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Vegan Options: The New Normal at Restaurants

You might be surprised to find that even little dives in small cities are becoming increasingly vegan-friendly.
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by Michelle Kretzer, Vegan Dining Columnist for the Menuism Vegan Dining Blog

Sure, there are plenty of all-vegan restaurants across the nation -- and I'm on a quest to write about all of them -- but I'm even more excited to tell you about all the non-vegetarian places that have been scrambling to offer vegan options in order to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for vegan fare. According to an article in The Washington Post, several restaurants in the D.C. area, including Muse Café and The B Spot, are taking a break from meat and dairy products for occasional all-vegan menus. Vegan entrées are taking root at restaurants around the nation -- even BBQ joints and greasy spoons are enticing vegans to break bread with the meat-eaters, who are also apt to chow down on veggie burgers and faux-chicken sandwiches on occasion.

I'm telling you, restaurant "segregation" is over. You can get vegan meals almost anywhere now. I recently stumbled across an Esquire blog explaining that, in this "golden age of vegetarian dining," "manly" restaurants such as Alden & Harlow in Cambridge, Massachussetts, are serving beet steaks and other meat-free meals alongside chicken-fried rabbit and pork belly dishes.

That's likely because more men now realize that there's nothing "manly" about cruelty to animals, climate change, or having to wear a hospital gown because they've eaten so many artery-clogging cheeseburgers and chicken wings ... but I digress.

Barbecue joints and other restaurants that usually cater to ardent meat-eaters are starting to offer meat-free meals, because they don't want to be vetoed by mixed parties because there aren't enough options for the vegan diners. Besides, everyone can enjoy tasty vegan meals.

Here are eight popular restaurants -- in addition to the vegetarian-friendly chain restaurants that I recently blogged about -- that are making vegan meals mainstream:

Craig's, a hip Los Angeles restaurant, has a whole vegan section on the menu, complete with vegan chicken parmigiana, spaghetti squash primavera, warm quinoa salad, vegan cake, and homemade nondairy ice cream.

• Vegan barbecue and other meat-free options have snuck onto the otherwise meaty menu at Chow in Norfolk, Virginia. That's not surprising when you consider that the place isn't far from PETA's Hampton Roads headquarters, which houses more than 100 employees.

• And you probably wouldn't expect to find dishes like sautéed watercress, Thai sesame peanut noodles, and potato leek soup on the menu at a place called Mr. Bones BBQ, but the owners of the rib joint, which is by the beach in Anna Maria Island, Florida, know that vegan food is healthy and in demand.

• The Sage Biscuit Café in Bradenton, Florida, calls its menu "naughty and nice" because, in addition to the meat-based dishes, it includes a lot of "nice" vegan options, such as tofu scramble, banana crunch oatmeal, black-bean chili, and Asian noodle salad.

Shore Diner, an upscale yet causal place in St. Armands Circle, a touristy shopping area by Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida, specializes in seafood -- and vegan dishes, including a kale "Caesar" salad, a black-bean burger with spicy Vegenaise (vegan mayonnaise, of course), and a roasted cauliflower "steak," to name a few.

• If you're hungry for vegan-friendly pizza places, I have even more suggestions: Ella's Americana Folkart Café in Tampa sells soy cheese pizza and other vegan options. Pan Y Vino in nearby Dunedin will make any pizza you want with vegan cheese -- the vegan pistachio pizza is worth writing home about, as are the vegan desserts. And Egyptian Pizza in Baltimore serves soy cheese pizza as well as falafel, hummus, grape leaves, roasted eggplant, and other tasty vegan options.

I can go on and on -- big cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago have too many vegan-friendly restaurants to mention. And you might be surprised to find that even little dives in small cities are becoming increasingly vegan-friendly. (If there's a "hidden gem" in your town, please let me know.)

Of course, if you're looking for an all-vegetarian or vegan restaurant, you can find them anywhere now, including in Texas. Earth Burger, Texas's first plant-based fast-food restaurant, is scheduled to open early this summer. At the rate things are going, soon every restaurant in every city will offer vegan options. Heck, I might even need a second job just to cover all my restaurant tabs!

Michelle Kretzer learned about factory farming while pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Kentucky. She immediately stopped eating meat and dedicated herself to the cause of animal rights. When she is not writing for the PETA Foundation, Michelle enjoys traveling, collecting Beatles memorabilia, and finding great cruelty-free shoes and bags.