oyster sauce will be included in your order, as Asian dishes normally use them as ingredients.

Italian restaurants have vegetarian-friendly food choices such as bread with olive oil and balsamic, a host of fresh green salads, and vegetable pizzas. Just make it clear to your waiter not to include cheese and even parmesan in your meal. French restaurants can be challenging as a lot of their dishes have generous amounts of cream and butter. But if you are eating in one, you can order vegetable soups, salads, bread and a vegan ratatouille. Just make sure that their vegetable soups are not cooked in chicken or beef stock. Greek restaurants almost have the same menu as Middle Eastern restaurants. You can order pita bread, hummus, tahini, roasted eggplant, veggie wrap or a vegetable moussaka. For the moussaka, ask for a non-cheese variation.

Planning Ahead is Helpful as is Politely Asking for What You Want

If you are planning to eat out or if someone asks you to dine out with them, it would help if you can call the restaurant in advance. Although most restaurants have menus on their website, most of it are not updated. Aside from knowing if they serve vegan options, you can also let the chef know in advance about your dietary requirements, so they can prepare a meal for you. If you didn’t have the opportunity to call in advance, make sure to do it once you get to the restaurants. It might seem intimidating at first, but chefs and waiters would rather know your food limitations in advance so they can provide you with the right service.

restaurant dining out

Although the restaurant might have vegetable dishes and salads, you still can’t be sure if the ingredients are fit for your diet. For this reasons, it would be best to scan the menu first, prior to ordering. Aside from checking out the food options, this will also help you identify which ingredients or sides can be substituted or replaced. For example, when eating in a Mexican restaurant and your meal of choice has a siding of sour cream, you can ask your waiter to replace it with a guacamole instead. If the food that you want is only served as a side, you can ask if you can order it as a dish with bigger portions, instead.

Lastly, it is important to be gentle when you are asking. Although it can be frustrating if a waiter is not knowledgeable about vegan options, you don’t have to show it to him. Instead, explain what you don’t eat so they can find an option for you on their menu. When you are nice, people will generally do their best to accommodate you.

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Thriving on Plants is a resource for a whole food, plant-based way of eating and living. Here we celebrate all things plant and honor the power of informed awareness and a diet focused primarily of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains to support good health and happiness. Discover what a little more plant can do for your life!


This website is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing presented here should be construed as a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any type of new diet (natural or conventional), it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed physician, nutritionist and/or healthcare professional.
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