As a plant-based eater, the idea of going to a steakhouse seems both impossible and less than ideal. However, contrary to belief, many steakhouses actually have amazing plant-based options, whether they advertise (or even realize) it or not. This is helpful if you’re going out to dinner with friends or family that don’t share your enthusiasm for eating a diet made mostly of plant-based foods. It’s also proof that as a plant-based eater, you can almost eat anywhere with a little creativity, which may also help those you’re eating with realize that too. Who says you have to only eat at vegan restaurants? While that would be the ideal scenario, let’s face it – life happens and sometimes you have to embrace the situation you’re in and make the best of it – even if that means making your own plant-based meal at a steakhouse. Normally, the dishes at steakhouses are pretty straightforward and not too fussy. Besides the meat, veggies, sweet potatoes, simple sides, salads, rice, beans, pasta, and some dips like salsa and guac are generally available and make up a variety of the menu. There aren’t too many complex menu items, which makes it easy to design a custom meal from. Most of the veggies are also either steamed or grilled, which makes them healthier, and some steakhouses are even adding tofu to their menu, along with gluten-free items if that’s a concern. Even if there aren’t any dishes labeled vegan on the menu, there are some simple ways to ensure your meal is free of meat, dairy, eggs and other animal-based ingredients. Here’s some ordering tips:
1. Scan the Salads Menu
Hold on now – don’t worry. You aren’t limited to salads alone at a restaurant, but they can be the base of a killer, hearty meal. Scan the list and search for types such as a basic house with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, olives, artichokes (which many steakhouses have), mushrooms, scallions, etc. If they don’t have all the items you want, ask them to create a salad with the fixings such as these that you do you want. Remember, this isn’t all you’ll be eating, but it’s a guarantee that the base of your meal will be filled with greens and veggies (not fried potato skins). Avoid salads with eggs, creamy (usually dairy-based) dressings, or just ask for no dressing. Skip the croutons; they’re usually made from milk and butter. If you’d like dressing, go for straight oil and vinegar, or a balsamic (which are almost always vegan).
2. Add Some Heartiness
You have two really great options when it comes to the heft of your meal. Go for avocado or a sweet potato, such as in this Roasted Veggies With Buttery Garlic and Spinach Salad. Potatoes and avocados make great salad toppers that also add antioxidants and fiber to keep you full. If the restaurant doesn’t have the option of getting an avocado, just order some guacamole and use that instead. Or, ask for sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, or any other nut or seed on your salad if you like those better. Trust us, there’s nothing like a creamy pile of guac or a sweet roasted sweet potato atop a huge bed of greens and veggies with some nuts and seeds to make you feel both nourished and 100 percent satisfied too!
3. Or, Leave the Salad Off and Go With Some Sides and Dips
If you’re not into salads, you can still eat plant-based at a restaurant. Order some sides like a sweet or regular baked potato, grilled asparagus, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, stuffed bell peppers, marinated mushrooms (ensure they’re marinated with oil, not butter), and get a side of guac or salsa to stuff your potato with. You can also opt for stuffed potato skins made with salsa, beans, corn. etc. If they have a dish with black beans added, feel free to also order a side of baked beans or black beans, such this Black Bean and Corn Salsa. Most all restaurants can give you a meal based off ingredients they have. Don’t stick to the menu descriptions alone. Ask questions, build your own meal, and inspire others to do the same!
4. Order Plant-Based Soups
Chowders are generally a sign of dairy-based cream, and tomato soups usually include milk, so skip those to avoid hidden sources of dairy. Instead, go for minestrone soups, plain veggie soups, black bean, and potato-based soups, which are all usually safe. Pair your soup with a salad and/or a hearty side and you’ve got a fully plant-based meal in minutes! Just ask that yours aren’t topped with cheese or croutons. If you need to, tell the waiter you’re allergic to dairy so you’re not shortchanged from enjoying a plant-based meal.
5. Be Sauce Savvy
One area to be cautious with at any restaurant are the dressing and sauces. Many are made with butter, cream, or milk. Some dressings like Caesar, are even made with anchovies! Watch out for sauces described as ‘creamy’, ‘buttery’, ‘rich’, etc. This is usually a sign it’s made from an animal-based (dairy) ingredient. When in doubt, ask. Some veggies are also cooked in butter, so ask for yours to be cooked plain or with oil instead. If you feel unsure about a sauce, go with salsa, hot sauce, or even mustard, which are all 100 percent plant-based (and tasty)!
6. Add Some Pizazz
Sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts or pecans, diced apples, olives, marinated mushrooms, green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, etc. are all available at most steakhouses and make amazing toppings and additions to meals. You don’t have to eat a plain meal as a plant-based eater – get creative and ask your waiter for exactly what you want! There are many more topping options besides crouton and cheese, so think outside the box and surprise yourself with how many things you can turn into a plant-based meal.
7. Rice or Pasta to the Rescue!
When in doubt, rice, rice pilaf, quinoa, or pasta are always a great options and available everywhere. Order brown or wild rice, and when ordering pasta, see if a whole grain option is available. The less refined the grain, the healthier and more filling it will be. Rice, quinoa, and pasta are incredible with roasted tomatoes, artichokes, olives, and mushrooms added. Or, order a hefty side like guac or sweet potatoes, or even a side of beans if that suits you too.
8. Dessert Know-How’s
Desserts are a bit harder to get vegan at a steakhouse, though not impossible. Most contain dairy-based ingredients, or come with ice cream made from dairy. If they have apple pie or apple ala’ mode, you’re in luck! Instead of the whole dessert that usually has ice cream or butter included, since you can just order some caramelized apples and ask for some pecans or walnuts to be added for an extra boost! Strawberry or other berry desserts, can also be simplified to a simple bowl of berries. If you’re lucky, they’ll offer a soy, coconut, or other non-dairy based ice cream. If not, leave off the ice cream and enjoy some instead you made yourself at home. Some really great meals can be made from nothing more than artichokes, mushrooms, asparagus, salads, potatoes or squash, green beans, rice, beans, soups, tomatoes, nuts, seeds, etc. Remember that whatever foods the steakhouse has can be turned into a tasty entree, whether they’re on the menu that way or not. Next time your family or friends want to go to a restaurant, don’t jump ship; you might just find some of your favorite meals made here! Image Source: Stuffed Potato Skins