Eating Vegan at National Restaurant Chains

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vegan options at chain restaurants

Expanding on yesterday’s post on vegan fast food finds, I’ve compiled an A to Z list of popular restaurant chains that you can find nationwide.

You never know when you are heading out for a meal with a group and need to do the best you can with the menu you are given. No matter where you may be in the U.S. (and Canada), you should have no problem finding a decent meal at any of the places on the list below. Obviously, chain restaurants aren’t ideal most of the time, but part of eating vegan in social situations is about showing that veganism isn’t all about sacrifice, right? For a lot of folks, eating out at these big chains is where it’s at.

So fear not my little vegan foodies, you may eat, drink and be merry in mainstream dining establishments!!!

  • Acapulco. Similar to El Torito, their appetizer guac is pretty good. Check out the veggie fajitas with no cheesey or creamy condiments.
  • Applebee’s. Try the veggie patch pizza appetizer with no cheese or spinach (it’s creamy). Change up any salad by omitting unwanted items and tossing it in their balsamic dressing. Go for the chicken portobello sandwich without the chicken with a nice side salad.
  • Bennigan’s. You can veganize  the salads, as long as you keep an eye on the dressings. Same for the veggie burger.
  • Boston Market. I love their market salad with no cheese. It is super fresh and tasty! You can also order a veggie carver and indulge in the apple cobbler, cinnamon applesauce, or fruit bowl.
  • Buca di Beppo. Start with some bruschetta (hold any sprinkled cheese), and then split a big ol’ mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette. I mess with the menu by ordering the gnocchi with plain marinara and veggies, and I’m sure you can do the same with any pasta dish.
  • California Pizza Kitchen. This place rocks for vegans! Vegan split pea soup, asparagus soup with no croutons and their grilled veggie salad are to die for!! Their hummus (with neopolitan crust instead of pita) is a winner, and the guacamole is a hit too. You can modify thier salads to fit your vegan diet–the balsamic vinaigrette is vegan. Pizzas made on neopolitan dough are veganizable when you skip the cheese. I kill for their veggie or tricolor salad pizza!
  • The Cheesecake Factory. This catalog for a menu always has something for all discerning orderers. Tons of veganizable salads (choose a balsamic or citrus vinaigrette and nix the black beans as they are soaked in beef juice). Naughty fried zucchini, crisp artichoke hearts  and the best, avocado egg rolls. A healthier fire roasted artichoke dip is a great start choice as well edemame and guacamole. That dang bread they serve will come in handy for satiating the carb demon as the pastas and sauces are not vegan. And lastly, the grilled portobella on a bun is yummalicious without cheese and mayo!
  • Chevy’s. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Mexican is a great way to go for a great vegan meal! Always make sure of the chips and tortillas are made without lard, but usually one or the other is ok! Chevy’s has some kick ass guac and salsa! Their veggie fajitas rock as does their veggie burrito. Just skip the sour cream and cheese and you are golden! At Chevy’s the black beans are vegan and most of the tortillas are lard free (with the exception of the El Machino flour tortillas). The salsa vinaigrette and Mexican rice are also perfecto!!
  • Chili’s. I want my veggie meal, veggie meal, veggie meal….Yeah, order up the portobello & steak fajitas and have them hold the steak. They will add extra mushrooms and veggies like broccoli, onions, peppers and more!! Make sure, vegans, to ask for extra fixin’s to make up for the loss of the cheese and sour cream. Don’t forget extra chimichurri! Also opt for their veggie tacos, hold the ranch sauce for a satisfying meal. Their salads are all modifiable but be sure to ask about the dressings as that’s where the naughty ingredients like to hide ; )
  • Chin Chin. Veggie potstickers and minced veggie lettuce cups every time!! But they do have some great veggie noodle and rice dishes as well as being able to sub tofu for meat on most of the menu items.
  • Claim Jumper. Mmm, fire roasted artichoke (ask for it with ponzu sauce) or avocado rolls to start! Veganize any salad by nixing meat and dairy items and sticking to citrus or balsamic vinaigrettes. Also try the produce bar! For a heartier meal grab a veggie sandwich sans cheese with a veggie stuffed baked potato with no cheese ; )
  • Daphne’s. Mediterranean rocks for vegan choices. I love their veggie combo plate with hummus and pita, dolmas, falafel and salad. Filling, tasty and no guilt to wasty ; ) I hold the spanikopitas (cheese) and add more of everything else. falafel pitas and salads are good too!
  • Denny’s. You know you might end up here one night after a show or a long drive! If you do, know that you can munch a veggie burger and a side salad. Or for breakfast, oatmeal with no milk, a veggie patty with dry toast along with some OJ and coffee.
  • El Torito. Oh yeah, tableside guac – the best in the biz! Go for that and some salsa but make room for their veggie burrito as it is chock full of great veggies. Order it with the vegetarian beans and you will be a happy camper! And if you drop the dairy on the veggie enchiladas, you will be full for days!!
  • Fuddrucker’s.  If you must, a veggie burger with all of the fixin’s can hold you over.
