Dining out while vegan: 15 ways you can be a herbivore and have a social life, too

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Photo by Jordan Allen
Nourish Charlotte

If you’re new to being a vegan, (welcome to the fam) or are vegan-curious, you might have a few questions and concerns about this new way of living and eating.

What will your family and friends say? What will this do to your social life? If you’ve decided to start passing on animal products, what will this mean for eating out?

Do you become that friend who only suggests essentially vegan places? [Guilty.] Or do you go with the flow, reassuring your friends that you’ll be able to find something, crossing your fingers that there will be more options to choose from than an iceberg lettuce “salad” and fries?

Is there a happy middle ground?

Courtesy of Ashleigh Flynn

“Don’t play the ‘I don’t care, whatever you want,’ game, because you’re vegan now and you really do care,” said Ashleigh Flynn, who is studying holistic nutrition. Flynn gave us some other tips on handling dining out in Charlotte after you go plant-based:

Speak up and recommend a restaurant first. Choose easy crowd favorites, such as pizza, Mexican, hibachi or a cafe, all of which have plenty of vegan-friendly options. Also, look at the menu ahead of time to avoid the stress of not knowing whether or not you’ll be able to get a satiating meal.

“All of my friends know that I’m vegan and most will take that into consideration when recommending a restaurant — or they’ll ask me to pick a place. We usually have go-to favorite places that we visit that feel like traditions at this point,” she said.

If you’ve been invited on a group outing to a restaurant that’s already been picked out and there aren’t any blatantly vegan options on the menu, call ahead.

This happened to me at Christmastime when friends wanted to go to King’s Kitchen. Personally, I love that place, especially since that’s where my husband and I got engaged [all the heart eyes], but I wasn’t sure what we’d be able to eat now that we’re both vegans. A simple call ahead and I was reassured that we’d be able to have a vegan risotto. It sounded so good that two non-vegans at the table ordered it as well.

“Overall, I thought going vegan would be a huge obstacle to overcome in my social life, but it is extremely rare that it causes any issues at all. I have found that people are genuinely happy to be accommodating, especially these days where most everyone has some sort of dietary restriction,” Flynn said.

Ok. Cool. Not as big of a deal as you may have thought. Still, which restaurant do you choose?

“I feel like pop-culture still makes it [being vegan] sound really hard, but it’s easier than it’s ever been and it will continue to get easier,” Julia Simon of Nourish Charlotte said, as she rattled off restaurant after restaurant offering vegan options, including Ma Ma Wok, her personal favorite around town.

Just in case you aren’t able to convince your carnivorous friends to go to local vegan havens such as Bean Vegan Cuisine, Fern or Living Kitchen, here’s a list of not-as-obvious places that will leave you and your meat-eating friends both happy and full. Because you might be used to not having many options to choose from, here’s 15 (you’re welcome):

But first, coffee. And desserts. And markets.

(1) 7th Street Public Market | Uptown

Local landmark 7th Street Public Market is sure to make both vegans and non-vegans happy alike. With options including Viva Raw with their fresh pressed juices, aged cashew cheeses and stock of Nourish Charlotte foods to-go, vegan pizza from Pure Pizza, vegan sushi rolls from Bonsai Fusion Sushi and more, you’re both bound to find something delicious. Not to mention Not Just Coffee and Tank’s Tap for beverage options.

[Related: From gourmet popcorn to salmon poke rolls — your ultimate guide to 7th Street Public Market]

(2) Artisen Gelato | Matthews

All. Vegan. Gelato. Need I say more? That’s right, you can grab a vegan triple-scoop cone of gelato with flavors like brownie, mint chocolate chip, passionfruit and more.

(3) Central Food Hub Vegan Market | Plaza Midwood

For weekend shopping and exploring, grab your fresh, local produce along with the most delicious vegan goodies from pop-up vendors including Craft Cakes CLT [get the apple hand pies] as well as Hummus Among Us, Sun Burger specializing in Jamaican vegan cuisine, Jai Food and more.

[Related: How this Plaza Midwood market builds community through ‘food that makes you feel good’—physically and mentally]

(4) The People’s Market | Dilworth

Again. Color me surprised when not only did I find vegan options, but an entire vegan section on the menu at The People’s Market with two burger options, a burrito and mushroom melt. Plus, you can pick up the popular, and entirely vegan, Move That Dough Baking Co. doughnuts on the weekend as well.

[Related: Check out the menus at The People’s Market, which opens today in Dilworth]

https://www.instagram.com/p/BvEa52aBjC7/

(5) Queen City Grounds | Uptown

Partially owned by vegans, Queen City Grounds offers vegan options including The Dale Jr. sandwich, with vegan pimento cheese, tempeh bacon and tomatoes pressed on sourdough or wheat. They also stock vegan baked goods from local pop-up bakers around town, such as Forget Me Not Bake Shop, Whisk + Wood, Sugarrmann, Move That Dough Baking Co., True Flour, Wentworth & Fenn and Craft Cakes CLT. With so many options to choose from, you’re sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.

