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“Do you want your queso on top of the chips or on the side?”

Me: “Neither, thank you.”

Pause. Puzzled look.

“Do you feel all right?”

Yes, this is a real interaction I had last time I went to Moe’s Southwest Grill and ordered nachos. Apparently they’ve encountered very few people who don’t want queso. 🙂

An awkward interaction is not necessarily a side dish served with every vegan meal however. My mom had a very different experience recently at a restaurant in Texas, of all places:

My mom: “I’m vegan. Could the chef put something together for me?”

Waiter: “I’ll go check. Just a moment.”

Waiter, a minute later, skipping out of the kitchen: “Yes! The chef is actually vegan himself, and he’s really excited. He’ll whip up a fabulous plate for you.”

Two very different interactions, but one goal and result: delicious vegan food!

Although it can seem intimidating at first, ordering a vegan meal can be easy and enjoyable. Below are some tips (and pictures) on how to go about it.

1. Choose the restaurant and look at their menu ahead of time if you can.

Cuisines that are known for being vegan friendly include Italian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Mexican, among many others, but almost any restaurant has something that can be made vegan (even if it’s just a salad).

Checking out a restaurant’s online menu before you go always helps. That way, you have an idea of what to order or ask about before you get there. You could even call ahead to see how they can accommodate vegan diners if you’d like.

2. Don’t be shy! Ask questions.

At the restaurant, ask questions about dishes that interest you. You’ll be surprised at how many dishes are already almost vegan, if not completely already! If they appear to be vegan, go ahead and ask just to confirm they don’t contain meat, dairy, or eggs. Sometimes the ingredients are hidden; for example, that veggie soup might be made with beef broth.

If there’s nothing vegan or almost vegan already on the menu, ask the chef to create a vegan dish for you. Most of the time, they’ll delight in the challenge and come up with a creative meal. Plus, the surprise is fun!

This happened to me and my husband at Eurasia Cafe for our anniversary dinner. A vegan friend of mine had let me know that even though nothing is vegan on their menu, they can create quite the feast if asked. We went, and it was very true. See below.

We asked for a vegan meal, and they brought out some amazing, creative dishes! Vegan balsamic pizza, sweet potato fries and okra with fig sauce, coconut-sweet potato soup, and Asian slaw…mmmmmm.

3. Enjoy the food and the experience!

Ordering vegan food affords such rich opportunities for interaction. It immediately intrigues the server, or the diner at the table next to you, or your very own dining companions.

It starts conversations and results in fun stories and connections. Plus, you get to indulge in delicious, healthy-for-you-and-the-planet, kind-to-animals yumminess. How awesome is that?!

When you’re going to an all-vegan restaurant, such as Plant in Asheville, NC, it is super exciting and easy because you can choose from anything on the menu! Check out HappyCow.net to see if there are any all-vegan restaurants in your area.

Then, there are places with whole vegan or vegetarian sections on their menu that also make it a cinch, like Eli’s Table in downtown Charleston. I went there over the weekend with my best girlfriends, and indulged:

Here’s the vegan/vegetarian section of the menu at Eli’s Table.

Eli’s Table cauliflower steak with eggplant caponata and basil tomato sauce. Delish!

Ordering vegan at a restaurant can take just a little extra work, but in the end, it’s so worth it! Try it next time you go out…you’ll wind up with a healthy, animal-friendly, earth-loving meal that delights you, plus maybe an interesting story or two.

To going out on a limb!