Friday, October 14, 2011

Vegan MoFo Day 14: This is How I Order in a Restaurant!

Happy Friday chickadees! I'm so glad it is the weekend! I have tomorrow off so I'm planning on going to the gym at the crack of dawn. Then I am getting my hair color touched up (yeah ginge!!) and after I'm going to babysit my niece with my mom :) It'll be a great day for sure! Then I have to work on Sunday.

So, a week or two before MoFo the lovely Maud of Food Feud suggested I write a post about how I order when I order in or dine at restaurants. I thought that was a great idea. I can't imagine that any of these tips are going to be groundbreaking or new, but here is how I order from a restaurant to try and get tasty/healthy meals that I don't have to cook! I'll break it down by types of cuisine.

Mexican: My main staples in eating mexican food are rice, beans, veggies and avocado. The rice and beans combine to form a complete protein, the veggies are ideally fresh and vibrant and avocado is a healthy fat. The combination is not only delicious but it is a nutritional powerhouse and provides a really nice balance.

When I'm ordering from a local restaurant (read: not a chain) and feel like eating something a little bit lighter I'll go for a salad with some grilled veggies. I topped this salad with seitan when I was not eating Gluten Free but now I top it with black beans for a protein boost.

These are both burrito bowls filled with rice, beans, veggies (on top), pico de gallo (on bottom), and guacamole (added to the top after the pic was taken). They are filling and provide a nice balanced meal that I never feel guilty about. I also have found that by leaving off the ginormous tortilla I don't end the meal feeling uncomfortably full...instead I'm satisfied but can still move.

Mediterranean: Mediterranean food is really easy. The mediterranean diet is supposed to be one of the healthiest diets in the world so you really can't go wrong when ordering a mediterranean meal. They make amazing fresh salads, healthy dips (hello hummus! and babaghanoush), and falafel. Granted when you order falafel from a restaurant it is typically fried so I'll limit how much of it I'll eat and I always pair it with a salad.

Which is exactly what I did here. There is a nice mediterranean salad with lettuce, cucumber and tomato dressed simply in a tiny but of olive oil and vinegar. I ate one falafel patty at a time and it was satisfying and delicious. It is also fun to order a tasting platter of dips with fresh veggies to dip. I try to avoid bread not only because I eat gf but I find that it fills you up so much and I'd rather eat all that good stuff than bread...which says a lot because I love bread!

Japanese: It is also really easy to order healthy food in a japanese restaurant. I always start with miso soup (check for bonito!). That is one tip that goes for any restaurant really, start with a brothy or tomato/veggie soup and it'll fill you up for not a lot of calories. Then you don't feel obligated to finish your meal which will inevitably be 2-3 servings. Then you get multiple meals out of each order!

I ordered miso soup and a mixed veggie roll with brown rice. Brown rice is always the preferred option when I order and most places allow the substitution. I've even gone to a few places that will make veggie rolls with no rice which is great if I'm going for dinner and am trying not to eat grains after 3pm. If you are like me and love edamame that is also a great item to order!

Chinese: Chinese food can be difficult. It is almost always fried in a ton of oil and topped with greasy sauces and comes with noodles and possibly MSG and all other kinds of craziness. There is a way to power through and it is actually quite easy.

Most chinese menus have a "special diet" section. That is code for steamed. That is the only section I order from nowadays. Trust me, I used to enjoy a nice meal of greasy chinese food but now I feel like I ate a brick and uncomfortable when I order from the regular menu. Don't be afraid to mix and match items too! I usually go for steamed tofu and broccoli and add in some eggplant. Sauces always come on the side so you control how much you put on there. I usually drizzle 1-2 tablespoons over the top of it. I always get steamed brown rice on the side as well. I actually ask them to go a size up from whatever comes with the meal so I can get a few meals out of it. Lazy but it works ;)

Italian: I rarely eat Italian food in a restaurant and it is even more rare for me to order it in. The most obvious solution for going to an Italian restaurant is pasta but since I don't eat wheat pasta anymore it has made it that much more difficult to order. I would typically order a salad with some grilled veggies but then I got smart. Assuming the red sauce has no cheese I will order a plate of steamed or grilled veggies topped with sauce. Then it is like I'm eating the best parts of a plate of pasta primavera and you don't have to worry about being weighed down from the pile of pasta.

