Restaurants Vegetarians Should Avoid

Life can be tough for vegetarians or a vegans who like dining out. One can only eat so many plates of pasta primavera or veggie burritos, after all! Plus you're always that one person in your group who's vetoing restaurant suggestions because there's nothing for you to eat. Then there's the aggravation of paying the same as your meat-chomping companion for a glorified side dish.

If you like exotic international food, the plot thickens: you can never be sure if a sauce has hidden meat or other animal products. And, honestly, the advent of the Impossible Burger, aka "the burger that bleeds" — this meat substitute patty that's taking the veggie world by storm tastes so much like meat that you might worry you've been slipped the real thing by mistake (and it's actually happened before – read on!).

Savvy vegetarians know there are plenty of restaurants with safe options: Subway's veggie subs, or a bean and cheese burrito from Taco Bell to name a few. But, if you one of your tried and true dining spots isn't an option, what's a vegetarian to do? You'll have to take your chances with restaurants primarily focused on serving a world of meat-eating customers. And sometimes, this can be a tough pill to swallow... as tough to swallow as soup secretly made with chicken stock.

Read on for some restaurants that have dropped the ball when it comes to serving vegetarian and vegan consumers — these are the places you should avoid.   

Chick-Fil-A leaves vegetarians hungry

At this popular chicken chain, which numbers more than 2,400 locations, there's not a single meal on the menu that's geared to vegetarians. Even the breakfast biscuit sandwiches from Chick-fil-A are listed on the menu as containing chicken, sausage, or bacon.

In an effort to seem vegetarian-friendly, the company does offer up some meatless ideas in their blog, The Chicken Wire. But aside from a side dish like french fries, a fruit cup, or the Superfood Side kale salad, their suggestion is just ordering a sandwich, wrap, or salad sans the chicken. That doesn't make much of a nutritious or satisfying meal, however, because once you take away the chicken, there's very little protein in any of the meals.

We think they're totally missing an opportunity: would it kill them to team up with a plant-based chicken brand like Quorn? Maybe enough vegetarians have made their displeasure heard: the company is reportedly exploring its vegan/vegetarian options and considering adding a plant-based protein to the menu in the future. Maybe the chain's iconic, and semi-literate, cows can even start a new advertising campaign: "Eat Moar Plantz!" Until that happens, vegetarians should find a new place to dine.

Burger King might lie about their vegetarian items

Vegetarians were excited when Burger King and Impossible Foods announced the advent of the Impossible Whopper in April 2019. The company has been gradually rolling it out to cities across the country, with plans to take it nationwide by the end of the year. But, are you really getting a 100 percent plant-based patty in that sesame-studded bun?  One Brooklyn Burger King location recently got busted for serving excited vegetarian customers actual beef patties instead of the promised Impossible Burgers — their location had never started making the trendy plant-based burgers. One customer actually devoured two of them, apparently believing the hype of how realistically meaty the Impossible Burger tasted.

That Brooklyn Burger King manager is not the only restaurant boss who hasn't been able to meet demand for the fabled plant-based patty. As the Impossible Burger is being added to the menus of these big chains, including locations of Red Robin and Qdoba, some of the company's smaller customers are finding they're not able to get their orders fulfilled.  

Can Burger King really be trusted to serve us the real deal? We certainly hope so. Until we can be sure, however, we'll find a source for getting our Impossible Burger fixes that we can actually trust not to lie to us.

Taco Cabana has some sneaky non-vegetarian items

Headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, Taco Cabana has been around since 1978 and has more than 165 locations, mostly clustered around Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. You'd think this taco-and-burrito joint would be heaven for vegetarians, with its generous bar of various salsas and condiments (even whole jalapeños!), but think again. 

If you innocently ordered the bean and cheese burrito, chances are you'll wonder why those beans taste so creamy and smoky and delicious. It's because, according to the company's nutritional information, that innocent sounding burrito is not vegetarian. Yes, indeed, most refried beans contain lard, even that can of Old El Paso that you might be regularly be using at home to make your own bean and cheese burritos. Note for home: get the vegetarian version of your favorite canned refried beans. Note for eating at Taco Cabana: your options include tacos or burritos made with guacamole or black beans, or a quesadilla. As an aside: The company's Borracho Beans are also not vegetarian — they're simmered with bacon. 

In-N-Out Burger less a lot to be desired for vegetarians

You'd think with its California heritage, In-N-Out Burger would be super vegetarian-friendly. After all, numerous vegetarian chains got their start in the Golden State, and several California cities, including Los Angeles, top the list of the most vegetarian cities in the United States

But despite its cult following (a secret menu! Fries cut fresh on-site!), In-N-Out Burger still doesn't offer a plant-based burger, even after a 2016 petition among customers to add one to the menu. It wasn't the first petition of this nature, either: A petition from 2013 years ago garnered 16,000 signatures urging the chain to add a veggie burger after it was revealed that one of its beef suppliers was shut down for its inhumane treatment of its cows. In-N-Out pledged to abandon that supplier, but vegetarians wanted more.

