By Erik Marcus
Until recently, ordering vegan at fast food restaurants posed major challenges. But with plant-based diets becoming mainstream, fast food chains are racing each other to add vegan options to their menus. Thanks to all the delicious meat, dairy, and egg alternatives hitting the market, it’s easier than ever for these chains to roll out enticing vegan offerings.
Vegan Fast Food Options
At Chipotle and Taco Bell, you can get delicious and reliably vegan Mexican-style fast food in almost every American town or city. They’re at opposite ends of the spectrum, with Chipotle offering gourmet freshly-prepared burritos with key ingredients made from scratch. Taco Bell, by contrast, is much cheaper, offers far fewer vegetables, and the food is less conscientiously sourced—for instance, the beans are made from reconstituted powder.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chipotle is famous for its burritos, which are inspired by the giant delicious ones sold in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Eating vegan at Chipotle is the easiest thing in the world. According to their website: “Vegans should avoid our meats, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, queso, sour cream, and chipotle-honey vinaigrette.” That’s all there is to it!
Everything else on the menu is vegan. That includes their tortillas, both types of rice, both types of beans, their superb guacamole, and their salsas and hot sauces. Their spicy meaty tofu-based Sofritas is vegan too.
Recommended item: a bean and rice burrito with fajita vegetables (grilled peppers), salsa, and either guacamole or sofritas (grilled shredded spiced tofu).
Given that the majority of their ingredients are vegan, you can order a great many Taco Bell menu items vegan. Tell them you want an item al-fresco and they’ll leave off the cheese and/or sour cream and replace it with their pretty good chunky vegan salsa.
Recommended item: a bean burrito ordered al-fresco style—simple, delicious, and nearly impossible for that stoner back in the kitchen to screw up.
Other Great Vegan Fast Food Choices
Instead of arranging these restaurants alphabetically, restaurants with the most stores and the best options are closer to the top of the list.
Unlike many fast food Mexican restaurants, Del Taco offers Beyond Meat. And like Taco Bell, they maintain a helpful page of vegan and vegetarian menu items.
Recommended item: Beyond Avocado Taco.
One irritation of eating at Mexican restaurants is that meat, cheese, and sour cream are the most expensive ingredients, and yet vegans seldom get a discount when they order a burrito without animal products. Unlike other Mexican chains, Qdoba actually reduces the price on its meatless meals.
It’s easy to eat vegan at Qdoba since all beans, tortillas, rice varieties, and salsas are vegan. Their guacamole is vegan too.
Recommended item: Grilled fajita vegan bowl.
The Impossible Burger patty offered by Burger King is vegan. If you don’t want it grilled on the same surface that cooks meat, they will microwave it upon request.
Additionally, Burger King has begun testing Impossible chicken nuggets in the USA. So keep your fingers crossed that they’ll soon be added to the menu nationwide.
Recommended item: Impossible Whopper ordered without mayo. Ask them to microwave the burger if you don’t want it cooked on the grill.
You can order chicken or burger menu item to instead feature the Beyond Burger. You’ll also need to specify no cheese or mayo if applicable. Note that all items are prepared in a shared kitchen and since vegans aren’t a significant portion of the chain’s customers, Carl’s Jr. currently makes no effort to certify any of its foods as vegan.
Recommended Item: The Beyond Famous Star Burger, ordered without cheese or mayo. The fiery sauce featured on the Beyond Famous Fiery Star Burger is not vegan either.
White Castle is famous for mini-hamburgers it calls “Sliders,” that it has been serving up since 1921. All White Castle restaurants feature Veggie Sliders. Order it without the cheese and it’s vegan.
Recommended Item: Veggie Slider without Cheese.
In January of 2020, Denny’s replaced their mediocre vegan bean burger with delicious vegan Beyond Burgers at all USA and Canada restaurants.
Denny’s also serves a number of other vegan foods, plus coffee and juices. If you’re there for breakfast, the oatmeal is vegan.
Recommended item: Veggie Burger (Beyond Burger) on a Brioche bun. Numerous veggie toppings are available. Specify no cheese, butter, or mayo.
For decades, Dunkin’ was one of the least vegan-friendly chains in existence, although they’ve always been famous for their excellent coffee. But in 2019 they introduced Beyond Meat Sausage at all USA locations.
Recommended item: Beyond Breakfast Sausage on an English muffin without egg or cheese.
None of the burger offerings at Five Guys are vegan (and the buns aren’t vegan either), but their French fries nevertheless deserve a special shout-out. Why? Because they’re thick-cut whole potatoes fried in peanut oil, which is a super-premium frying method. What’s more, the only thing fried in the oil is potatoes (not chicken or seafood), so the gross-out factor is zero.
If you like your French fries more flavorful, order the Cajun spiced version—they’re vegan too! Note that servings are massive, so if you’re by yourself a small order will be plenty even if you’re hungry.
Very impressive offerings here, thanks to their new plant-based menu. Not only can you order a cheeseburger made with Impossible Burgers and Daiya Cheese, you can also get a vegan milkshake! They also offer fries and tots, and since they don’t offer chicken nuggets you won’t have to worry that your potatoes will be fried in the same oil.
Panera exemplifies the fact that vegan fast food still has not taken over the world. If you walk into a Panera, you’ll have trouble finding vegan items on the menu, since the offerings are dominated by meat-based sandwiches. Fortunately, there are several vegan items available. Unlike most chain restaurants, Panera maintains a list of their vegan offerings.
Recommended items: Ten Vegetable Soup, Mediterranean Veggie sandwich on country Rustic Bread without cheese or mayo.
When it comes to vegan offerings, Starbucks has a checkered past. They’ve rolled out vegan food options only to discontinue them. And while they do offer an Impossible Breakfast Sandwich, this offering contains both dairy cheese and eggs.
To their credit, Starbucks offer a number of plant-based milks. But unfortunately, they impose a surcharge when choosing these instead of cows’ milk.
Recommended Items: Chickpea Bites & Avocado Protein Box.
They’ve tested a bunch of vegan meats over the years, but nothing is firmly established in the USA yet. Their whole wheat breads annoyingly contain honey. But in early 2020, exclusively in the UK for now, Subway rolled out a Meatless Meatball Marinara Melt featuring Beyond Meat and vegan cheese!
(Reluctantly) Recommended item: Veggie Delight ordered on their standard Italian White bread, without cheese or mayo.
Ice Cream Shops
The big three ice cream shops in the United States (Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s, and Haagen-Dazs) all carry vegan flavors. And you can also buy Dairy-Free (vegan) pints of Ben & Jerry’s and Haggen Dazs at most supermarkets.
Every store offers two or three vegan flavors. At last notice, these were the Vegan Coffee Caramel Chunk, Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Non-Dairy Chocolate Extreme
Ben & Jerry’s
As with Baskin-Robbins, every Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor stocks at least a couple vegan flavors. Ben & Jerry’s rolls out new flavors much more frequently than other brands, so expect to encounter new vegan ice cream options regularly.
Many Haagan-Dazs parlors in the United States carry vegan ice cream. However, because they’re independent franchises, these stores are under no obligation to offer vegan ice cream flavors. If your local Haagan-Dazs doesn’t carry vegan ice cream, chances are they’ll still offer one or two flavors of vegan sorbet.