Restaurants for Vegans

So, you’ve recently turned vegan and are now unsure of where to eat.  You’ve made the choice to free yourself of animal-based foods, but now feel imprisoned by the culture of American cuisine.  You really shouldn’t.  Sure, most restaurants serve up burgers, fish, chicken, hotdogs, steak, ribs, pulled pork, ham, turkey, and even bologna.  But, they usually dress up these foods with veggies.  I have learned that my menu is sometimes the one labeled “Side Items.”  Many restaurants even have vegan-friendly or vegetarian-friendly menus.  Depending on the restaurant you go to, these options may be pretty darn tasty.  Remember not to look at your new lifestyle as a setback or limitation.  You are now free and will soon learn that being vegan will provide you with more options than you ever had.

Quick Story
I recently went out to a local Italian restaurant and when the waitress asked if we were interested in hearing the specials, I almost said no.  Being the polite person I am, I merely said, “sure.”  As I expected, the names of helpless animals rolled out of her mouth.  I was not surprised.  It’s a business.  Why would they feature a salad as their Friday night Entrée?  I gave the menu a once over, piecing together all of the animal-free possibilities that I could come up with.   With a little time, and the help of the waitress, I had several vegan options available.  Not only am I still surprised at the dishes I come up with, but often times the wait staff is impressed.  They’ll tell me things like, “Wow, I should really try that.”  Or “We should put that on the menu.”  You see, it’s not limiting, it’s liberating!
A Few Pointers
Yellow Curry with Tofu & Vegetables
For the most part, I steer clear of seafood, burger joints, bbq smokehouses, or any restaurant with the word “Southern” in their title.  If I am eating with a friend or family member, I respect their choices and go along with them to just about wherever.  I just use my menu traversing technique and make my own “carte du jour“.  However, when I’m out on my own, it’s an entirely different ballgame.  There are many vegan choices that you probably never knew existed.  Some of these restaurants are right in your own backyard.  Do a quick search of restaurants by cuisine using the “Poynt”  application for Android or iPhone.  I usually select Asian, Mexican, Indian, Sushi, Thai, or Vegetarian.  These cuisines typically offer a great selection of salads, grains, nuts, fruits and veggies.  Thai has become one of my favorites.  If you haven’t tried yellow curry with tofu and vegetables, you are sadly missing out.  I have even learned how to make yellow

curry using my Vitamix.  Which reminds me that I need to add the recipe to my Vitamix Recipes.

Helpful Websites
It would be terribly wrong of me not to mention some great websites.  There are several sites that have helped me to find restaurants that cater to my vegan virtues.  Here are three of my favorite vegan restaurant finders, but I’m sure that there are others.
1. Happy Cow–  This is by
far the best resource for vegans and vegetarians alike.  Founded in 1999, HappyCow was created as a public service to assist travelers and people everywhere find vegan, vegetarian, and healthy food. Today, their online community has grown to include members from around the world who are passionate about the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle as a healthy, compassionate, and environmentally sustainable way of living. More than a restaurant and health food store guide, HappyCow is a constant work-in-progress toward becoming the one-stop resource for everything VEG.  Not only will you find reviews of local restaurants, but you can connect with their online community of people who have similar lifestyles as your own.  The world is big, but Happy Cow brings us “healthy-eaters” a little closer together.
2. Veg Guide –   VegGuide.org is a community-maintained, world-wide guide to vegetarian and vegan restaurants and shopping.  As with Happy Cow, the site is easy to navigate and pages are printable.  You can also add your own reviews or restaurant ideas.
3. Urban Spoon – Urban Spoon is probably one of the most-used food guides on the web.  Because of its high popularity, you will find a plethora of reviews for a wide variety of restaurants.  As with Poynt, you will need to specify cuisine.  Lucky for us, they have included a category for “Vegan Friendly”.  Although Urban Spoon isn’t a completely vegan or vegetarian guide, it gives meat-eaters a place to leave reviews for some of the same restaurants that we visit.  This is a benefit to us.  Why?  Because we sometimes want to know more about a restaurant than its food quality.   How many times have you heard great reviews of an establishment, only to go in and find that the place is falling apart.  I want to know that it’s clean, bathrooms are maintained, sanitation grade is high, food service is prompt, etc.
Final Thoughts
I must admit that it does take time to get a good footing on your vegan lifestyle.  Just remember a few key points;
  • There are vegan options on most any menu.  They may not be obvious, but they are there.
  • The wait staff are there to help you.  They typically work for tips (To Insure Prompt Service).  This means that they are working to satisfy you.  If you don’t ask questions, then they can’t help you.  Do them and yourself a favor;  let them know that you are vegan.  If they seem puzzled, just explain that you don’t eat any animal-products.  Most restaurants  are very familiar with vegan guidelines and are more than prepared to help.  I’ve even had chefs to come to my table and offer me up suggestions.
  • It was your choice to go vegan.  It was the best choice of your life but you must understand that there will be challenges. We will make it through them.  There are people in your community, as well as in the online community that are willing to talk to you about your problems.  We are here to help each other.
  • Don’t try to prove anything to anybody.  Order your food, and carry on as usual.  If others ask about your diet (hate to use that word) and are truly interested in learning more, then please explain yourself.  You never know who you may influence.  There was one thing I was missing before going vegan, and that was information.  Don’t keep that from others if they are sincere in their questioning.
  • Get involved with online forums or blogs.  Subscribe to their feeds via RSS, Email, or Facebook Page.  There is always more to learn.  Staying in touch with other vegans makes it easier to stay on track.
  • Let your family and friends know that you are vegan.  I have found that my family is more than willing to eat where I feel comfortable.  This is very nice but don’t take advantage of it.  We should incorporate their favorite restaurants into our dining routines as well.
  • Most importantly, don’t stress out!  This is a lifestyle of simplicity, peace, and balance.  We cannot reap the rewards if we are running around town, popping in and out of restaurants, ripping up menus, and pulling our hair out.  Remember that you are (and always will be) learning and growing.  We can work together and share our experiences.
I hope that you now feel comfortable in venturing out into the world of culinary calamity (a.k.a. America).  Of course, our country’s restaurants have made vast improvements in recent years.  Besides, we cannot expect for every restaurant to accommodate our every need.  The important thing is that the World provides us with our every need.  God created this world “perfect” for each and every one of us.  Stay connected with your community and resources provided to you.  You will soon find that being vegan is not a chore, but a wonderful way of life that you can’t live without.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and family by using the social buttons below.  Happy Eating!
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