  • Hard Rock Cafe. Yep, depending on where you are or who you are with, you just might find yourself at one of these. Fear not, as you can grab a tried and true HRC veggie burger with no cheese or mayo. Have a side salad unless you want to be naughty, then order the fries!
  • Houston’s. I know, what can you get at a steak house that’s vegan? How about the best damn veggie burger ever!! A homemade black bean and brown rice patty smothered in a sweet soy bbq sauce. Order it without cheese and check out one of their vegan sides like steamed veggies or black beans with brown rice. You can also opt for a soy latte, a veggie sushi roll and a side salad. Insane!
  • Jason’s Deli. This is a nice spot to pick up food for a trip or day at the park. Sandwiches and sides for all. Go for the spinach veggie wrap with no cheese or the Mediterranean wrap with no mods.
  • Johnny Rocket’s. Boca burger is your friend here and is customizable. Fries here are a-ok as they are fried in soy oil. Vegan but not too healthy ; )
  • Louise’s Trattoria. This place wins for the best minestrone! Ask for it with no sprinkly cheese or crusty cheese bread and it’s still mega tasty! Pair this with a huge Louise’s chopped salad with no cheese and you will be elated ; )
  • Macaroni Grill. My favorite thing to order here is the create your own pasta in which I ditch the pasta all together and have them saute all of the veggies they have in garlic and olive oil! Goes down great with a glass of red wine and some of their peasant bread. Vegans can’t do the pasta, pizza crusts or even the red sauce.
  • Mimi’s Cafe. A large menu always has some good options for alternative meals. The salads are veganizable with balsamic dressing as is the veggie ciabata with no cheese or pesto. The vegetarian vegetable is a good choice as is veggie burger.
  • The Olive Garden. Italian is usually simple enough for eating vegan. Their minestrone is vegetarian, so just make sure they do not garnish it with cheese. It’s hearty and tasty when paired with the all you can eat salad. Ask for oil and vinegar as the dressing as the house Italian contains Parmesan. The bruschetta appetizer with no cheese is a doozy too. Gluten free folks can ask for a separate menu that lists acceptable items as it is part of their new garden fare menu for those looking for the lighter side of the garden.
  • Outback Steakhouse. Haha, ok. Go for a salad with the tomato dressing, no cheese. You can also pull out all the stops and get a steamed sweet potato! Their veggies are drowned in butter but you can ask for them steamed and dry. No mushrooms either as they are swimming in beef broth ; (
  • Panera Bread. This is one of my all time favorite spots. Fresh salads, soups and breads are perfect for eating vegan. I always go for the pick 2 and get a vegan soup with the classic cafe salad. Go for an apple as your side and you are good to go! The sandwiches can be veganized with proper direction and its worth it as their bread selections are awesome. Soy lattes and healthy meals are the perfect combo!
  • P.F. Chang’s. 3 words: veggie lettuce wraps! OMG, I LOVE these darn things. Tofu sauteed in a delicious soy sauce (gluten free people, have them sautee the tofu in rice vinegar and lemon) served with crunchy rice noodles and crisp lettuce “tortillas”. They are great about offering steaming vs frying, brown rice and lots of veggie dishes. You can substitute tofu for most of the meat entrees as well. Chow down guilt free at PF Chang’s!
  • Pick Up Stix. You can’t go wrong with Asian cuisine as you can always get some sort of stir fried veggie dish. Here you can do tofu lettuce cups, tofu and veggies, rice bowls, and whole slew of lighter fare. Go for the steamed, not fried items if you can swing it, have some salad.
  • Pizza Fusion. This is what heaven must be like!! Organic salads, sandwiches and VEGAN PIZZA!! Yes!! Gluten free crusts, vegan cheese, a gajillion awesome toppings…Word.
  • Pomodoro. I really like the selection here. Go light with a mixed green salad and minestrone. Sometimes I do the melanzane penne pasta primavera ; ) They also have some great side veggies, some even organic!
  • Ruby Tuesday. Vegans can chow on a guacamole dip starter. Then, you can move on to a salad from their salad bar. Perhaps a homemade veggie burger and some brown rice pilaf or steamed broccoli and you’ve just had one vegtastic feast!
  • Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation. You can’t go wrong when you make your own salad at a salad bar! Some of the tossed salads are also vegan such as the mandarin spinach with caramelized walnuts, strawberry fields with caramelized walnuts, thai peanut and red pepper, and the thai udon and peanut. Vegan friendly prepped salads are white bean; arugula citrus; red pepper slaw; Asian pepper salad; bean and cilantro; dijon potato and garlic dill; mandarin noodles with broccoli; mandarin shells with almonds; green bean and potato; roasted potato and chiplote chili; southwest pasta; summer barley with black beans, tabbouleh, citrus and brown rice; tomato cucumber marinade; and three bean marinade. It’s safe to stick to the vinaigrettes. Lots of soups to choose from as well, providing they are available on the day you pop in like the tomato onion, ratatouille, black bean, veggie harvest, minestrone, and lentil. The bakery and pasta bars don’t have much for vegans but you may get lucky with some of the bread or sauteed veggies.
  • TGIFriday’s. You are pretty much subject to ordering a salad without meat or cheese and going with a vinaigrette. You can indulge in a basket of sweet potato fries, though!
  • Z Pizza. This organic pizza joint is a hit! Organic crusts, toppings and even vegan cheese and meatless toppings. Pizzas, salads and sandwiches are all made fresh and taste freakin’ great!!

