Navigating the ever-changing waters of eating out in fast casual restaurants can be precarious for the omnivore alone. So many choices for a little bit of everything on anything with a side of one of each, please.
If this is a daunting problem, imagine the same issue for the 7.3 million Americans who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. Once you add any sort of dietary restriction or choice into the mix, eating out suddenly becomes more of a labor of love, rather than an easy way out for dinner on a Tuesday night. Add this into the unwillingness of some restaurants to modify or alter menu items, and you have a hunger-induced headache waiting to happen.
Luckily, there are a few generous restaurants out there that have made it their business to cater to those of us who forgo meat or all animal products completely, while still managing to avoid the "salad is the only option" pitfall many restaurants tend to slide into.
Food With Integrity: Beans on Beans on Beans
Chipotle is one of the most prevalent and predominant restaurants when it comes to having choices as a vegan or vegetarian.
Up until a few weeks ago, Chipotle's vegan and vegetarian customers could build tacos and burritos that include black beans, veggies, and toppings of choice, including the array of salsas Chipotle so lovingly lets you layer onto your bowl of goodness. But now the chain offers more options beyond the usual black beans and fajita veggies. Chipotle recently switched their pinto beans over to a completely animal-free version, using no bacon and pork fat in the making of the beans. This means pinto beans for everyone! The choice in beans is something I'm sure many vegans and vegetarians are overjoyed about because the only other option is the humble black bean to stuff into your burrito. While black beans are wonderful and versatile – the vegetarian's cooking equivalent to a wardrobe's good pair of jeans – variety is the tie that binds a vegetarian customer to going back for more.
Sofrita Me, Please.
Not only is Chipotle switching up their bean game for everyone, but they are also piloting a new "meat," or main option, for vegans and vegetarians. While grilled vegetables suit some of us just fine, this option is both exciting and enticing. In a few select locations, Chipotle is offering vegan sofritas made from tofu. The tofu has a meaty texture, while still being able to sop up all the spicy goodness that it has been tossed with. Whether in a taco or a burrito, this new "meat" option has all the makings of a home run for anyone who usually has a hard time finding a delicious vegan option.
Between the customizable nature of Chipotle and availability of the restaurant to almost any consumer, eating out as a vegan or a vegetarian has gotten a lot easier – and tastier. Salads and bland hummus sandwiches be gone, Chipotle is upping their vegan game and it seems to be an animal product-free home run so far!