Fast food gets a lot of grief. But let’s be honest: It definitely has its place. We’d all be a lot hungrier on late nights or long drives if we couldn’t swing by a drive-thru.
If you’re vegan, though, it can be a challenge to enjoy those cheap, easy noms because most fast food is pretty animal-heavy.
That’s why we got the scoop from some vegan and plant-based dietitians on how to find vegan fast-food options on even the meatiest of menus. Below, we’ve rounded up the fast-food restaurants that make it easy to order vegan — plus your best bet for a vegan burger, breakfast, burrito, and other beloved meals.
These restaurants are the (plant-based) cream of the crop when it comes to vegan fast food. They offer tons of variety, and making alterations and requests at these restaurants tends to be easier.
Taco Bell was by and large the most highly recommended vegan-friendly fast-food restaurant among the dietitians we spoke to.
An easy way to get your vegan fix at Taco Bell is to order menu items with no meat and “Fresco-style” (meaning no cheese or sour cream and added pico de gallo), says registered dietitian Lori Kupferman.
Chipotle was also a top recommendation. According to the chain’s website, everything at Chipotle is totally fine for vegans except the meat, shredded cheese, queso sauce, sour cream, and chipotle-honey vinaigrette. This means every meal option is in play: burritos, tacos, bowls, and salads.
Oh, yeah — don’t forget that their lime tortilla chips are vegan too.
While Panera Bread may have a reputation for creamy soups in bread bowls, it also offers a surprising number of vegan options, according to registered dietitian Jean Maxwell.
CFA offers a number of vegan-friendly dressings and sauces, including the apple cider dressing, light balsamic vinaigrette dressing, light Italian dressing, and Polynesian sauce.
Best of all: The waffle fries are A-OK too.
Here are some surprising vegan options from popular fast-food chains that may have you scratching your head… right before you hop in the car to hit the drive-thru at one of these joints.
What to order: “Get the Impossible Whopper without cheese and mayonnaise, and their french fries are vegan,” says Kupferman.
What to order: “The Beyond Sausage on an English muffin with a side of hash browns, with oat and almond milk for the coffee!” says Kupferman.
El Pollo Loco
What to order: The Original BRC Burrito without the cheese or the Vegan Chickenless Pollo Burrito, says Gorin.
What to order: Earmuffs Burrito Bowl with beans and/or tofu or build your own tacos, burrito, bowl, or salad with their vegan ingredients, says Maxwell.
What to order: Eggplant Tofu with brown rice, super greens, and vegetable spring rolls. Note: Eggplant Tofu isn’t available at all locations.
Luckily, most fast-food restaurants with vegan options will clearly and prominently mark it on the menu. “Look for icons on the menu such as a leaf or the letter ‘V,'” explains Sheth.
But if you’re trying to identify vegan items on a fast-food menu when it’s not clearly marked, finding answers might require a bit of sleuthing.
“You may have the most success doing research online so you can see the full ingredients list,” suggests Gorin, “versus when you’re at the restaurant placing an order.”
Maxwell says you can always ask to see the ingredient list when you’re ordering. “Remember to look for sneaky things like gelatin, glycerin, red food dye, casein, or whey powder, as they are all animal-derived,” she adds.
But cross contamination with animal products can be a bit more difficult to avoid.
“If you’re concerned about cooking surfaces and utensils on which animal-based ingredients may have been prepared,” explains Gorin, “you may need to do a deeper level of investigation and/or speak with the restaurant.”
- Many fast-food restaurants will make vegan options clear on the menu, but you may need to check the ingredient list. Planning ahead is definitely the way to go so you’re not holding up the line.
- Taco Bell, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Chick-fil-A are solid fast-food joints that offer vegan options with just a few modifications needed.
- Several other fast-food restaurants offer some surprising vegan options to satisfy your fast-food cravings or fill that late-night grease void. Hey there, Impossible Whopper!