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Prime Tips: Dining Out

Posted by at 4:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


Prime Tips: Dining Out by Lisa TowellDining out as a vegan is much easier than it used to be. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are springing up everywhere. Many meat-serving restaurants have at least one vegan option on the menu, and most of the others are happy to do a little customizing for their vegan customers. In the three years since I went vegan, I’ve never once gone home hungry.

A little advance planning can increase your chances of scoring a tasty vegan meal. When your meat-eating friends want to eat out, suggest a local spot that has some vegan options. Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants usually have plenty of great choices. If your friends have already decided on a fancy French restaurant, you can try calling ahead to ask if they can prepare a vegan meal. Chefs at elegant restaurants will often go out of their way to create something special, especially if they have some advance warning.

It’s worth spending a few minutes researching restaurant chains. Many chains offer vegan burgers, wraps, or pastas, and knowing which chains are vegan-friendly will give you plenty of dining options. The servers at chain restaurants sometimes don’t know much about the ingredients in their food, so try checking out their Web sites before you go. That’s how I found out about the “fresco” option at Taco Bell, where they’ll replace the cheese with salsa. Restaurant Web sites sometimes list food allergen information, which can be a great way to find out about hidden dairy and egg ingredients. I keep a list with me of vegan menu items at the major fast-food chains, so I know the best places for a quick vegan meal on road trips.

Sometimes, you find yourself looking at a menu that doesn’t offer a single vegan main course. One great solution is to order several appetizers for dinner. (Is it just me, or are the appetizers always the tastiest things on the menu anyway?) Another option is to look at the side dishes listed with the meat entrées. Most restaurants will be happy to bring you the rosemary mashed potatoes and garlic braised chard without the meat items they’re paired with.

Nonvegan surprises are all too common. Bacon in the salad, goat cheese in the greens: We’ve all had those “uh oh” moments when the food arrives. It helps to be very clear when ordering. “Can you tell me if this dish has any kind of meat or dairy in it? Any butter, cream, milk, or cheese?” I’ve learned to do this even when the dish sounds 100 percent vegan—I’ve been surprised many times with a meat topping or a dairy sauce that wasn’t listed on the menu. And you can help future vegan diners this way too—a discussion like this helps servers understand exactly what a vegan cannot eat.

Over the years, I’ve gotten into a few longish conversations with servers about the ingredients in the food, but I’ve come to realize that by doing this, I was making vegan dining look like some kind of mission impossible. So now I don’t worry too much about what side of a kitchen’s grill something is prepared on. I’m not happy about it, but I’m willing to eat some miniscule amounts of unintentional animal products to show my friends that being vegan isn’t about purity or deprivation; it’s about doing what you can for animals and enjoying tasty food.

Looking for vegan restaurants? Try the Happy Cow Web site.

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    Robin says...

    September 29th, 2009, 1:51 pm

    Good tips. I like persuading friends and family to try the few veg/veg restaurants in our area for several reasons: to support those restaurants, enjoy the food and to help others discover some veg foods they like. I’ve learned to warn carne companions that they may find the analog foods (such as faux duck or mock shrimp) to be letdowns. The problem with mock meats is that they aren’t really like the real thing in taste or texture, so that perpetuates the misperception that veg food is “not as good.” Frankly, I find many mock meats to have blah or unpleasant textures, so in my experience it’s better to suggest carne companions pick menu items based on flavors and vegs they may like. Thus reducing the risk of the dish falling short of their expectations.

    kerry says...

    September 29th, 2009, 3:13 pm

    I travel for business so I eat out alot, and I dont always get to choose the spot. Sometimes i end out eating in places where there is not a single vegetarian , much less vegan item on the menu And if there is anything vegetarian, it is usually gookey squash and rubbery carrots swimming in thick cream sauce. yuk. I used to just order french fries and salad, but lately I have bugun to read the whole menu like i am reading a list of ingredients. If i see asparagus or mushrooms or pasta on the menu, i just ask if they can make me up something vegan using these ingredients. So far, they have all been gracious about it, and I have ended out getting some really great meals. often, the cook comes out to ask how I liked it. I think the key is to ask really nicely, but dont be shy or apologetic.

    Denise says...

    October 2nd, 2009, 1:56 pm

    I have been a vegetarian for 16 years and am sooooo happy to see that there are more vegetarian and vegan options and restaurants. Now I don’t feel so odd when I ask if someting is vegetarian. Sixteen years ago I used to get these weird looks from people when I would ask for veg food! It’s nice to see that being vegetarian is becoming more common.

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