So, spill it, you guys! We’d love to hear about your vegan menu secrets at national chains.

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9 thoughts on “Eating Vegan at National Restaurant Chains”

  1. Carolyn,

    Thanks for sharing such a yummy, fun, reading posting….Great to know of all your suggestions at most of these chain restaurants…eating vegan can be adventurous and creative!!! :)

  2. My husband and I are just starting to eat vegetarian/vegan diet and when we are on the road we have difficulty finding suitable places to eat. I just wanted to add to your list of restaurant suggestions. Chipotle Mexican Grill has a vegetarian option. We usually go for the burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, corn salsa and guacamole. If you want more of a vegan meal you don’t have to add the cheese and sour cream. Enjoy!

  3. Check the ingredients

    At the Chevy’s I used to always go to they specifically informed me that the rice was made with chicken broth.

    I am not sure if there is variation between different Chevy’s, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it across the board for vegans.

  4. As a former panera associate, I can tell you that although there can be “vegan” options, 99% of the food (yes, even the veggies) are GMO, (Cargill, Monsanto, Etc.). That being said, I know some folks are ok with that, however I avoid them. I wouldn’t recommend any soup option either as they come frozen, and are loaded with salt. While, we’re at it, the bread and pastries come frozen as well and they are “fresh-baked” each night. :( Hope this helps some of you.

  5. Kitty Williams

    Friday’s has an amazing black bean burger. I usually get that without the special sauce and no cheese.

  6. Sorry, but the rice at Chevy’s is NOT vegan. Vegetarian, yes. Vegan? Sadly, no. I just found that out today myself (I just started working there).

    Their Mexican rice by itself is vegan; however, the way it is prepared is not. Allow me to explain:

    The rice is initially fried prior to cooking (similar to sautéing rice in some dishes before adding the water and another ingredients, bringing to a boil, and simmering, assuming you don’t use a steamer). Now, this frying is done in a deep-fryer that shares its all-vegetable shortening with such things as chicken flautas, deep-fried ice cream, and chicken wings. Further, once mixed with the sauce, herbs, and vegetables and cooked, a tub of rice is then mixed with one cup of melted “Mexican Butter” which, as you may expect from the name, contains butter. Not margarine…butter.

    Admittedly, the oil is very hot and the amount of butter is very minuscule, but there you have it.

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