Eating Out as a Vegan
I love eating out. But how do you do it as a vegan? All you need is a good knowledge base about veganism, some polite intelligence to ask a lot of questions, and internet access to search for places.
Say you’ve just become vegan in the capital district…what do you do when a friend wants to go out with you? The first thing I do is tell my friend that I am vegan. The next thing I do is start researching my options on the internet. Luckily we have a lot of options in this area. But what do you do if you aren’t sure about your options? Your safest bet is to stick with Indian, Chinese/Japanese, Thai, Lebanese/Middle Eastern, or sometimes a Mexican restaurant. These places usually have a fair amount of veg heavy options and proteins like tofu or beans. They may also have a vegetarian, vegetable, or tofu section on their menu.
If you pick Indian, here are some things you should look out for: ghee, which is a type of animal based butter; cream, which is usually listed in the description, so avoid anything with a creamy sauce UNLESS it specifies that it is coconut milk based ( I would still ask to make sure); and sometimes they put butter or ghee in the rice. I usually avoid saying vegan at an Indian place unless they seem well versed in vegetarianism. I recommend sticking with saying that you can’t eat dairy or eggs, being sure to list it all, and that you are vegetarian. Most Indian places have a vegetable or vegetarian section on the menu so you will just have to worry about the above list of non-vegan items. As far as the bread options go, roti is usually made without ghee and sometimes the naan is but you must ask. There are also really great appetizers like vegetable samosas and pakoras.
If you decide to go with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese or Thai food, here are some things to look out for: fish sauce (more likely in Thai food), eggs, and sometimes chicken stock in the sauces. I also avoid saying the word vegan at these places, so I just point out what I “can’t” eat.
Say you decide to go with Lebanese or some kind of Middle Eastern place? Here is what you should look out for: cheese, usually feta; tzatziki sauce (yogurt sauce), honey, and chicken stock. I say get the falafel and enjoy!
Some Mexican places are really accommodating, but some surprisingly aren’t. Here’s what you should avoid: lard (sometimes in their refried beans); cheese; sour cream; and chicken or beef stock. Be sure to ask about their beans because some places do not add dairy, lard or cheese to their bean base. Also be on the lookout for dairy in some premade guacamole, so always ask if it’s freshly made.
It’s usually pretty easy to eat out as a vegan, depending on the options around you. If you’re native to the Albany area, we are actually very lucky to have a lot of awesome options. I will probably do some restaurant reviews in the future so I will definitely mention some of these again.
This is not a complete list by any means….but these are my favorites. Also take note, I can’t eat gluten so your favorites might not be here because I probably can’t eat there.
Indian: Lazeez- I love their Aloo Chana (chickpeas and potatoes in a tomato type sauce), onion pakoras, and vegetable samosas. They also have a pretty rad lunch buffet. Below, is the owner showing some delicious vegan food during Ramadan.
Karavalli in Latham-This place is good and a bit more expensive than Lazeez. Their food tends to be a bit spicier as well. I really like their Lassoni Gobi, which is a battered fried cauliflower in a spicy sauce. They are like crispy cauliflower wings but seriously so spicy. They also have dosai which are lentil and rice crepes filled with potato. Everything is labeled really well and they even have a vegan section on the menu.
Chinese: Empire Wok in Delmar…HANDS DOWN. They have a separate vegetarian menu featuring veg versions of most popular Chinese takeout dishes featuring May Wah veggie meats. My favorites are the Veggie Sesame Chicken, Veg Chicken fried rice (YUP), Veg Sweet and Sour chicken (YUP), Veg Chicken and broccoli, and more! Be aware the veg pork type stuff is not vegan. Below is a pic of their Vegetarian menu from Yelp.com
Thai: Kinaree on Lark Street! I really love their drunken noodles with no fish sauce, tofu, and I add broccoli to it. It has the broad rice noodles in it with carrots, peppers, onions, baby corn, mushrooms, and tofu. It is so amazing. This is actually my favorite meal in Albany. I’m serious. I also like to get their Age fried tofu appetizer.
Vietnamese: Van’s in Albany. I LOVE the tofu steak here. It’s a huge broiled tofu steak with a spicy gravy, white or brown rice, and usually roasted asparagus. They also have these amazing fried or fresh veggie spring rolls. Here’s a pic of the tofu steak without the gravy from the Times Union.
Lebanese: Beirut in Troy. This place is really great. I got to know the owner and his family when I had the bakery. They are really awesome people. I love to get their Moujadara, which is a lentil and rice dish with caramelized onions on top. They also make an amazing grain free and super fresh tabbouli, amazing french fries with garlic paste and I’ve heard they make really delicious vegan baklava with rosewater instead of honey (gluten so I’ve never tried it but it’s worth telling you!).
Middle Eastern: Mamouns in Albany. This place makes really awesome falafel. I like to sub out the tzatziki sauce with tahini sauce. I usually get a platter from them which has falafel, roasted zucchini, and salad greens with some grape leaves and rice on the side.
Mexican: El Loco in Albany. I love to get their veggie tacos on the gluten free menu. It comes with these delicious sauteed veggies and salsa. Their guacamole is really good and their salsa is super fresh.
Some other notables that don’t have a category above:
Berben and Wolff’s in Albany, our only vegan joint in the city! This is a really great deli type shop run by rad people. They have a fair amount of seitan stuff (they make it themselves). I love to get the tempeh chickpea salad sandwich, the BLT, or the Sunflower Burger with caramelized onions. Everything is super fresh and made with love.
Muddaddy Flats in Troy! It’s a quesadillary run by the sweetest couple and they have a really delicious vegan quesadilla with sauteed veggies, black beans, quinoa, vegan cheese and spinach. They also make this really great roasted red pepper sauce called the muddaddy sauce. AND they have gluten free tortillas and good guacamole.
Umana in Albany. I really like their Egyptian Lo Mein with tofu and they have a really great Southwest Tofu Scramble for brunch. ALSO PLANTAINS with really delicious ginger garlic sauce.
So there you have it! As long as you know what to ask, you can easily navigate the restaurant scene and be happy (and FULL) doing so. No more boring salads or hummus/veggie wraps for you, unless that’s your thing! So get on out there and EAT!
Eat and be excellent to each other and to yourself!