The past week has been a weird one for me. I have been especially lazy, without a camera and without a kitchen at work to bring in left overs. I used this as an excellent excuse to try to eat out all week. Finding places to eat seems like it would be tricky for a vegan in a city like Edmonton, but it is not as bad as you think! Some simple ground rules that I find make things a bit easier:
1. Stay away from the big franchises or any restaurant that has 'assembly artists' instead of cooks.
This maybe is a good rule for anyone looking to eat out. No offense to the lovers of places like Denny's and BPs etc, but the food is full of garbage, not fresh, and in the end, I just never feel satisfied.
2. When you feel stuck, go somewhere with an eastern menu
Sometimes, even when restaurants have vegan options, I find that they can be a bit limiting and I get stuck with salads and appetizers. Sometimes an easy way to avoid this is to eat east. Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese all tend to have more vegetarian options in my opinion.
3. Call first
If trying a restaurant, call ahead and ask. It seems easy enough, but I always forget to do this. It is really helpful to talk to someone at the restaurant ahead of time because you will get a clear picture of how veggie-friendly a place is. Even if they don't have much on the menu, if you ask and give a bit of notice, chefs will often make something for you.
4. review the menu
Another challenge I face is that people don't know what to make a vegan. Sometimes before I go to a restaurant, I go online and check out the menu. When I get there, I can ask if they can combine the veggie options to make something for me. I have used this tactic a couple times and while my non-vegan dining companions may think I'm the 'weird, picky orderer'. In the end, I get what I want and the kitchen learns something new for the next vegan that comes in.
5. Use your online resources
Lastly, if you are on message boards or the web, you'll find that there are lots of vegan sites that post about good restaurants. Try twitter, http://www.happycow.net/, http://www.urbanspoon.com/ or just google the city you live in and vegan. You will be surprised at what comes up. I personally love Happy cow, it is an amazing resource and when you find a good spot, add it on to the site. Fellow vegans will appreciate it.
Hopefully this will help make dining as a vegan a little easier. Some places in Edmonton I have been dining at this past week:
Mucho Burrito: A little Mexican fast food chain that I go to if I need a little junk food fix. They have a vegetarian burrito that is really good and if you say you are vegetarian, you get free guacamole! Not bad if you ask me :) Sometimes fast food is handy, and I find that the food is pretty good here and it is not nearly as unhealthy as a big thing of french fries!
Cocodi: Ah, my home away from home... I love this restaurant. I would go every day if I could. Things that I love at this restaurant: Fattoush, Spinach Fatayer, Hommus, Baba Ghanoush and grape vine leaf rolls. While most of the entrees are not vegan, I find that the appetizers are more than enough to keep me happy. Plus the staff is great and the shisha is always ready!
Bistro India: I tried this place for the first time recently. It is located in a cursed location (Many restaurants have tried, but rarely stay longer than a few months). The food was so good. I had a vegetable and cashew dish and a bunch of lentil cakes with sauces. So, so good. I fully recommend this place. The staff was nice and the place was very nice inside.
Doans: Ah, sweet and salty tofu vermicelli.. I love you. A great meal and very affordable. Sometimes the service is a bit slow, but I have never had a bad meal. A lot of the dishes here are non-vegan, so read the menu before trying.
Wok Box: Wok box has upgraded their menu and pretty much any of their dishes can be made with tofu instead of meat and that is nice. Last time I went, I had the jungle curry and it was really good! I love pineapple and I am trying to incorporate more spicy foods. This definitely had a kick, but was seriously good. They also have veggie samosas and spring rolls and other snack options.
Tokyo Express: OK, I know this is another fast food chain, but seriously, I was eating out all week this week! A girl's gotta budget :) Tokyo Express has also changed their menu recently and have a number of veggie options now. I love their sprout salad and yam rolls. They also have a veggie combo which is pretty good.
Cha Island Tea Co: This little shop was my office last week. Have to thank them again for letting spend way too many hours there! While they do not have a vegan sandwich yet (I will continue to bug them on this one), they are now doing a soup every Wednesday. I checked and all the soups are vegan! They also have almond milk available for your tea and have vegan snack bars like Lara.
Well, I am off to the grocery store now. A week of eating out has really made me miss cooking. If you have any good tips for eating out as a vegan, send me an email. I am always looking to try new places. I heard about an Ethiopian restaurant on Whyte ave that does a veggie buffet, I may have to loook into that one next time I eat out.