Vegetarian on the road
April 5, 2010 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm a new vegetarian (since beginning of the year) and I'm leaving on a 12-hour roadtrip tomorrow and then staying in a hotel in a big city until Sunday. Traveling with 7 other people who are not vegetarian. How do I survive the inevitable fast-food/restaurant diet I'll be on this week?

Up to this point I've been cooking and preparing my own meals at home, for the most part, with a weekly trip for Mexican food which allows me to easily order vegetarian for myself. Tomorrow I'm leaving in a 2-car caravan to go to Denver until Sunday, and I know I'm going to have to mostly survive off fast food on the road and restaurants while we're there. How do I manage being a vegetarian with traveling companions who are not? I don't want to put anyone out, when people want to stop at Wendy's for lunch I'm not going to make a fuss, but.

Heading to the store tonight to grab snacks, should I make sure I get some nutritional snacks to make up for the wilty salads I'll probably be eating on the road?

We'll be staying in a hotel near the Denver Convention Center, right in downtown. Any restaurants nearby with good veggie options?

posted by LokiBear to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much all restaurants have some vegetarian option or another. That said, check sites like Yelp for nearby specialty places.
posted by LSK at 12:17 PM on April 5, 2010

Milkshakes, fries, etc.
posted by anniecat at 12:24 PM on April 5, 2010

Wendy's is easy... they make pretty good salads and baked potatoes. Even fries (but they may be cooked in the same oil as chicken/fish products; how vegetarian are you?). Frostys!

I'd take a look at the menu's of the more typical fast food joints you'll hit before you leave, and have an idea of what you can order at each. In restaurants, you shouldn't have too much of a problem; every restaurant has got some sort of veggie or dish, or a dish that can be made vegetarian.
posted by cgg at 12:24 PM on April 5, 2010

Wendy's has baked potatoes (and substantial salads), Burger King has veggie burgers, McDonald's has salads. Your traveling companions might be amenable to stopping at places like Subway or Chipotle, where you'll be able to find many veg options.
posted by cooker girl at 12:25 PM on April 5, 2010

Pizza is an obvious and universally appealing vegetarian-friendly fast food option. They'll even deliver to the hotel.
posted by oddman at 12:30 PM on April 5, 2010

Taco Bell has good vegetarian options -- you can sub beans for meat most times.

Burger King has a veggie burger. It's actually not bad.

Pizza & subs are always good options, if they're available.

But I'd still stock up on Clif Bars/etc. tonight just to make sure.

As far as restaurants near the convention center in Denver ... well, it depends on you definition of "near" (it's about a mile and a half from the convention center, according to Google Maps) but Water Course is all vegetarian and very good.
posted by darksong at 12:33 PM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that in the United States, MacDonald's french fries are not vegetarian. Burger King usually has a veggie burger and as far as I know, their fries are okay to eat.
posted by Morrigan at 12:33 PM on April 5, 2010

Mexican fast food, Wendy's (as above), Burger King veggie burgers, McDonald's salads, sandwich and wrap shops... all of these have decent choices as a vegetarian. But I also find it really handy to pick up some hard apples or other hardy fruits, some cheese, and some good (mostly nut and fruit) granola bars or trail mix for those times when fuel is needed, but more fast food sounds totally unappealing. None of those require refrigeration, and they're relatively healthy.
posted by ldthomps at 12:38 PM on April 5, 2010

At Burger King you can also order a Whopper with cheese, no meat. What you'll wind up with is a big sandwich full of veggies, condiments and cheese, which is actually pretty tasty.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:39 PM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

get some trail mix! also check out your grocery store's olive bar - i really like snacking on pitas, hummus and olives while on the road. sometimes grocery stores will also have pre-made sushi, usually there's a california roll w/just veggies. also fun to snack on. apples and peanut butter are also good snacks for car trips. i've pretty much lived off of my own pre-packed food for car trips, with trips to the grocery store for emergencies. dried fruits go a long way, too.
posted by ajarbaday at 12:39 PM on April 5, 2010

buy a bunch of power bars and trail mix (or equiv) to have on hand just in case.
In and Out will make you a cheese sandwich
I've had many a meal of Fries and a Milkshake on the road.
prepared Fruit cocktail is often found as well.
I find that getting an apple or orange during the day makes up for some crappy meals.
have fun!
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:41 PM on April 5, 2010

You might want to request stopping at places that serve breakfast all day like Jack in the Box and Sonic (even Subway has started serving breakfast). Then you'll have the choice of eggs to get some protein. There are a bunch of Taco Bell/Pizza hut fast food places out here so you could get a personal veggie pizza.