(6) Undercurrent Coffee | Plaza Midwood

When I met a friend for coffee at Undercurrent a few months ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the percentage of vegan options they had on their menu. Not only do they offer incredible avocado toast, a staple in any vegan diet, but they also have blueberry chia pudding, peanut butter banana toast and the Benne’s Bowl, with warm roasted broccolini, carrots, mushrooms, Anson Mills’ wheat berries, crushed peanuts and benne seeds on a bed of mesclun greens, tossed in a house-made miso-tahini vinaigrette. It’s delicious.

Meals and Snacks:

(7) 5Church | Uptown

Another very popular Charlotte restaurant among meat-eaters, with creative menus, top chefs and funky decor, 5Church also offers plant-based specials. Their specials change weekly, and all can be made vegan, with at least one entirely plant-based option such as yellow lentil stew with crispy tofu, caraway carrots, toum [a Lebanese garlic sauce] and currants.

(8) Banh Mi Brothers | University City

Located in the University City area, Banh Mi Brothers carries at least 3 vegan banh mi options as well as other items that can be made vegan. Get the vegan kimchi fries with banh mi seitan and a vegan aioli sauce.

[Related: 5 siblings to know in Charlotte’s restaurant industry]

(9) Common Market | Multiple Locations

Not only can everything on their menu be made vegan, they’ve also got options including the Tree Hugger, Mid-Eastern and CM “Chickenless” Salad sandwiches. They also carry local goodies and to-go options from places such as Nourish Charlotte, if you need something quick.

Photo by Jordan Allen
Nourish Charlotte at Common Market

(10) The Greener Apple | Plaza Midwood

Inside Book Buyers in Plaza Midwood is The Greener Apple. They’ve got all sorts of things to help you live a more vegan-friendly and eco-conscious life, as well as vegan snacks you can grab on the go.

[Related: Small Business: How this vegan shop operates as a business within a business]

(11) Haberdish | NoDa

Courtesy of Haberdish
Grilled cauliflower steak at Haberdish. Here, the chimichurri is shown on the side, though it is typically served atop the “steak”.

Wait. The fried chicken place with incredible craft cocktails? Haberdish is a very popular restaurant among meat-eaters. Who am I kidding? Among everyone. They’re on just about every list of best restaurants in Charlotte and although they’re known for their fried chicken, they’re making the effort to be inclusive of vegans as well by offering their fried cauliflower steak, tater tots and bbq glazed carrots [ask for the vegan option], just to name a few.

(12) Kid Cashew | Dilworth

It’s always nice when restaurants have a vegan symbol next to the items you can eat, but it’s even better when they’ve got an entire section easily marked so you don’t have to go hunting for what you can eat.  Kid Cashew’s vegan menu boasts nine options, including butterless brussel sprouts caramelized with lemon vinaigrette and almonds — a personal fave — as well as a quinoa-stuffed avocado and wood-fire grilled beets.

(13) Lady GoGo’s | Pop-Up Food Trailer

“My all-time favorite meal in Charlotte is Lady GoGo’s,” said Kelsey Joseph of the Charlotte Vegan & Vegetarian Social Club and The Humane League Charlotte. “I’m obsessed with their asada tacos and their nachos,” she added.

Lady GoGo’s is Charlotte’s first fully plant-based Mexican Trailer. It offers all of the traditional food with a vegan twist, and it carries baked goods as well.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BsMV25IhAc5/

(14) NoDa Bodega | NoDa

Every Thursday, NoDa Bodega rolls out the vegan carpet for Vegan Night, offering different menu items each time. Previous menu items have included ‘Totchos’ tots loaded with chili, pico de gallo and pickled red onions; mushroom po’ boy sandwiches, creamy tomato soup, smoked tempeh tacos and roasted beets with citrus, shaved celery, ginger vinaigrette, avocado and five-spice toasted cashews.

(15) Sal’s Pizza Factory | Monroe Road

“In my opinion, the best vegan pizza in town right now is at Sal’s Pizza,” Simon said. She credits their choice to stock VioLife cheese, along with their know-how on cook time for getting that perfectly melty and yet also crispy texture for why they’re the best. You’ll get an incredible delicious vegan pizza, and your non-vegan friends have plenty of things to choose from to make them happy as well.

So you see?

With veganism becoming more and more mainstream, restaurants are getting on board and offering vegan options for their plant-loving patrons, and I’m here for it. You can grab a delicious vegan option just about anywhere while you’re out with your carnivorous friends.

Becoming vegan definitely comes with changes, but with as many options as there are out there, sacrificing your social life is not one of them.

List compiled by myself, Simon and Joseph.

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