The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Ordering Vegan Food at Non-Vegan Restaurants

Posted on November 28, 2017 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Ilana Wolf

There is nothing more special for a vegan than getting to eat at an all vegan restaurant! If you can get your friends or family to eat at a vegan place, then that’s amazing. Most of the time, we all end up at restaurants that aren’t vegan, plus you’re probably the only vegan at the restaurant. Eating at a non-vegan restaurant does take some planning, but it will be worth it when you show everyone how easy it is to be vegan. I’ve gone out to eat a lot as the only vegan and when I don’t make it a big deal, neither does anyone else. Here is a cheat sheet for you with some ideas about how to order as a vegan at different types of restaurants.

General tips:
1. Check the restaurant’s website. Almost every restaurant has an online menu. Before going out to eat, I always look at the menu beforehand to see what I can order. Some restaurants will have vegan options listed, others may appear to have nothing vegan-friendly.
2. Call ahead. Some restaurants will be more receptive than others in answering menu questions. Mention you have questions about the menu. It would be helpful to have the menu on your phone or computer to reference it with specific questions. You can also explain that you’re vegan, what they means, and ask if he/she know of any options.
3. Be creative! Side dishes are a lifesaver. Instead of trying to order a meal, see if you can order a few different sides.
4. Ask the waiter. If you weren’t able to get answers on the phone, talk to your waiter when you sit down. He/she may be able to talk to the chef who can prepare something for you.
5. Understand that you may not be eating the best meal of your life. Going out to eat is about the company you’re with, and socializing at a non-vegan place might result in your not eating that much. Focus on having a good time with the people you’re with.
6. Be prepared. I always pack back-up snacks with me in case I can’t find anything besides a salad. You can even pack food for yourself and keep it in the car. This does happen, so be prepared with food to tie you over until you eat.

A guide for eating at specific types of restaurants:

Pasta is a staple for everyone, and always a great option at Italian restaurants. Fresh pasta is normally made with eggs, but dry pasta isn’t. Ask if they have any dry (eggless) pasta you can have with sauce and veggies. Marinara sauce is usually safe, but always ask if there’s dairy in the sauce. Double check about the bread served on the table since not all bread is vegan. Most places will be willing to make you a simple pasta with sauce. Pasta with garlic and oil is also common and an easy option.

Plain baked potatoes are a great option at steakhouses. Order as many as you like, add some veggies on the side, a salad, and you have a basic but healthy meal. Play around with side dishes here. That will be your best bet. Ask for some avocado if they have to make it more filling. Look for a veggie burger, but make sure you ask about cheese or eggs being used in the patty. Veggie wraps or sandwiches, French fries (sometimes fried in the same oil as meat so double check) are all options.

Falafel is my favorite to order. A pita wrap makes for a perfect meal. Tahini, hummus, cucumber and tomato salad, are just a few other possibilities. Make sure there’s no cheese or yogurt in your meal. Tzatziki sauce is made with yogurt. Ask to have your meal without it. You can add hummus to anything to make it more filling.

Curries are a great option at Thai restaurants. Many restaurants already have tofu or just vegetables as an option. Plus, curries are almost always made using coconut milk. Pad Thai is another great noodle dish. Thai restaurants have plenty of noodle and fried rice meals to choose from. For all of this, just ask for no fish sauce and no eggs added.

Rice and beans are a staple, just check how they are cooked (some are made with meat-based stocks or animal fat). If not, you can order burritos, tacos, fajitas or simple rice, beans and veggies. Ask for no sour cream and no cheese.

Asian Cuisine
One of my favorite types of restaurants to go to with non-vegans is Japanese or Chinese restaurants. If there’s sushi, you’ll always find a cucumber avocado roll. I like ordering steamed vegetables with rice. Check to see if they have any mock meats as some do. Eggplant dishes are popular as well. Edamame makes for a great protein substitute. There’s vegetable fried rice, vegetable lo mein, tofu dishes, etc. Just ask for no eggs and no fish sauce added.

Oatmeal is a great go-to. Ask if it’s made with water or milk. If all else fails you can have toast with jelly. Veggie wraps, salads, veggie burgers are pretty common now. A lot of diners have all different types of food. Something is usually customizable. Don’t be afraid to ask if they can make a simple meal for you with ingredients you know they have.
It’s not impossible to be vegan when eating out, you just need to ask a few questions and be prepared! The most important thing is spending time with your friends and family.

For information on vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the USA and Canada, see:

For information on eating out at quick service chains, see:

The contents of this posting, our website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

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