Over the years, vegan fast food options have spread like creamy avocado on toast. Places like Native Foods and Veggie Grill are exclusively vegan, and they’re popping up in larger cities. It’s so refreshing to see long-lines and busy dining areas in 100% vegan fast food chains.
Sadly, places like that aren’t in business everywhere yet, but luckily, even non-vegan chains have started offering more vegan fast food options. That’s good news for the rest of us living in areas with limited options or when we are on the road in small towns.
Today I’m sharing five fast food chains that have vegan options. This list is not at all comprehensive. There are plenty more options out there, but these are the places that I personally frequent on occasion.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
It took a long time for me to come around to Chipotle. When I first heard about it, I was living in Los Angeles, home of the burrito, and I didn’t ache for a fast food Mexican chain. (And if I did, I would have opted for Sharky’s Wood-fired Mexican Grill, where they make lots of tasty organic and vegan options. Unfortunately, they only have one location outside of California, and it’s not where I live.)
Even after the tofu sofritas at Chipotle started getting a lot of press, I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get there. Then one day David and I were bored of all of our options in Iowa and decided to give it a chance. We ordered hard shell tacos with the tofu sofritas, black beans, salsa, and fajita vegetables. Color me impressed! The sofritas are made with organic tofu and have a nice hit of spice to them. The grilled vegetables elevate the tacos a bit.
Any time that chains in general and taco places in particular give something specific for vegans that isn’t just “accidentally vegan,” I really appreciate it. I mean, I like a bean and rice burrito just as much as the next person, but it’s nice to have something that isn’t just a reductionist burrito. I also like that they display “vegan” right on their menu board.
Along with hard shell tacos, the burritos and bowls can also be made vegan. I like the crunch of a hard shell, but they can get a little overly wet sometimes, because of the liquid in the sofritas and beans. Add some rice if you fear a soggy shell.
You’re good to go with any of these vegan items: soft & hard tortillas, white & brown rice, black & pinto beans, fajita vegetables, sofritas, all salsas, chips, and guacamole.
Fun fact: The first bagel that I ever had was from Bruegger’s. When I was in college, professors would regularly bring them in to class as an incentive. I don’t know how I’d gone 18 years being bagel free, but that changed with the entrance of Bruegger’s to my life.
Since they were my first bagels, I find them completely adequate. However, don’t set your hopes too high with their tagline about being New York-style bagels. Or maybe put the emphasis on style. These are the bagels that you eat when you’re closer to Town Square than Times Square.
Bruegger’s has about 300 locations in 26 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.
Lots of the bagels at Bruegger’s are vegan. My go-to choice is rosemary olive oil, but I occasionally drift to an onion bagel for a change of pace. David usually buys poppy or sesame.
You’re good to go with any of these vegan bagel options: Blueberry, chocolate chip, cinnamon sugar, garlic, onion, poppy, rosemary olive oil, sesame, pumpkin, Bruegger bites, cranberry orange, everything, plain, pumpernickel, salt, and sun-dried tomato.
Steer clear of these non-vegan options: Cinnamon raisin, French toast, 12 grain, egg, whole wheat, 5 grain everything, Asiago parmesan, and jalapeño cheddar.
Bruegger’s doesn’t offer any vegan cream cheese, unfortunately. However, they do have peanut butter and hummus. Hummus is one of my preferred bagel toppings, but if you can manage it, I recommend getting your hummus elsewhere. I tend to think of hummus as something that’s tough to mess up, but they do it. It’s edible, but pasty & bland. (The hummus shown above was homemade.)
In small town America, vegan breakfast options are elusive, and not every coffee shop carries non-dairy milk. So it’s handy that there is a way to caffeinate and break your fast at Starbuck’s. I usually order a soy misto with extra soy. (They also offer coconut milk and almond milk if you are so inclined.)
Tip: It has been my experience that if you can find a way to say the word “soy” twice to the barista, you’re less likely to end up with cow’s milk in your cup. Somehow just once doesn’t always register. So I always say, “Soy misto with extra soy, please.” Also if you like extra soy action like I do, you can get more beverage for your money by ordering a grande in a venti cup. Usually, they’ll fill it the whole way.
But what about food? The best draw food-wise is the oatmeal. They offer classic, my preferred choice, and blueberry. They pour hot water on instant oatmeal, and you just let it sit while covered for three minutes. Then you can pour on any toppings that you like – dried fruit, nuts, and/or brown sugar. I rarely make oatmeal at home, but this substantive option is great on the road when lunch is still a few hours off.
Other food options? They also have some packaged items like potato chips, dried fruit, nuts, and the like. Options vary by location.
Blaze Pizza is a California-based chain that is spreading across the country. There are roughly 145 restaurants in 31 states and Canada. This summer they opened a location in Des Moines, Iowa. They invited me to come out for a free pizza to give it a whirl.
The set-up is similar to Chipotle, where a pizza maker behind the counter slides down a row of toppings with you, asking which ones you’d like on your individual pizza. (Depending on your appetite, one pizza could serve two.)
What to order: Both the traditional & gluten free crusts are vegan. You can go with the thin crust or high-rise for a little extra, which gives a more pillowy crust. David went with the extra dough, and that would be my choice next time. It had more chew to it.
The classic red and spicy red sauces are vegan along with the barbecue sauce or olive oil. They also offer Daiya vegan cheese if you roll that way. (I prefer to go cheeseless.)
Their vegetable topping options include: artichokes, arugula, banana peppers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, chopped garlic, fresh basil, jalapenos, mushrooms, olives, pineapple, red onions, red peppers, sautéed onions, spinach, and zucchini.
The pizzas are then cooked in a brick oven for 180 seconds and served with blackened crisp edges. I’ve only been once, and it was very tasty. I’d go back again.
Noodles & Company
I wrote about the vegan options at Noodles & Company several years ago, and it’s still one of my most popular posts. Noodles & Company is a fast casual chain that’s similar in tone to Panera or Baja Fresh. They have a few vegan options; however, there used to be more.
They kept my favorite option – Japanese pan noodles with udon noodles, broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms in a sweet soy sauce. However, they discontinued David’s first choice – Indonesian peanut sauté. That’s a bummer since it was one of the few vegan options (along with the pan noodles) that was vegan by default and didn’t require making substitutions or omissions when ordering. (Shoot them an email if you are similarly disappointed. Maybe we can get it back on the menu.)Their current vegan options include: Japanese pan noodles, tossed green side salad with balsamic vinaigrette, penne rosa without cream and cheese, spaghetti marinara without cheese, pasta fresca without cheese & cream, and Thai green curry without shrimp.
You can add organic tofu to any option for a couple dollars more. So I usually get a small order with added tofu, and I find that’s plenty filling for one.
I tried the Thai green curry recently, which is one of their new options. I had it with tofu instead of shrimp. The flavor was pretty one note, and the pineapple in the dish felt incongruous. Also, I’d opt for a different type of noodle if I were to have it again, because the skinny noodles couldn’t hold the sauce well. (The thick udon noodles in the Japanese pan noodles would be a better fit.) It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t need to order it again.
Which restaurants do you visit for their vegan fast food options?