On another note...when I am at a Vegan restaurant I order whatever I want. If it looks good it is going in my belly because it is very rare that I can order anything off of the menu. I think that on the rare occasion I can order anything I'm not going to limit myself to what might be the healthiest option. Granted I am always looking for a lighter meal, but I will be more inclined to splurge in this instance.

So that is pretty much it! I hope it all makes sense and sorry if it is redundant from everything you always hear about ordering in a restaurant but I figured I would just share my thought process :) let me know if I missed any sort of cuisine that you are interested in!!


  1. This is such an awesome post! It definitely makes me feel less intimidated by restaurants and will help for when I am traveling.

    I always splurge at vegan places too. Why not?
    I haven't been to many vegan restaurants in Seattle but I have been to bunch in Portland and they're so incredible. I wish there could be more here!

  2. Yeah, this is a great post! I have read posts on eating out tips before but these make a lot more sense, considering that you order out more than "dine out." Quick take out options can be harder to maneuver than sitting at a restaurant with a (hopefully patient) waiter to answer your questions. Also good idea to zero in on cuisines that are often already vegan. It's a lot easier to eat tofu and steamed broccoli than to ask someone to make sure your veggie burger doesn't have eggs or cheese in it.

  3. I'm hungry now! Eating in vegan places are always a boon. Anymore, I'm in a trend to sticking to only vegetarian and vegan places when we go out. And Italian is a total wash for vegans eating out as far as I'm concerned...practically the only thing there is for us is pasta and red sauce...the grilled veggie idea is a good one! Plus, they're always way overpriced...a bowl of pasta and a bit of sauce 16 bucks? Really? What a rip. I'd rather eat it at home.

  4. I just ate dinner and now you've made me hungry again! Thanks for the tips. I need to stop eating the tortilla at Mexican places--you're right that I always leave the restaurant feeling like I'm about to explode.

    I make better Italian food at home, so I rarely go to Italian restaurants. I really like "salad bar" restaurants like Sweet Tomatoes but I haven't see them in San Francisco.

  5. Wow, thanks everyone I'm so glad you liked this post!

    Isobelle - Thanks, I'm glad this helps! It is easy to order vegan and healthy, it is all about asking questions and being creative! Your are so lucky to be so close to Seattle and Portland, both are amazing veg friendly cities (well Portland IS vegan mecca!). I live 20 minutes outside of NYC and I just don't take advantage of that nearly enough!

    FF -Thanks! Yeah I prefer to order in and lounge rather than go out...I am around so many people all of the time I need some time to myself. I also find it is easier because I feel like I have more time to check out the menu and be prepared rather than be rushed at a restaurant to order.

    Rose - Lol! OMG I know Italian restaurants are a rip off for vegans. I've never been a big fan of Italian food in general so for me it is just not worth it...I'd rather eat Thai any day!

    Sage - Ha! I know, burritos are always SO filling and I've seen burritos the size of small babies. It is INSANE. I also agree that I'd rather make Italian food at home if I'm going to eat it. I'm very picky about it and I would be more satisfied if I made it myself!

  6. Some really great ideas! I tend to stick to the same restaurants, but really do want to branch out. There are even a few that have vegan items, which need to be explored immediately!

    Mexican is so hard for me - I literally cringe when non-vegans request it. In Colorado, we have a lot of authentic Mexican food. Hole in the wall, run by native speakers, menus in Spanish. A year ago when I was vegetarian, I struggled to find dishes without meat - so finding items without dairy or by products has so far proved really difficult. I will arm myself with your ideas, and brave the next Mexican restaurant I meet!

  7. Thanks! I have some restaurants that I tend to stick to also...mostly because I know how everything is cooked and because I'm a creature of habit. That is so bittersweet to have authentic Mexican food but to not be able to eat much of it. I find that beans are usually the biggest culprit of having hidden meat but it is always best to check out the rice and veggies too. When all else fails for me I'll take items on the menu that I know are vegan and combine them to form a new dish. Most people don't mind accommodating me.

  8. I wish I could be so relaxed eating out. There are a couple of places I'll eat for the sake of my husband who likes to eat out. The idea of hidden things freaks me out. But I know I put a bad face on veganism being that way (despite the fact I can't help it!), and I think it's good when you show people that it's not that hard to eat out as a vegan.

  9. Interesting post. Gotta be careful when ordering Italian. They love to sprinkle parmesan on the red sauce. I'll never forgot the guy who said to me "Oh it's just a little cheese". Last time I patronized his place.

  10. I know, the sauce is always tricky. I love how people think the amount of cheese makes any difference.