If you’re a Hungryroot fan, chances are you’re interested in eating more plant-based foods. So, today we’re sharing our tips for how to eat vegan when you’re dining out, whether you’re vegan or an omnivore and whether you’re at a fancy restaurant or a fast casual joint.

Research ahead

If you’re visiting a new restaurant, the first step is to do your research. Look up the restaurant’s menu online and scan for vegan options. If you don’t see any obvious choices or are unsure about a particular dish, call the restaurant. The receptionist may not be familiar with the menu, but he or she will be willing to connect you with someone who can direct you to plant-based options or menu accommodations. Or, the restaurant might inform you that they don’t have any vegan options. If that happens to be the case, simply pick a different restaurant and/or let your party know that you won’t be able to eat at this restaurant.

Another obvious tool at your disposal is Yelp: look up the restaurant on Yelp and use the search function to type in “vegan” or “vegetarian” to see if any users have discussed vegan and vegetarian dining at this restaurant.

Study the menu

Once you’re at the restaurant, review the menu (again) to see if you can find any vegan or possibly vegan options. In a typical restaurant, there will often be at least one vegetable-based dish in the starters section, a few salads or soups, and some vegetable-based side dishes. Start there and investigate whether these options are naturally plant-based or can easily be made plant-based.

Speak up

Once you’ve settled into your table and your server asks if you have any questions about the menu, kindly inform them that you’re vegan (even if you may not be). If you’ve found a few dishes that appear to be suitable, mention that you were considering those dishes and ask if they are vegan or can be modified. If you didn’t find anything that seemed vegan (or edible), ask if there’s anything vegan on the menu or if any of the dishes can be modified to be made vegan.

It’s possible that your server will be unfamiliar with a plant-based diet. For instance, he or she might suggest salmon or a vegetarian lasagna (made with dairy cheese). If that’s the case, find a casual, nonjudgmental way to say, “Oh, thank you, but I don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy.” Then, politely ask if he or she can double check with their manager about the vegan options.

If you’re worried about sounding too demanding, don’t be (as long as you’re asking politely and not rudely, of course!). For one, restaurants are used to customers making specific requests, accommodating dietary restrictions and dealing with allergies. Plus, the restaurant staff would prefer that you clarify your restrictions upfront rather than have to remake your food if it comes out incorrectly.

Swaps and Combinations

Even if the dish you’re eyeing isn’t naturally vegan, it’s possible that it can be made vegan. Make sure to ask that your food be cooked in oil rather than butter (though this may be unnecessary at certain ethnic restaurants where butter is uncommon, as is the case in many Asian restaurants). And request that the cheese be omitted (if it’s possible in the particular dish).

For instance, if you spot a pasta made with white wine butter sauce on the menu, ask the server if it can be made with olive oil instead of butter and to hold the Parmesan cheese. At a pizza joint, simply request that your pizza be made with extra vegetable toppings and no cheese. If a salad comes with a dairy based dressing, ask for olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead. And if you’re ordering a baked potato or tacos, ask for guacamole and salsa instead of sour cream and cheese.

And don’t be afraid to combine small dishes or sides to make one big plate. Even at a steakhouse, you’ll be able to assemble a hearty dinner out of a vegetable-heavy salad, a baked potato with salsa and guacamole, grilled vegetables and rice.

Dine Globally

Many global cuisines are naturally vegan friendly, so be sure to seek out those restaurants. For example, Indian fare offers plenty of vegetable-based main dishes, appetizers, and side dishes. Just ask that your dishes be cooked in oil instead of ghee (clarified butter) and ask for any yogurt sauces on the side. Middle Eastern cuisine is another great option, as it offers plenty of salads, hummus, pita bread, tahini, lentils and falafel.

Ethiopian cuisine is another very vegan friendly choice and is particularly great for sharing with others. Japanese and Thai food are excellent choices as well, as typical dishes do not contain dairy and require only minor modifications.

And don’t forget you can still have Mexican food – tacos, burritos and fajitas can often be made vegan, and the guac is always vegan (even if it’s not free!). 

Get E-Savvy

These days, there are plenty of apps and websites that will inform you whether there are vegan friendly restaurants in your area. On Happy Cow and Vegman, you simply type in your zip code, and the app spits out nearby suggestions for vegan-and vegetarian-friendly

food. The VeganXpress app helps you find plant-based options at chain restaurants and fast food joints. And for all of you Millennials, veganfoodiseverywhere.com is a crowd-sharing social network where users share vegan discoveries at restaurants around the world.

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