Now that we’ve looked at non-vegetarian restaurants, it’s time to consider veggie restaurants. While I don’t have much to say in this chapter, I think that what little advice I can provide here will be extremely useful.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to find veggie restaurants in your vicinity. There are three different websites dedicated to providing listings and reviews for vegetarian restaurants: VegGuide.org, HappyCow.net, and VegDining.com. All three of these sites are worth checking out, since you’ll find restaurants and reviews on one that you won’t find on the others.
Also, be sure to check out Yelp.com, which is an unbeatable resource for vegetarians and vegans. Yelp is an incredibly popular site where people post reviews for every restaurant, business, and organization in their community. It’s astonishing the number of reviews that you can find through Yelp. Just do a search for vegan in your zip code, and every restaurant that somebody has tagged as offering vegan options will come up.
Yelp is one of the handful of gigantic websites that, like Amazon.com or eBay, has reached critical mass. Let me give you an idea of Yelp’s comprehensiveness. I once adored a (sadly, now defunct) veggie restaurant called Fragrance Land that was located near my parents’ house. It was not a well-known restaurant, and had only been around for eighteen months when I looked it up on Yelp. At the time, I doubted whether anyone had yet added it to Yelp’s directory. But when I typed vegan into Yelp’s search box, along with my parents’ zip code, Fragrance Land came up as number two on a lengthy list of nearby vegan-friendly restaurants. Here I was wondering if even one person had reviewed the restaurant, and I found 42 different reviews.
So just for the fun of it, I looked up how many Yelp members had posted reviews for San Francisco’s Millennium restaurant, which may be the most famous vegan gourmet restaurant in the United States. There are 685 reviews!
No matter what the restaurant, the members of Yelp will give you the inside scoop on the place. After reading the reviews, you’ll not only know if a restaurant is worth visiting, you’ll also find out what items are not-to-be-missed, and which offerings consistently disappoint. So, just by spending some time on Yelp, you’ll find out about all the veggie and veggie-friendly places in your town, and you’ll probably know exactly what you want to order before you even look at the menu.
Be aware, though, that there have been numerous complaints about Yelp behaving unethically with prospective advertisers, along with allegations that the site has acted capriciously in selecting its reader reviews. So while Yelp’s size makes the site uniquely helpful, you should still also make use of HappyCow.net, VegGuide.org, and VegDining.com.
As I wrote at the start of this chapter, there’s not much information I need to provide about veggie restaurants. But I still have a couple more tips to offer. The first is that it’s important to distinguish between vegetarian and vegan restaurants. It is incredibly easy to let your guard down regarding dairy and eggs when you’re eating at a vegetarian restaurant. You feel like, for once in your life, you’re on your home turf, and don’t need to be vigilant about asking about the vegan status of your food. Next thing you know, there’s cheese garnishing your vegetarian chili, or you’ve been served a piece of pie that has butter in the crust. Sadly, some veggie restaurants are surprisingly indifferent to adequately taking care of their vegan clientele.
So unless you’re eating in a specifically vegan restaurant, it’s important not to make any assumptions about the vegan status of your food. It’s strange and sad that it takes less effort to be vegan in a traditional Middle Eastern restaurant than it does in a typical ovo-lacto vegetarian restaurant, but that’s how it is.
I’ve got one final piece of advice, and this one’s a biggie. It’s common for veggie restaurants to offer a hodgepodge of international dishes. Some typical offerings are falafel and hummus, Indian curries, and burritos.
I try to avoid anything from distant cultures when eating at veggie restaurants, unless that restaurant specializes exclusively in that cuisine. That’s because the ethnic dishes almost always disappoint. The falafel and hummus will generally be terrible compared to what you can get in an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant. The curry will typically be incompetently spiced and badly prepared. And I’m quite confident that the worst burrito ever made came from a veggie restaurant that also serves entrees adapted from six other cultures. I’m not claiming that my rule applies in every case, but generally the foods from cultures outside your country will be the worst items on the menu. So place your order with that tendency in mind.
I think this short chapter provided pretty much everything you need to know about eating at veggie restaurants. And since it’s always more fun to eat with a group, I highly recommend hitting Meetup.com to see if there are veggie dineouts happening in your area.
Next Chapter: International Travel
Return to: Table of Contents
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