Adventures in Vegan Dining

I almost never have trouble finding something to eat in Grand Rapids, and it’s been years since I had a waiter that didn’t know what vegans do and do not eat. But lately I’ve hit a string of them. I figured most of you can relate. It’s kind of funny, kind of…not.


Restaurant #1
Me: Is this pasta vegan?
Her: Sure, I’ll just make sure they leave off the Parmesan.
Me: [thinking she gets it] Great, thanks!
Her: And would you like to add salmon or chicken?
Me: Umm…no thanks, I’d just like to have a vegan meal.
[pasta comes out plated with two big pieces of garlic bread I really wanted to eat]
Me: Oh, is this garlic bread made with oil?
Her: [looking very pleased] No, it’s made with REAL butter!

Restaurant #2
Me: Are the veggie tacos vegan?
Him: Um, I don’t think so because they usually use chicken broth to cook the rice.
Me: [noticing the big green V, indicating vegetarian, next to the tacos] Wait, sooo if it’s marked vegetarian it might still have meat stuff in it?
Him: Vegetarian is different than vegan.
Me: Yeah, but…vegetarians don’t eat meat, either.
Him: [long pause] I don’t know.

Kind of makes me nervous about trying new restaurants, but it’s worth it for the times I end up with great food. Do you still have this issue when you dine out, or do you find most people actually know what “vegan” means?

14 thoughts on “Adventures in Vegan Dining

  1. ooooh yeeeeaaaahhhhhhh!! There are a few places we do go that get it…Aladdin’s is one…many that DON’T get it at all… for instance we discovered that the grocery store we would get tofu veggie stir frys from would blanch EVERYTHING in the same pot of boiling water before stir frying it…sigh…someone’s chicken was sitting next to my tofu… sad… needless to say we don’t eat them anymore.

    • Heh, that’s what we call a vegetarian 🙂
      I dunno how I got myself to stop eating cheese, that was my favorite. Somehow it was easy when I thought about the animals – plus I’m very stubborn!!

  2. Panera has a great book behind the counter that lists ingredients in all their food and which foods are suitable for which special diet. They usually have several vegan bagels. BUT, a few weeks ago, I asked one of their counter people which of their bagels were vegan that day, and he said, “I’m pretty sure that none of them are.” Sometimes a chain can do everything “right” and still have an employee who is clueless! (Thankfully, another employee corrected him & got the book out for me.)

    • Yeah. I once walked into a restaurant with my family, and while we waited for a table my grandmother asked the hostess if they had anything vegan on the menu. “No, nothing like that.” I don’t think she even knew what it meant, but we decided to leave in case she was right!

      I’m so glad Panera has that book, I always ask for it. Glad you found something to eat!

  3. For years, I frequented El Burrito Loco on the East Beltline, across Knapp from Meijer. They knew I was vegan, and assured me the refried beans were vegan (they are) but not the rice b/c made with chicken stock. I would normally get bean enchiladas, no cheese, extra enchilada sauce, with a side of beans, plus a large side of pico de gallo, and a large side of their homemade salsa, the one served cold to everyone with chips, free with meal. One day a few months ago, a worker who was extra-helpful informed me that that very salsa(!!) the cold fresh one served with your chips, is NOT vegan – he told me it is cooked with chicken broth!! I asked him if any of the salsas are vegan (I usually get the extra-hot one too), and he said “No, only the green salsa is vegan.” I quit going there. I didn’t think to ask about the enchilada sauce. I think El Burrito Loco on Beltline is the same restaurant as Cinco de Mayo downtown on Monroe Center, and on Alpine there are two, one called Cinco de Mayo, and the other called El Burrito Loco.

  4. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in an establishment and asked the server: “I that vegan?” and the reply is: “Oh I’m sure it is, it must be!” And I always am nice and I never get mad, and I ask: “Do you know if it contains anything like butter or eggs, or any cheese or dairy?” and they go: “Oh I’m almost positive it doesn’t!” and then stand there waiting for me to order the item. Total insanity! I work in a job where I am at the front desk of a public service agency, and have ppl (clients) asking me questions like “Does it matter I’m turning this paperwork in a day late?” I NEVER say “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine.” Instead, I go find out!! and come back and let them know either way!! Don’t get me started!!! Ha ha!!

  5. Okay, now I’m on a roll. Most reasonable people would think a Mexican restaurant that claims that their refried beans are “vegetarian” means they are also vegan. Taco Boy, also known as Donk’s lately (are there any Donk’s still open? seems like they all shut down) has “vegetarian” refried beans. I had the dumb luck of running into Mercedes, the ex-Manager of the Plainfield Taco Boy a while back, in the parking lot (I don’t think she works there any more), and she told me the beans are made with “a margarine with dairy in it”.

    • This is making me so nervous about going out to eat now. Ugh. A while ago a new pizza place opened near my office, so I emailed the manager to ask about vegan options. He said they already had three, but were open to suggestions. Of the ones he named from the menu, one has an Alfredo sauce, one is a four cheese, and the other has one cheese plus a garlic butter crust. When I wrote back explaining those are vegetarian, vegans don’t eat dairy, he apparently lost interest and never replied.

      • His not replying is ultra bad form, and very bad business practice, in fact an F minus would be his grade. You could forward him the websites of Mitten and Cult Pizza and Brick Road Pizza, and just say “No problem, us vegans have our pizzerias, and they are exceedingly popular!!” All 3 of those places are thriving local businesses!

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