Whether to save money, save a life, save the planet, or for religious reasons, many people are choosing to go meatless. But just because you aren’t eating meat doesn’t mean you’re limited to the salad menu. Here are some vegetarian meals that are so mouth-watering that you won’t even notice they don’t have meat.
After years of contemplating whether to go meatless, I finally made the change. One of the biggest challenges I faced was what to eat at restaurants. Every time I looked up the “vegetarian dishes at restaurants,” the lists contained salads, sides, or desserts. If I am paying for a meal, I don’t want to eat salad!
So I decided to do some research and make my own list of the best meatless restaurant meals.
I’ve been on a wellness kick and writing a lot about healthy options. This post isn’t one of them. The next Wellness Wednesday feature will be about eating healthy at restaurants. But this post is about indulgence.
Here are some delicious, meatless options for popular restaurants to satisfy your craving for breakfast, burgers, pizza, Italian, Tex-Mex, Greek, Indian, Vietnamese, or Chinese take-out foods. No healthy salads were mentioned in the making of this post.
Disclaimer: Many restaurants use cheese made with animal rennet or soups made with chicken or beef-based broths. At home I use vegetarian cheese made with plant rennet and soup from vegetable broth. Unless ingredients are listed on their website (e.g., Panera Bread), I don’t know whether these restaurant dishes are made with animal products. Please check with that restaurant to be sure.
- Omelet or Frittata with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese
- Pancakes with Berries and Whipped cream
- Waffles with Maple Syrup
- Granola and Yogurt Parfait
- McDonald’s egg and cheese Egg McMuffin (served all day)
Favorite: Burger King’s Egg and Cheese Crossan’wich with Hash browns
Sandwiches and Burgers
- Portobello Parmesan Sandwich
- Chili’s: any burger can be requested on a Black Bean Patty
- Burger King’s Morning Star Veggie burger
- Ford’s Garage: any burger can be substituted with an Impossible Burger, which tastes so much like meat you may think they brought you the wrong order
Favorite: Shake Shack’s ‘Shroom Burger (A deep-fried portobello mushroom filled with melted muenster and cheddar cheese. I was pleasantly surprised to learn it’s only 550 calories.)
- Cheese New York style Pizza
- Veggie Chicago deep dish Pizza
- Calzone (either cheese or filled with your favorite veggies)
Favorite: California Pizza Kitchen’s Margherita pizza
Italian-Themed (e.g., Olive Garden)
- Eggplant Parmesan
- Pasta with Marinara sauce
- Pasta with Alfredo sauce
- Fried Mozzarella
- Cheese Ravioli
- Unlimited soup (minestrone), salad, and bread sticks (okay, I mentioned a salad, but if you ever had Olive Garden you know that this meal is not for anyone on a diet).
Favorite: Mushroom Ravioli
- Cheese Enchiladas
- Potato Burrito or Taquito
- Chile Relleno (Stuffed Poblano Peppers)
- Cheese, Mushroom, or Veggie Quesadilla with fresh Guacamole
- Tortilla Chips dipped in hot, creamy Queso
- Black Bean and Corn tacos with Avocado
Favorite: Veggie Fajitas (Sautéed onions and bell peppers served on a sizzling hot iron skillet. Fill your tortillas with the veggies, cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, salsa, guacamole, and refried beans.)
It’s been about 10 years since I’ve eaten at Taco Bell. I was surprised to see that they actually have a vegetarian menu now, with lots on it!
- 7-Layer Burrito
- Bean Burrito
- Black Bean Burrito
- Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito
- Spicy Potato Taco
- Veggie Power Menu Bowl
- Veggie Power Menu Burrito
- Cheese Quesadilla
- Cheesy Roll-up
- Pintos and Cheese
- Black Beans and Rice
- Spicy Tostata
Favorite: Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza (It comes with meat so it’s not on the vegetarian menu. I always order it with no meat.)
Before today I thought Panera had a fair selection of meatless meals. Turns out their potato soup contains bacon and French onion (in addition to using meat-based broth) is flavored with chicken fat. I was a bit disappointed in their vegetarian meal selection.
- Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl with Cage-free Eggs
- Vegetable Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl
- Soba Noodle Broth Bowl with Edamame
- Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup (made with vegetable broth)
Favorite: Broccoli cheddar soup in bread bowl (I was disappointed to learn that they use a chicken base. I assume that the cheese also contains animal rennet. I have a copy-cat recipe that I make at home with vegetable broth and vegetarian cheese.)
Greek establishments offer a number of meatless dishes. Chickpeas, eggplant, and feta cheese are the stars of this cuisine.
- Falafel (deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas, herbs, and spices)
- Spanakopita (phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and cheese)
- Pitas with Hummus
- Stuffed Mushrooms
- Vegetarian Mousaka (made with eggplant and/or potatoes)
- Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves)
Favorite: Saganaki (flaming Greek cheese served with pita bread, do I have to say more?)
Many people in India are vegetarian. They also know how to use herbs and spices to transform any dish. Indian restaurants are often a dream for vegetarians as they offer a wide selection of flavor-packed dishes ranging from mild to spicy!
- Paneer Karahi (Paneer is a fresh cheese)
- Paneer Makhani
- Shahi Paneer
- Saag Paneer
- Vegetable Korma
- Mixed Vegetable Curry
- Vegetable Makhanwala
- Aloo Gabi Masala (Aloo are potatoes)
- Aloo Saag
- Aloo Matar
- Dum Aloo
- Aloo Chhole
- Channa Masala
- Channa Saag
- Bhartha (spicy eggplant)
Favorite: Malai Kofta (fried balls). People say Malai Kofta is to vegetarians what Butter Chicken is to meat lovers. Butter chicken was my favorite dish before turning vegetarian.
I am not one for adventurous eating. For years I was hesitant to try Vietnamese cuisine. Now, my favorite restaurant in town is a family owned Vietnamese restaurant. I even run into everyone I know there (like the day my family and I were sat right next to every psychology supervisor in my hospital – fun!).
Most dishes are offered with either vegetable or tofu instead of meat.
- Steamed or Fried Veggie Dumplings
- Vegetable Tofu
- Tofu Curry
- Tofu Pho
- Grilled Eggplant
- Vegetable Fried Rice
- Tofu Fried Rice
- Rice Noodles with Vegetable stir-fry
- Egg Noodles with Vegetable stir-fry
- Mixed Vegetables and Rice
Favorite: Vegetable Pho (Pho is a popular Vietnamese noodle soup.)
Chinese Take Out
- Vegetable Fried Rice
- Vegetable Chow Mein
- Vegetable Mei Fun
- Vegetable Egg Foo Young
- Moo Shu Vegetable
- Egg Drop Soup (note: it’s often boiled in chicken broth)
- Vegetable Roll
- Szechuan Tofu
- Broccoli with Szechuan Sauce
- Hunan Tofu
- Broccoli with Garlic Sauce
Favorite: Vegetable Lo Mein (even when we were eating meat, we would order Vegetable Lo Mein every time)
Wow! I was excited to learn that there are so many meatless (and salad-less) meals available at restaurants. As a bonus, vegetarian dishes are often less money than their meat alternatives.
On the next Food Finances Friday Feature, we will compare prices to determine how much money we can save by preparing meals without the meat.
What are your favorite vegetarian restaurant dishes?