While you're here in Denver, make sure to check out Watercourse. It's a vegetarian restaurant that has food even the most dedicated carnivores (like me) will love.
posted by Kimberly at 12:42 PM on April 5, 2010

(Heh. Dark Song beat me to it. That's what I get for multitasking. But really it's DELICIOUS!)
posted by Kimberly at 12:43 PM on April 5, 2010

Subway's veggie patties are some of the best fast food. Burger King's veggie burger is pretty not shabby. Apparently Taco Bell will substitute beans for meat (A Taco Bell PETA blog shoutout? Did Hell freeze over?) I heartell that Denver has some pretty good veggie places. Check Happycow.

Speaking as a veggie noob myself, I was worried about these kinds of social situations too, but most people are pretty accomodating and even rural roadside diners aren't much of a worry. I even did alright at a +/- $100 a plate steak place. I'd avoid straight-up seafoody places unless you're a pescatarian, but that might not be such a problem in the Colorados.

Hm. Super megalist here:
posted by Skwirl at 12:51 PM on April 5, 2010

Definitely bring snacks. Healthy bars and nuts for protein, fruit for variety, etc. As other people have said, you can generally find *something* edible in fast food restaurants, it just may not be that great or substantial. Having a fast-food salad for vegetables with some fruit and a bar may not be the most exciting meal but it's nutritionally better than a shake and fries, at least.

For non-fast-food restaurants try to convince your friends to go to restaurants that are likely to have vegetarian options. Indian, Italian, Thai, and Mexican places almost always have plenty of options. Chinese too, but surprisingly I often have a hard time at Japanese restaurants. Try to avoid the big "American food" chain restaurants - steakhouses and places like Applebee's and Marie Callendar's are generally pathetic when it comes to vegetarian food, although sometimes they have veggie burger patties available even if they're not on the menu, so it's worth asking.
posted by mandanza at 1:08 PM on April 5, 2010

posted by Pants! at 1:09 PM on April 5, 2010

Look for a Chipotle. Their veggie burritos (or burrito bowls) are delicious and cheap. Subway also has a veggie sub and a veggie "max" sub with a gardenburger type thing on it (only available at some locations, and not always on the menu so you have to ask).
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 1:10 PM on April 5, 2010

On the interstate, fast food restaurants are grouped together, so if your friends are hot on Wendy's, there might be a better option for you across the way. If they are really friends, they might even be willing to make 2 stops.
posted by rikschell at 1:14 PM on April 5, 2010

Those fast food suggestions sound horrible. Pack a bunch of raw fruits and veggies.
posted by mythicalbyrd at 1:26 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Subway and Togos have pretty decent veggie options. Subway has a veggie patty that's excellent and Togo's has a hummus sandwich that I like. You might want to grab some Pemmican bars or veggie jerky: nice thing about veggie jerky is the meat eaters won't touch it. Having the carnivores steal your food is a chronic problem in shared dining experiences.
posted by chairface at 1:27 PM on April 5, 2010

Yeah- chiming in to say that you'll be totally fine. Fast food places are usually a lot better for veggie-types than you'd think. Wendy's has non-healthy but filling potatoes with broccoli and cheese. Burger King has a veggie patty. Subway has veggie sandwiches and sometimes a patty if you're lucky. You're more hosed at McDonalds, unless you stop there during breakfast-available times. Taco Bell beans are vegetarian, you can do fine there. These references may help. You're also pretty much golden at any breakfast-all-day place.

You'll be totally out of luck at most chain sit-down places, though- your Applebees/Chilis/TGIFridays/Cracker Barrels and so forth- so if the choice is between one of those joints and some place a step down- go with a step down.

For road trip, I always pack nuts and cheese and crackers and some hard or dried fruit, along with a couple different items in the "bar" family of processed foods. And bagels + peanut butter.

Once you're at your destination, you'll be fine with any kind of ethnic food outside of Japanese and sometimes Korean, Thai if you really really care about fish paste AND they answer the question honestly AND they won't be flexible. Indian/Italian/Mexican are all great options (if the beans turn out to have lard, have a quesadilla, nachos or veggie fajitas). Don't go to a straight American place unless you check the menu first. Or a seafood place (probably not an issue in Denver...) or a steak joint. But really? most places in a bigger city, you'll do fine.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:41 PM on April 5, 2010

I once spent a week in New Orleans with a vegetarian. The rest of us were set on an agenda of classic New Orleans cuisine, replete with shrimp and crayfish and and all those other non-veg foods.

