Eating out on a plant-based, vegan diet

I was a vegetarian for 18 years before I became a vegan in 2010. Once I cut out dairy, I realized just how much cheese is in restaurant fare – on salads, over pasta, on pizza, etc. Over the years, I’ve learned to plan ahead, explore new restaurants and not hesitate to ask wait staff for their assistance in selecting vegan-friendly menu items. Here are some tips that I’ve learned…

Friends & Family:

When dining at a family member’s or friend’s home:

  • Be sure to let the host know of your diet well in advance
  • Offer to bring a substantial entree to share that will fill you up and perhaps an appetizer like hummus and carrots, sliced apples, bruschetta, etc.
  • Suggest that the host “hold the cheese” on pasta or salads until you’ve served yourself. For instance, my good friend, Deborah, will serve me some risotto prior to adding the parmesan. Check out my vegan version of her recipe for roasted butternut squash and rainbow chard risotto.
  • Don’t make a big deal of your food preferences. Enjoy and have fun!

Work and Social Gatherings:

  • When going out to networking events, eat a light snack or full meal ahead of time in case there are no vegan choices
  • For work meetings, ask the meeting organizer to include a vegan meal, or if you are going out to eat, suggest a vegan-friendly or ethnic restauant (see below).

Restaurants:

The good news is that the number of vegan-friendly restaurants has increased dramatically over the last few years. According to a July 13, 2014 article in Restaurant Business, “Meatless/vegetarian menu items are a hot trend, according to 57 percent of the chefs who took part in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2014 Culinary Forecast.”

Plan ahead, especially if you are traveling. Use a site like happycow.net to find restaurants in your area. A search for vegan, vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants within 15 miles of my home in Los Altos, CA came up with 101! Here are some of my favorite veg-friendly restaurants.

  • California:
    • San Francisco: Millenium (closing soon) but hopefully re-opening in the East Bay. And Greens is vegetarian SF landmark, opening in 1979, and vegan-friendly.
    • Palo Alto: Califia and Lyfe Kitchen serve meat, but have an entire menu for vegans.
    • Mountain View and in So Cal: Veggie Grill, a vegan chain, is fantastic and rapidly expanding. Even Chipotle is now offering their braised tofu sofritas.
    • Los Angeles: Chef Tal Ronnen has created Crossroads, a high-end vegan restaurant frequented by Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey.  Shojin is a vegan Japanese & sushi restaurant in Little Tokyo.
    • Santa Monica: Real Food Daily is a fantastic organic plant-based restaurant that opened in 1993!
  • New York:
    • Manhattan: Candle 79 is a high-end restaurant serving only organic, vegan cuisine.
  • Tennessee
    • Nashville: The Wild Cow serves delicious vegetarian & vegan fare.

If a vegan or vegetarian restaurant is not an option, choose ethnic cuisine such as:

  • Indian – chana masala (garbanzo beans with tomatoes) and allo gobhi (potatoes and cauliflower)
  • Italian – pasta primavera (hold the cheese)
  • Mediterranean – hummus, falafels, baba ganoush, etc.
  • Mexican – vegetarian burrito (hold the cheese and sour cream)
  • Thai – veggie curry with tofu

If not dining at a vegan restaurant, be sure to:

  • Ask wait staff if soup broth or rice is vegetarian (if it’s not already noted on the menu). Sometimes they will not know and will double check with the chef.
  • Tell the wait staff that you are vegan and seek out their suggestions. Most are happy to assist. And, you can even ask if the chef would be willing to whip up a custom vegan entree. I’ve had some amazing meals that were off the menu and my dining companions were envious!
  • Ask to modify recipes, like pizza without cheese, salads without cheese and so forth. Ask for extra veggies on a pizza instead of cheese, or avocado on a salad instead of cheese.

Air Travel:

Fortunately, air travel is getting easier for vegans too. Check out PCRM’s Airport Food Review which “finds that 75 percent of restaurants at 23 of the top 30 busiest U.S. airports offer at least one healthful plant-based entrée.”

So don’t feel that you need to always cook at home. Share recipes and meals with friends and get out, expore new restauants, travel and have fun!

What are your tips and favorite vegan-friendly restaurants?

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