One of the biggest challenges we had when we first became vegans was dining out. Many restaurants just don’t offer many vegan options. The good news is – plant-based eating is becoming more and more popular.
We recently returned from a week-long trip to Berea, Kentucky and had a wonderful time exploring the beautiful trails, shopping for interesting handmade craft items, and eating some amazing plant-based food. We were fortunate this time – to find several good vegan entrees from local restaurants.
Below is a kale salad I had at the Trustee’s Table at Shaker Village of Pleasant Valley, KY. It was one of the best tasting salads I’ve ever tasted – for real! The ingredients included kale greens, Granny Smith Apples, Dried Cranberries, Sunflower Seeds, Grated Parmesan (not vegan), Lemon Parmesan Dressing. I’m not a huge fan of kale – but this kale was finely chopped and mixed well with all other ingredients. The flavor combination was amazing! I also had their delicious black bean soup and my husband had a bowl of their tomato celery soup along with a simple salad. This restaurant prides itself in being “seed to table” and they“celebrate Shaker Village’s roots by featuring dishes made of seasonal ingredients from our garden and local farmers.” No wonder the food was so fresh-tasing and good!
Another great place for vegan fare was Noodle Nirvana. This local hole-in-the-wall place served up a great variety of Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese-inspired bowls where you choose your noodles: ramen, pho (rice noodles), glass noodles, or “zoodles” (zucchini spirals). I chose the later along with sesame grilled tofu and a sweet and tangy pad Thai sauce. My husband chose rice noodles and the peanut sauce. Both dishes were delicious and we were impressed to find out that the restaurant gives 25% of it’s proceeds from the first Tuesday of every month to a non-profit that helps people in their community. Last year they raised over $44,000 for God’s Outreach Madison County Food Bank! Also, the Berea Urban Farm provides fresh, locally grown vegetables for the noodle bowls. Now that is truly a community centered eatery that we like to support.
Another great place for breakfast or lunch was the Native Bagel Company. I had the most amazing avocado spread on a whole wheat bagel. Their menu includes vegan options and their website tells that their bagels are made fresh every morning and feature ingredients from over 20 local producers. I also liked their dining area which features an entire wall of plants (see below). How cool is that?
My husband happens to be half Italian so we usually like to find authentic Italian food when dining out. We found just the place – Papa Leno’s on the city square. We usually opt for a “build your own” pizza using our favorite ingredients: mushrooms, peppers, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. These guys know how to make a crust! It was bubbly, yeasty and very delicious (although we cheated and topped it with cheese). What is pizza without cheese, people?
One more food stop on our visit to Berea was the Berea College Farm Store. Even though the name sounds more like a produce store, they offer lunch daily, Tuesday through Saturday, made with ingredients produced by their student farming enterprises. The day we were there they had homemade soups, wraps, sandwiches and salads. We split a delicious veggie wrap made with hummus, spinach and lots of veggies. We also had some delicious home-made potato curry soup. Their fresh sourdough bread put out for diners to share was so good – we ended up purchasing a loaf to take home!
Dining Out Tips for Vegan:
- Look up restaurants on travel sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp and search for the word “vegan” under categories or reviews.
- Use a vegan app like Happy Cow to find vegan friendly restaurants – based on customer feedback.
- Look up the online menu of a few well-rated restaurants and see what they offer for plant-eaters. Most restaurants will let you look at their menu before being seated.
- Choose an Asian restaurant – they almost always offer a veggie stir-fry entree. Most of them will switch out tofu for just about any meat on their menu if you ask.
- If you can’t find any vegan or vegetarian main entrees – look for an appetizer that is veggie-based (i.e. veggies & humus, or spring rolls, soups, fries, etc.).
- Ask your server if they offer any vegan or vegetarian entrees. I did this when it was late and I had no where to go but to a Burger King drive through. They mentioned that they had a veggie burger even though it was not on the menu – and it was actually pretty good! Many burger places will offer a bean or veggie burger – even if it is not listed on the menu.
- Order a salad! Most salads can be made large enough for an entree. If you add soup and/or bread – you will have a meal! Wendy’s, McDonalds, and even Chick-Fil-A offer a variety of salads. Just ask for them without the meat.