Fellow vegans will be familiar with the apprehension of restaurant outings with predominantly omnivore friends. I don’t know if you’re like me but I will scour the restaurant’s online menu and craft my meal in my head before consenting to go! It’s a sad task but thankfully the tides are changing and the majority of people I hang out with are open to vegetarian/vegan friendly ethnic places and more tasty, accommodating places are cropping up more than ever!
My rules for a successful and satisfying night out of the kitchen:
1. Go ethnic! Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, INDIAN, Mexican, and Ethiopian cuisine feature vegan proteins and lots of veggies and LOTS of spices and textures opposed to the pathetic garden side salad with balsamic dressing. (I would mention Japanese but I really really am never a fan of a veggie roll)
2. Ask and you shall receive! Whether you ended up in an ethnic place or a Marie Callendar’s, ASK your server questions.
- I’ve come across so many chain/mom and pop/hole in the wall places that, when asked, will make every modification for you AND even ask their chef if they can create a special dish!
- Almost EVERY dish can be made without cheese, eggs, yogurt, sour cream, butter. (almost!)
- Soups can be tricky and have pieces of meat or cream floating in it that were not mentioned in the description (sucks huh). Lentil Vegetable can turn into Lentil Beef Vegetable!
- Dressings can be mayo based!
- Pestos are traditionally made with Parmesan cheese but some places make it without!
- I heard certain guacamoles are made with sour cream…
- Sandwiches can be spread with butter/mayo/melted with cheese — I see you Cheesecake Factory
- Thai curries can have shrimp paste/Japanese broths and dipping sauces can have bonito or fish sauce/Mexican restaurants may still use lard (bleghhh) in their beans AND ask for no cheese garnish on those beans/Indian curries or sauces may have yogurt or cream
- **TIP THE SERVER EXTRA FOR GRACIOUSLY ACCOMMODATING YOU!**
[I would never snitch on you to the 'vegan police' if you didn't want to bother the kitchen and send your incorrect food back or if you really wanted the Butternut Squash soup that was made with chicken stock. I've been in your position and your true intentions are golden, so don't feel bad or hate on others that make occasional exceptions!]
2.5 Forgive and Forget… If the server screws up, gives you attitude (I work at a restaurant and I’m familiar with the frustration servers will experience with ‘picky’ guests…they’re just stressed because they’re not savvy enough to know modifications right off the back!), food comes out wrong, or if you ultimately have to order something lame. It’s always a toss up when you go out and part of being a veg head in a not-so veg-friendly world is accepting certain sacrifices like dealing with n00bs and flavorless beans and rice.
3. Ditch the salad! Especially at places where there are Balsamic Roasted Veggie Paninis, Kung Pao Tofu, Hearty Vegetarian Chili, South Indian Eggplant Curry, Vegetable Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce, etc, don’t subject yourself to that salad! You’re out of your house, indulge a little! You’re already living a very clean lifestyle and this is a special occasion! Gone are the days of anticipating the watery iceberg lettuce with shaved carrots and oil and vinegar. Now, unless the salad is crazy and has an insane dressing, garlic rubbed housemade croutons or brown rice, chunks of baked tofu, fresh herbs, or toasted nuts – then by all means, order. that. salad.
I definitely do not live in the most vegan/vegetarian suitable neighborhood but with some Yelp! researching for vegan places and menu tweaking of ‘regular’ restaurants, here’s what I’ve been able to enjoy!
