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Navigating Restaurants Like a Vegan Pro
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Navigating Restaurants Like a Vegan Pro

The most intimidating aspect of my vegan journey is restaurant eating.

I live in a rural area, where “meatless” isn’t exactly a household word. Being allergic to soy complicates matters for me, because I can’t just default to a vegetarian burger at chain restaurant.

I’m just now learning to embrace the adventure of making special requests and practicing patience.

Here are a few tips for creating your own vegan-friendly concoctions at just about any place you might find yourself. Feel free to share tips that have worked for you in the comments below. We're all learning as we go.

Breakfast

My favorite breakfast is either extra-crisp hash browns or country-style fried potatoes with steamed veggies on top. Even the most rural diner will have peppers and onions in the kitchen for Denver omelets.

Diners that serve from the whole menu all day can usually whip up something that will have your carnivorous companions green with envy. Other options include ordering dry toast and fresh fruit (note that in some parts of the U.S., “fresh” is whatever they have canned in back).

What to watch: Butter sneaks into most diner foods. Be prepared to explain that you want your veggies steamed without added fat and what that means.

Lunch

Sandwiches seem like an easy choice, but many commercial breads contain dairy or soy derivatives. Sourdough, however, is the exception and makes for a flavorful vegan option. Salads are a safe bet, provided you can remember to detail every item that must be left off: cheese, egg, bacon, other meat, etc.

In Mexican restaurants, I like to order whole beans and pico de gallo. Mixed together, it makes for a refreshing salad. Wrap it in a corn tortilla for DIY vegan tacos.

What to watch: Sandwich spreads sometimes contain dairy or eggs. Aioli is just a fancy name for mayonnaise. Pesto usually has cheese. Salad croutons usually are fried in butter and tossed with cheese. I don't trust soups in restaurants that I don't know for a fact are vegan-friendly because I have found that often even the staff can't tell me the source of the base and whether it's animal-free.

Dinner

Most restaurants offer pasta and marinara but why stop there? Believe it or not, the most satisfying dinners can be those compiled from a restaurant’s side-dish offerings. Look for options like roasted vegetables, steamed rice and baked potatoes.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match ingredients to your liking. I’ve made meals out of baked potatoes topped with veggies or stuffed with avocado and salsa.

What to watch: Rice dishes sometimes include butter, cheese and chicken or beef broth. Some restaurants automatically butter pasta and steamed vegetables to add flavor.

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