How to Eat Vegan at Any Restaurant (Yes, Even Steakhouses)

It may involve some creative thinking, or, gasp, calling the restaurant ahead (many chefs are amenable and excited to cook for plant-based folks. it gives chefs an opportunity to experiment and a fun challenge), but I promise you it’s easier than you think.

Image courtesy of Juicepresso 

Here are my tried-and-true tips:

1. Befriend the “sides” 

But be wary. Roasted Brussels sprouts may sound delicious but are they dotted with prosciutto bits? That baked broccoli rabe sounds good too, but is it doused with butter? Restaurants should have no problem omitting the animal portions of the sides (unless they cook it up in big batches ahead of time and just reheat…but do you really want to eat KFC baked beans anyways?) and simply request that your veggie side be cooked in olive oil. It slashes fat and helps out dairy cows: win-win. A veggie side or two along with a side of brown rice (okay, okay, french fries) or beans rounds out a filling and satisfying meal.

2. Stock your purse. 

Sounds a little crazy, but a quick sprinkle of nutritional yeast on a vegan-friendly house salad goes a long way. If you know you’re ordering coffee but not sure they’ll have non-dairy milk substitutes, bring along your own creamer (So Delicious Dairy Free Creamers will enchant any kind of caffeine aficionado). Bloody Mary addict? Tote along some Annie’s Natural Organic Worcestershire Sauce. I guarantee you someone at your waiter and table will learn something new when you tell them conventional versions are made with anchovies. Feeling risky? Many restaurants offer awesome-looking salads that become more than a little drab when you hold the cheese or shrimp. Sneak a packet of chopped walnuts or pecans into your bag and toss them with your greens for a heartier meal and satisfying crunch.

3. Make a DIY entrée.

See spaghetti and meatballs on the menu? How about a side of sauteed spinach and garlic? Chances are they have the materials to make you a simple spaghetti with tomato sauce and spinach. Does the veggie burger (double check that it wasn’t made with eggs!) look tantalizing but the spicy aioli and melted cheddar cock block you from ordering? Most places should be more than happy to let you skip the sauce and cheese. They may even let you replace it with a hearty topping like avocado or caramelized onions free of charge. Yes, you risk annoying the waiter with a “picky” request, but carnivores do it all the time too, you know. And with the whole gluten-free craze and vegetarians and vegans becoming more mainstream, I promise you they are used to getting these kind of inquiriu es.

Tomorrow I’m excited to be eating at renowned Bill’s Food & Drink. Their menu is heavy on the steak and Reubens. Am I nervous? Not at all.  For a starter, I look forward to the Field Green Salad with shaved fennel, radish and raisins. And for my main, either a Grilled Portabella with roasted pepper and arugula (hold the cheddar and pesto, unless the pesto happens to be vegan) or a platter of delectable sides like red quinoa and citrus, broccoli rabe and yes, french fries with rosemary and sea salt. And for dinner? I have no doubt New York Yankee Steak‘s cuisine will be just like my favorite baseball team: nothing but stellar.

P.S. That delectable soup photo above, yes you can make it with a juicer. And yes you can make a creamy squash soup vegan (just swap milk and cream for non-dairy versions of your choice!). Recipe here.

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