Natural Cafe – SB Veggie Grill – Grilled Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, Scallions, Yellow Squash, Zucchini brushed with a killer Balsamic Marinade, over brown rice
Buddha’s Belly – Hibachi Chicken Salad – (no Chicken, add Fried Tofu!) a Shredded Napa Cabbage, Red Cabbage, and Green Onion Slaw tossed with Dried Cranberries, dressed with a Wasabi Yuzu sauce, topped with Cilantro
Hugo’s – Vegan Blueberry Cheesecake
Natural Cafe – (custom made by yours truly) Baby Spinach, Olives, Brown Rice, Alfalfa Sprouts, Shredded Carrots, Bacun Bits, and Marinated Artichoke Hearts with Lemon Herb dressing
Jinky’s – Bombay Tofu Wrap (emphasis on the BOMB!) – Spicy Curry Tofu, Bell Peppers, Onions, Potato, Cilantro, and a Fruit Salad
Menchie’s – Honeydew Melon Sorbet (DAAAAAMN, if you like Honeydew Melon Milk Tea with your boba, you’ll LOVE this)
Akio’s – Special Vegetable Roll – Tempura Asparagus, Potato, Sweet Potato, rolled in a Daikon Radish wrap and a Ponzu Sauce
Maria’s Italian Kitchen – Whole Wheat Penne with just a lot of veggies and garlic and olive oil
Curry Leaf – Kara Eggplant Curry – “Eggplant with Dried Chilies in a Spicy Tamarind Sauce” topped with fresh strips of ginger, with Basmati Rice and Whole Wheat Roti
Hip Cafe – Vegan Gluten Free Artichoke Quiche
Lazy Dog Cafe – Hummus Trio
Some seafood shack near San Luis Obispo on a dock – Spicy Seasoned Black Beans and Spanish Rice with Pickled Cabbage (!!!) and the Seaweed Salad with Pickled Ginger on a Fried Tortilla
Follow Your Heart – Tapioca Pudding – I believe it was a Coconut Milk based Tapioca garnished with Sliced Strawberries (though I highly recommend Buddha’s Belly’s Coconut Tapioca with Red Bean paste on top….so good)
Buddha’s Belly – Eggplant Steak – Half of an entire Baked Eggplant slathered with a Saikyo Miso Marinade, topped with Roasted Sesame Seeds and some Pickled Ginger on the side
My school sells these awesome Blue Diamond Flavored Almonds, these were Habanero BBQ! And C2O is the cheapest brand of Coconut Water at Whole Foods
Arigato – Magic Mushroom – 5 Different Wild Mushrooms sauteed in White Truffle Oil and Garlic, rolled up with Asparagus, Avacado, and Chives!!
Some Pho Place in the Valley – Veggie Ham and Tofu Spring/Salad Rolls, Japanese Vegan Curry with Tofu and Brown Rice, and Lavender Milk Tea with Boba
Cafe Gratitude – Raw Pad Thai – Kelp Noodles, Raw Almond Butter based sauce, Shredded Kale, Carrots, Sunflower Sporuts, and Nama Shoyu Almonds
Cafe Gratitude – Raw Crepes – Banana Crepe filled with sliced Bananas and Strawberries topped with Cashew Creme, Maple Syrup and Pecans and Cinnamon
Shojin – Spicy Ramen – Savory Spicy Miso Broth, Wilted Kale, Meaty Seitan bits, Eggless Ramen Noodles, Sliced Onion, Sesame Seeds
Shojin – Yellow Magic Orchestra – Avocado Roll topped with Tempura Kabocha Squash topped with Curried Tempeh
Worried about those pesky B12’s? Indulging in the oh-so-trendy (and pricey eeep) Kombucha drinks will help! Since this is a fermented drink, good bacteria is created which B12 derives from. Guava, Hibiscus, and Raspberry Chia are my favorite!
White Elephant – Pa Nang Curry – Peanut and Coconut Milk based Curry with Veggies and Steamed Tofu over Purple Rice
Sojourner Cafe – Blackberry Fizz and Pink Ginger Lemonade
Sojourner Cafe – Tempeh Taco Salad – Baby Mixed Greens, Spicy Taco Tempeh, Balsamic Black Beans, Guacamole, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Tomatoes and Cucumber, Brown Rice, Hominy Bell Pepper and Onion mix
I will admit that most of these are from vegan restaurants but mainly because when me, my boyfriend, and my friends go out to eat, it’s a rare and special-ish occasion so we set out to discover a worth while eatery. I much rather cook at home because I can almost guarantee the satisfaction and consistency that comes with the meal as opposed to a new restaurant where it’s definitely a toss up. But do your research, set forth, and remember to tip your waiter!