Every single place we ate was able to accommodate her, even if it wasn't on the menu. Don't be shy about asking for things that aren't on the menu- most places can whip up an omelet, a plate of pasta or worst-case, a grilled cheese sandwich. Even Applebee's can do that.
posted by ambrosia at 1:58 PM on April 5, 2010

Mexican food is your friend: rice and beans.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2010

I was a vegetarian for 27 years and have never, ever been to a restaurant where I couldn't find something to eat.

Pretty much anything made with meat can be made without it, unless it comes from a frozen package. Casual dining restaurants tend to have good, big salads. Fettucine alfredo, hold the chicken, extra veggies. Veggie burgers. Order a couple of appetizers or side dishes as a meal. Soup and salad! Fast food restaurants have tons of options for vegetarians.

The answer to How do I manage being a vegetarian with traveling companions who are not? is simple: Don't be obnoxious to them about what you're eating (or not). The problem of finding vegetarian food really isn't an issue.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:49 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Chipotle for good vegetarian (even vegan!) fast food. There's one just a few blocks from the convention center.
posted by vespabelle at 2:50 PM on April 5, 2010

If you do end up at Chipotle, know that the pinto beans aren't vegetarian (they have bacon, supposedly) but the black beans are vegetarian. I like Qdoba better, anyway, and would go there over Chipotle, given the choice.

I had a surprisingly good vegetarian meal at a Red Lobster once (they made me the shrimp alfredo without the shrimp) so if you do end up at a casual dining chain, you can find something, even if you have to ask.

This isn't nearly as hard as you think it's going to be and really, it's gotten much easier than it used to be.
posted by darksong at 4:11 PM on April 5, 2010

To add to all the great suggestions above: Dunkin Donuts serves egg sandwiches all day. McDonald's will totally make you a cheeseburger with no meat (I've ordered this on many a highway, and these days no one even blinks, no matter where I am.)
posted by kestrel251 at 4:28 PM on April 5, 2010

Burger King sells veggie burgers. It's called the BK Veggie.

Every state I've traveled to has them. They are supplied by Morning Star Farms.

They have had them for 4-5 years now.
posted by xotis at 4:53 PM on April 5, 2010

Yeah, McDonald's isn't the best, but they do have a yummy fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait-- available all day-- that I sometimes combine with salad and fries to make something vaguely resembling a balanced meal.

Sandwich places are usually good, Mexican places are usually good, pizza of course. As far as actual restaurants, most places will have something-- if it's a place with slim pickings as far as entrees, check out the appetizers, soups, etc. And don't hesitate to ask if they can make X without the meat, they can do it more often than you'd think.

Sliced bread/bagels and a jar of peanut butter is a good, semi-healthy, non-perishable filler to have on hand in case all else fails, although you probably won't need to resort to it.

Wendy's has non-healthy but filling potatoes with broccoli and cheese.

Maybe in some parts of the country, but not around me anymore, which is a real bummer since they were one of my favorite fast food meals. I've gotten them to give me a "side order" of cheese on a regular baked potato though.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 5:57 PM on April 5, 2010

Diner or chain resto:
Grilled cheese
Baked potato with fillings (be sure they leave off the bacon)
Salads and veggie of the day
Many places now can substitute a veggie burger patty -- check the menu before sitting, since it varies.

avocado sushi (also cucumber, pickle, squash, egg -- "tamago" -- are available in many cases); miso soup; edamame (soy beans) appetizer
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:06 PM on April 5, 2010

If you find a place that sells wraps, there's nearly always falafel on the menu.

Quiznos is another sandwich shop with a veggie sandwich. In fact, nearly all sandwich shops have a vegetarian option.

Nearly any place with a salad bar also sells at least one vegetarian soup.

Appetizers are often vegetarian. Appetizer + baked potato or fries + house salad = a pretty good dinner.

If you're reduced to eating at a gas station because that's what everyone else is doing, Fritos + bean dip and an orange juice is a hell of a lot better than the beef jerky your travelmate is having.
posted by zinfandel at 8:41 PM on April 5, 2010

Check out Wahoo's Fish Taco when you're in the Denver area. Despite the name they have a variety of non-fish options including delicious black bean tacos.
posted by vsync at 9:43 AM on April 6, 2010

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