And don't even be fooled by the "Veggie Burger" option from the restaurant. It's simply a burger bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and, if you want, sauce. That secret menu, though, does offer a few hacks for non-meat-eaters if you get creative. You can get a "grilled cheese," basically a burger bun with melted American cheese, lettuce, and tomato, or doctor up their delicious fries, say, with grilled onions or sauce. Those are pretty slim pickin's, so vegetarians may be inclined to dine elsewhere. 

Almost nothing is safe for vegetarians at Checkers and Rally's

The Tampa-based chains of Checkers and Rally's scored an F from PETA on its ranking of best and worst burger chains, referring to it as a "nightmare for animals." The beef (literally)? is that just about everything on the menu is doused with animal products, whether it's beef chili, bacon, or eggs. Those eggs, incidentally, are even present on french fries, so vegans should beware that the fries aren't suitable for them. But you probably wouldn't want to eat them anyway, as according to one source, the fryer oil contains beef tallow, so fries and also mozzarella sticks can be ruled out if you're trying to stick to a meat-free lifestyle.

So, if you're avoiding the beef fat in the deep fryer, that leaves absolutely nothing on the menu for a vegetarian or a vegan to eat, except for dessert — things like a milkshake, ice cream, an Italian ice, or a cinnamon apple pie. 

Outback Steakhouse has a vegetarian menu that's lacking

Mind you, not too many vegetarians willingly choose to go to Outback Steakhouse. But sometimes you don't have a choice: perhaps it's a post-work get-together, or Uncle Joe's top pick for his birthday dinner, and you don't want to be the lone dissenter. So off you go to this Aussie-themed meat emporium, and you're likely envisioning that you'll have to make a meal from their famed Bloomin' Onion and maybe a side salad (hold the bacon bits). But not so fast! 

That renowned appetizer is deep-fried in beef tallow (french fries are also not vegetarian here, likely for the same reason). Even the soups are made with meat, and if you order grilled vegetables, know that they're likely cooked on the same grill that cooked ol' Uncle Joe's steak. Some vegetarians are wiling to overlook that, while others are still a bit squeamish about the chances of meat cross-contamination. Your choices, then, are limited to a baked potato, steamed vegetables, or a salad or plate of pasta without the meat. And watching the rest of the family dig into their big slabs of steak.

At Buffalo Wild Wings, almost nothing is safe for vegetarians

As with a steakhouse, a place specializing in chicken wings is unlikely to be the first choice for dinner for any vegetarian. And, in the case of Buffalo Wild Wings, it's for good reason. There is, indeed, more than just chicken wings here: mozzarella sticks, french fries, cheese curds, and even mac and cheese. But, if you take a peek at the company's nutritional information, you'll quickly discover that beef shortening is used to deep-fry everything — even, for some reason, that mac and cheese is indicated as being cooked in the beef fat. 

Not that we needed more evidence, but an article in Mother Jones backs that up in their article celebrating National Beef Tallow Day, a holiday that most vegetarians will let pass unobserved, thank you very much. Buffalo Wild Wings does have a couple of meat-free options on the menu, including a side salad, slaw, and some locations have a soft pretzel with green chile queso that sounds promising. But you might want to skip dessert: Those tempting-sounding cheesecake bites? Yup, they take a swim in the meat-fat fryer.

Arby's is famous for vegetarian hate

Our biggest complaint with Arby's is on principle. The company actually has offered a vegetarian menu — but just once. On Leap Year in 2016. Are we vegetarians some kind of joke to you? Apparently so. That Leap Day vegetarian menu wasn't even anything exciting, it was mainly just Arby's regular meat-filled sandwiches, minus the meat, and it was never seen again. 

So until Leap Day comes around again in 2020, your options pretty limited. A quick check of the menu shows that vegetarian-safe items include a side salad, fries, mozzarella sticks, or desserts like a shake or a chocolate chip cookie. The restaurant does not offer a plant-based sandwich at all. Super-picky vegetarians should know that those fried items are made in the same deep fryer as the fish and chicken dishes. Or, we could take a cue from the Leap Day menu and ask for just the toppings on the bun, hold the meat.

The vegetarian option at Fuddruckers is just not good

The good news: this burger joint, which touts itself as serving the "World's Greatest Hamburger," actually does have a veggie burger. The bad news: It's not vegan (and cannot be made vegan) and it's gotten repeated bad feedback from diners for being mushy and bland. 

