Vegan Travels in SO-CAL

My husband and I are newish vegans, which means we’re even newer to traveling as vegans. For years, we’ve lived a comfortable life gorging on a plethora of dairy products, eggs, meat, and fish, never finding any issue getting food to eat when we traveled. Then we eliminated fish, which was a little tough, but still relatively easy to eat while on the road. So, when we made the gigantic leap to forgo all animal products, life at home was easy but to travel as vegans became more challenging. We quickly discovered how few options there are if you don’t take in animal products. But don’t get discouraged thinking you have to decide between starving or return to consuming flesh again if you dare to travel. I’m here to throw in some great tips I learned during our first few trips as vegans.

First, let’s discuss the different ways to consume vegan when eating out.

1. Vegan-friendly restaurants don’t offer vegan food, but they’re more than happy to accommodate the diner by altering menu items, such as removing meat from a salad and replacing it with extra veggies. I always speak with someone before seating to see if they accommodate special diets, such as vegan, just be sure that the waiter understands you want no animal products. It’s amazing how many people don’t really understand what a vegan is.

Beyond burger by Veggie Grill (credit: veggie grill.com)

2. Vegetarian-friendly restaurants proudly display a -V- next to menu choices, but this is a gray area for vegans because being vegan and being vegetarian isn’t the same. Most often the vegetarian items are loaded with cheese, butter, milk, and eggs, and aren’t easily altered. I find these types of restaurants the most difficult to order from, and I do my best to avoid them. The few times we tried these restaurants, the staff was totally uneducated on the difference between a vegan and vegetarian. At one Starbucks, the girl at the counter was ready to go to arms with me by trying to convince me that goat cheese was not dairy (I’m sorry, world, but as long as it’s from breast milk it’s an animal product).

3. Restaurants that offer vegan menu choices have dedicated vegan-menu options, with most even promoting special vegan preparation areas and vegan pans or grilling areas, which would be expected for any special diet. The staff is usually well versed in the vegan menu and is more than happy to offer special choices not shown on the menu. We went to one such type of Thai restaurant in Oceanside, California, called Rim Thai, where the vegan meat served was “mock duck.” The waiter was amazing at explaining all the different food choices we could have made vegan that weren’t listed, even going so far as to offer a special fried rice for our young vegan son. Palms Green Cafe in Palm Springs promotes their vegan menu and vegan takeout.

4. Vegetarian restaurants/ health food restaurants. Let’s combine these two because they’re strikingly similar. There are various types of “healthy eaters” that like to think of themselves as a type of vegetarian. For instance, they may not eat red meat or pork, they may eat only fish, they may eat only milk and eggs, they may eat only organic range-free meat… And here’s where it gets difficult. The menu can be as varied as the diets they’re catering to, leaving the vegans to “go old school” with vegetables piled on a sandwich with hummus. We were recommended to go to a restaurant in Joshua Tree, California, called Natural Sisters Café, where people were beaming about its vegan-friendly menu and raved about the “quinoa burgers.” Excited, we drove the 45 miles to try out the menu, but we were disappointed to discover that the famous burgers were made with eggs, which was the case for most everything on their menu. The vegan menu was small, but well-marked, and the staff was well trained in vegan diet. The vegan food was acceptable, but for the hungry vegan, it wasn’t worth the trip. Another problem with these restaurants is that they often forget to prepare vegan items independent of meat options. At one health food restaurant called Luscious Lorraine’s, in Rancho Mirage, it prides itself as an organic restaurant. Yet, the vegan menu was small, and the food we ordered tasted as if it had been prepared on the same cutting board as the fish. These types of restaurants are a great option, just remember you still have to be careful when ordering.

5. All-vegan restaurants are becoming more bountiful all the time. I love mock meat, which can be made from a variety of plants to mimic all different types of meat. But I’m not alone on this one, as many of my carnivore friends rave about various plant meats. That’s probably why there’s a sudden boom of fast-food vegan restaurants sprouting up everywhere. It all started with a small fast-food restaurant called Native Foods Café, in Palm Springs, where the plant-based meat choices are so exceptional that carnivores actual go out of their way to eat there. The chef who started Native Foods Café opened up another restaurant called Chef Tanya’s Kitchen, which also provide wonderful vegan options in the Palm Springs area. One of our favorites is the vegan fast-food chain The Veggie Grill. Vegans will find joy in some of the comfort-food staples such as “hamburger” and fries or “fish” tacos. In the San Diego area, they also have another great fast-food option called Plant Power Fast Food, where the long line attests to the excitement of the menu and food. Some vegans are more interested in “old school,” meaning that there’s no mock meat and much of the food is actually raw. These are not only healthy options but remind you why you’re vegan (besides animal cruelty) because it’s a healthier way to eat. If this is your kind of thing, then don’t miss Peace Pies in San Diego or Plant Food Supper club in Idyllwild, California, where they make almost everything in house and prove that even the smallest vegan restaurant, whether in towns or big cities, can be successful.

My biggest tip to those who wish to eat vegan while traveling is to download the Happy Cow app to their smartphone. This great little app is easy to use and helps you locate all types of restaurants and stores with reviews. Another great option is to simply search online for “vegan restaurants” in the area you’re planning to visit. We’re looking at a trip to Paris next year, and we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of vegan restaurants available when we googled “vegan Paris.”

The great reality is that being vegan isn’t as difficult as it used to be. It’s now accepted as a normal diet at most restaurants. We’ve now become used to people wanting to talk to us about eating vegan, and we actually feel that it’s our job to educate people about this type of diet. I’ve also learned one secret from getting out of difficult conversations where people want to challenge my way of eating: I just say it’s a religious belief. I don’t have to name the religion, but it seems to calm people down.

I’d love to hear more about other people’s experiences with vegan travel, so please leave a comment below!

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