3. In-N-Out Burger: I know what you’re thinking: this place has about three menu options, and a handful more not-so-secret items and most of it centers around meat or cheese. Well, when you’re in a late-night bind, or in a rush, or just plain miss the flavor of the yummy, crispy bread (like I did) you can hit the In-N-Out drive-thru and make a few adjustments to what they already refer to as the Veggie Burger. Politely ask for that with no cheese and no spread. They are always nice about it and don’t usually bat an eye at the modifications.
Also, for those of you with outspoken friends or family members, try to ignore if they joke or make fun of you for eating what they may deem A Nothing Burger because I’ll tell you this: that Nothing Burger is filled with fresh veggies and so much delicious nutrition, between a delicious, toasty bun of dreams that no animals were harmed for the making of so...win/win/win.
And yes, the French Fries are vegan.
2. The Cheesecake Factory: This was actually a fun one to discover, partly because I was on vacation in Hawaii (for the very first time—as a new vegan no less), but also partly because of the lovely woman who took our orders. She already knew a little about the vegan options at the restaurant and was incredibly patient with my questions as well as genuinely interested in finding out about other vegan menu items they had.
Something I discovered that I thought was surprising was that most pasta is already vegan. At Cheesecake Factory they have an item called Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta—rigatoni with broccoli, oven-dried tomatoes, zucchini, roasted eggplants, peppers, artichoke, olives, onions, garlic, and pine nuts. Just ask for this with no butter and no Parmesan cheese. Also, ask about their marinara sauce. At the restaurant I went to, they had to double-check that it wasn’t made with chicken broth; it was not and was completely vegan-friendly, which is hopefully the case at all of their locations.
That’s not all, though; check out their Super Foods section which has already-vegan options or dishes that can be made vegan with very few changes. The Vegan Cobb Salad and Super Antioxidant Salad are already vegan-friendly and rich with fresh veggies. The Kale and Quinoa Salad is highly nutritious, recommended, and vegan if you ask them to hold the Parmesan cheese. I also like to add avocado to my salad if there isn’t any already.
Casually speaking of avocados, there is one option here that did leave a very lasting impression. Now, I didn’t want to cross over to this dark side but I guess it was inevitable. On the other hand, after trying Cheesecake Factory’s Avocado Toast, I will never be the same again and I don’t mind (yes, I off-quoted a Maroon 5 song; No, it holds no relevance and serves no purpose in furthering this narrative). But it’s no secret avocados are one of Mother Nature’s most appreciated superfoods, with almost 20 different vitamins and nutrients. So it is also no wonder something like Avocado Toast (yes, you’ve heard of it and want to try it too don’t act like you don’t) has taken off.
Cheesecake Factory is a great place to try it for the first time, like I did. Their Avocado Toast is piled high with fresh avocados and you can add even more if you’d like (you have to pay extra obviously because nothing in life is free). But the Avocado Toast is not just that; it’s also ripe with tomatoes, watercress, radish, red onions, and topped with a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. All of this on a grilled artisan loaf; satisfying and delicious enough to be shared among four people, vegans and non-vegans alike with no complaints, I guarantee.*
*Literally I cannot guarantee because we all know there is always That One Guy.
1. BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse: This was the very first what I deem “popular restaurant,” since it has many locations and a lot of customers, where I had a vegan meal. And it was super easy too.
Firstly, they have a Vegan Lentil Soup that is a fairly new menu item—filled with ancient grains, absolutely delicious, and one-hundred percent nutritious. They also have an option to enjoy it in a bread bowl, however, verify with your server that the bread is vegan-friendly since ultimately each location is unique and sometimes butter or other glazes may be added to it for flavor.
The soup itself is filling—especially with the bread bowl option—but if you aren’t quite satisfied with that, pasta is once again your friend. The easiest way is to modify the Italiano Vegetable Penne pasta: simply ask for no Parmesan cheese. It comes with olive oil as the sauce, but you can switch it to their vegan-friendly marinara for more flavor if you want. Also, add or remove as many vegetables as you like (as they have) and choose from any of the pasta styles they offer, which are all vegan. The pasta also comes with a bread roll, but I have not yet verified if it is vegan so ask your server next time you go (or stay tuned for the next time I go).
BJ’s has many more vegan options than this, including their Chips and Guacamole and their customizable pizzas, if ordered with gluten-free dough, marinara sauce, and all the veggies you could possibly want (that they could possibly have).
The options listed here and even more are available through PETA.org/living/food, an invaluable source for vegans with clear and helpfully-listed options for restaurants, theme parks, and other places you’d never think already have vegan-friendly items available. While research is definitely 80% of it in this case, in my experience the other 20% comes from face-to-face conversations in the moment. I’ve learned not to be embarrassed or afraid to ask questions and (most of the time) the people helping me are usually interested in the vegan options themselves. So truly, it never hurts to just ask.
In summation: (1) more avocado always, (2) never say no to veggies, (3) Pasta Pasta Pasta, (4) salads will never go out of style (5) ask lots of questions, and (6) more avocado. Always.