If you don't like a mushy burger, or you don't eat dairy products, you're limited to french fries or sweet potato fries, chips and salsa, or a fruit cup. What? Not even a salad? Nope (at least not if you're vegan) — according to PETA, even the salads have dressings or toppings that contain animal ingredients. You could always see if they'd be willing to sell you a grilled cheese sandwich off the children's menu. Or maybe use the restaurant's famous topping bars as more of a salad bar to make yourself a patty-free sandwich of just cheese, veggies, and condiments. The chain restaurant earned a "C" grade in PETA's ranking of best and worst burger chains. 

Copper Branch misses on an important vegetarian favorite

This Montreal-based plant-based restaurant has just one location in the U.S., so far, in Fort Lauderdale, according to the location listings on its site. But it's set to expand worldwide, including into New York. It's a plant based restaurant, so vegetarians will find plenty to eat on the menu: grain bowls, sandwiches stuffed with tempeh or falafel, soups, and more. But, if it's a meatless burger you're craving, you might want to go elsewhere. 

The vegan company's flagship Copper Burger, a burger patty made with beets and brown rice, and topped with maple-dijon vegan mayo, is garnering negative reviews (one reviewer called it "just dreadful"), while another report complained that the food at Copper Branch was not as tasty or as visual appealing as its plant-based competitors. Steer clear of the mushy Copper Burger, though, and hopefully you'll find another meatless option at this quickly expanding chain. 

Thai restaurants have hidden non-vegetarian ingredients

With its curries and noodle dishes chock-full of deliciously crisp veggies, it would seem like Thai food is a great option for vegetarians. What's more, usually dishes come with an option for the protein: chicken, beef, shrimp, and, yes, tofu. But your favorite Thai dish is pretty likely to have a meat-based ingredient lurking in the sauces. Many of the curries, sauces for noodles, dipping sauces for satay, and other condiments contain fish sauce, oyster sauce, or shrimp paste. 

While you can certainly ask the kitchen to leave out meat or seafood, chances are the curry bases and other sauces have already been made, which means it'll be impossible to get a version of the dish that's truly vegetarian. If you're vegan, another thing to be aware of is that some of the noodle dishes, such as pad Thai and pad see ew, often contain egg. This is one animal protein, however, that can often be easily omitted if you ask. Your best bets might be stir-fried vegetables, salads (ask if the dressing contains fish sauce), or fried rice... or maybe something other than Thai food.

Brazilian steakhouses are definitely not safe for vegetarians

As with Outback Steakhouse, this is an unlikely place to find a vegetarian, but you might find yourself there celebrating a birthday or a bachelor party. Most of these Brazilian steakhouse chains (like Texas De Brazil) charge a fixed price for enjoying the endless procession of various meats that pass by your table, plus an extensive buffet of salads and side dishes. 

We'll give you the good news first: If you don't plan on partaking of any of the famous meat, you can usually pay a smaller fee to only eat from the buffet of salad fixings and side dishes, which is legendary for its huge variety of offerings (this makes sense: perhaps the operators want you to fill up on cheap veggies so you'll eat less of the more expensive beef). 

The bad news is, that reduced fee is around $30 for dinner at the Brazilian steakhouses we surveyed. Yes, for a glorified salad bar. What's more, as one reviewer discovered, that buffet of side dishes, especially the hot ones, isn't necessarily that vegetarian-friendly anyway: it might contain sushi, charcuterie, smoked salmon, as well as vegetable dishes like sauteed mushrooms, black beans, or potatoes that are cooked with beef or chicken broth. So, while the salad bar might be the thing of a veggie-lover's dreams, we're not sure it's worth the high price when you could just hit the salad bar at a place that doesn't also have a meat parade as its entertainment.

Vegetarians should use caution at restaurants that serve beer

Vegetarian and vegan beer lovers, we hate to break this to you. But apparently, a number of beers are made by being filtered through fish guts. The substance, called isinglass, is a collagen-like jelly made of dried fish bladders. Its purpose is to filter out yeast and other substances in order to make beer clearer. Sometimes gelatin derived from cows or pigs is used for a similar purpose during beer production. It's even used to make some wines. 

How can you tell if your favorite beer is going to have traces of fish bladders or cow hooves? PETA, as always, comes to the rescue for vegans and vegetarians with an extensive list of beer companies that don't use animal ingredients or processing agents in their beer production. There's also a handy website called Barnivore, where you can look up to see if your favorite vine or brewski is made using animal ingredients, including, for vegans, honey or dairy products. 

Are you a Guinness fan? While Guinness historically has been produced using isinglass, recently it changed its production methods to use a different filtration process, so it's now suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Let's raise a glass to them for the change, and hope that other breweries follow suit.