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Eating vegan in non-vegan restaurants

Dining out when vegan can be difficult, but not impossible.
Dining out when vegan can be difficult, but not impossible.
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Oh my gosh! I thought finding something vegetarian on a conventional menu was hard. Now that I've gone vegan, that seems like a piece of cake. Still, there are ways to go vegan when eating our with friends, no matter how traditional the restaurant is. Yup, I've even done it at a steak house. Hey, they have potatoes and salad, right? You may be out of luck at seafood restaurants, especially if you're allergic. However, most of the time you can eat vegan in non-vegan restaurants if you're willing to compromise a bit, take what you can get and follow a few tips.

How about that salad?

I know. You're sick of salad being your only choice. I feel your pain. It's OK, though. Study the menu. What's in the other food? Are there interesting things that could be added to your salad? Maybe they have some nuts that normally top their signature ice cream dish. How about those berries they use on their pancakes? Explain your situation to the waitstaff. Ask if they have anything on hand that's vegan and salad friendly. Who knows? That salad you had to settle for, might be the most unique you've ever tasted. Be polite and try not to be too demanding if you want them to champion your cause.

Hold the cheese, please

When there are at least a few vegetarian options, ordering something vegan can be as easy as asking for the dish without cheese. Mexican restaurants adapt well to this tip. Vegetarian fajitas without the cheese and sour cream are vegan. Guacamole tostadas or guacamole salad minus the cheese and sour cream are too. So are whole bean burritos, whole bean tostadas and other vegetarian favorites. Skip the re-fries. They're often made with lard. Watch out for the sauces your favorites are smothered in, too. Some contain milk or cream. Sticking with plain salsa is your best bet.

*I've noticed lately that some of my favorite Mexican restaurants have a veggie green chili. These are fresh and clear with no dairy or pork. It might be worthwhile to ask if yours does too. Be careful though, they tend to be spicier than conventional green chili sauces since there's nothing to cut the heat.

Side dishes

I know. You don't want to patronize a restaurant that serves meat products. Unfortunately, your friends are not vegan and you'd like to spend time with them. Don't despair. Even steak houses have side dishes that are or can be vegan. Have a baked potato. Hold the non-vegan toppings. Ask if they have some salsa, onions, mushrooms or something else to perk it up with. Get the green beans and almonds without the bacon and creamy sauce, etc. Most restaurant side dishes can be modified unless we're talking mac and cheese.

Don't be shy.

It's OK to ask the waitstaff if there are any vegan alternatives. It's OK to make special requests. People do it all the time for other reasons. You shouldn't feel bad. Consider this: You're spending good money to go out for a nice meal. There's no reason your food shouldn't be just as special as the non-vegans at the table.

Why compromise?

I know. It's hard to think of your money going to a business that serves meat, fish, eggs and dairy. By all means, stay completely vegan. You shouldn't have to eat anything that's against your principles. Still, it won't kill you to be open minded enough to hang out with your non-vegan friends at their favorite restaurant. Or maybe it is. If so, then I guess these tips are not for you.

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