You may have recognized that this website is mainly about eating a healthy plant-based diet. So why on earth would we write something about vegan fast food? Has it become suddenly healthy and ethically superior?
The simple answer of course is: no. Fast food (unless you mean nature's fast food, which is fruit) in and of itself is usually junk food, filled with additives and preservatives, MSG, and tons of sugar, salt, and fat.
The reasons why a vegan would eat at a fast food restaurant
- They are a new vegan and want to eat familiar (fast) food
- They don’t want to be left out when their friends go to fast food places to eat
- They are in a hurry, traveling, unable to pack their own stuff & in the middle of nowhere
- They have been vegan for a long time and sometimes just want that little familiar ‘food fix’.
Of course, supporting a place that sells and advertises meat products isn't perfect - but following this train of thought would mean you could never go to a non-vegan restaurant or supermarket.
So some of us want to avoid fast food at any measures and rather starve for a few hours, but others may still want or need to visit these eateries from time to time. Maybe they are with friends who won’t be talked out of it, maybe they’re on the road and drive-thrus are the only option.
Can vegans eat fast food?
Eating healthy and being a vegan are 2 different things and don't always go hand in hand. Some vegans want to eat with as little restrictions as possible and don't necessarily say "no" to fast food fries just because the place sells burgers as well.
So grabbing some vegan fast food is a huge convenience and bluntly it's better for everyone on this planet to choose vegan junk foods instead of their animal-laden counterparts. Especially for those who want to switch from the Standard American to a plant-based diet, it can be a far stretch.
Although everyone should eat a diet primarily based on whole plant foods, and picking up a banana or an apple at a grocery store or gas station would be an option as well, most of us don't live in NYC or LA where we can go to all-vegan restaurants for a junk food fix.
What to look out for
Obviously, it's always best to opt for foods that are not fried and get a sandwich instead. But you need to be aware of the fact that they are handling animal foods there as well and it's always possible that they use the same spoon, knife, broiler or pan for both the meaty and the vegan version of a food.
Some places use the same cooking grease for fries and chicken but the ones you'll find in this article usually do not. Be aware that recipes can always change (largely depending on the state and country too) so make sure to double-check or ask specifically if the food is vegan.
This does not only make sure that your food is very likely 100% vegan but also shows that more and more people request vegan food so that ultimately, the companies start adding these to their menus.
It's worth trying to change the big businesses instead of boycotting them completely and just stop buying there when you’re a vegan… it won’t hurt them too much.
Some might argue that a few of the following companies have an unethical philosophy and since most vegans are not promoters of hate or anti-gay movements, it's wise to consider the beliefs behind an organization before you put your money out there.
But maybe you want to show your friends how convenient and tasty it can be to eat vegan food and they are more likely to eat something at their favorite food place - a possible way of introducing veganism and opening some doors.
Lastly, when looking for vegan-friendly food, it is always important to do research and beware of cross-contamination and hidden animal-based ingredients. Based on their information publicly available, all of these following restaurants provide substantial, plant-based food that will help you stay true to your vegan beliefs even in the face of inescapable cravings or tight situations.
And since there is an endless amount of different places to eat out, we decided to focus on the following 30 companies that have either the most branches or the best options for vegans. Enjoy!
Au Bon Pain
You can get several soups here, including Tuscan White Bean, Black Bean, as well as Curried Rice and Lentil, 12 Veggie, Barley and Creamy Lentil, Harvest Mushroom and Wheatberries, Swiss Chard and Three Bean, and French Moroccan Tomato Lentil. Their vegetarian chili is also vegan.
Your bread choices are artisan baguette, sundried tomato bread, bread bowl, caraway rye flatbread, country white bread, focaccia, lavash, and the whole wheat bread. Possible condiments are Dijon mustard, guacamole, roasted red pepper hummus, and roasted red peppers.
And if you happen to want some coffee, you can get the Americano, iced decaf French roast, iced French roast, and iced French vanilla coffee.
There's not much to eat here for vegans. Their Morningstar Veggie Burger has both milk and eggs, their oatmeal contains dairy. But their French Fries, other than McDonald's, are vegan - be aware that the frier might be shared with other animal-based foods though.
Their buns and wraps are almost always vegan and can be filled with veggies only. Rumor has it that there's a "Veggie Whopper" that isn't on the menu but known by the employees: all veggies on a bun. Also, the French toast sticks, hash browns, and dutch apple pie are supposed to be without any animal products.
If you're looking for something more junky and fried, go get some waffle fries here - and there are Hash Browns too. Healthier options include a bun or flaxseed tortilla filled with veggies and toppings like black bean relish, broccoli florets, or charred tomato crispy bell peppers, or a cool wrap without the meat, cheese, and dressing.
If you're up for something fresh, try their market salad without the chicken and cheese or the Asian salad without chicken or almonds. There's also a cobb salad where you need to hold the chicken, bacon, eggs, and cheese. Salad add-ons include black bean relish, broccoli florets, fresh strawberry slices, grape tomatoes, carrots, mandarin orange segments, grapes, apple pieces, romaine, and iceberg lettuce.
As far as dressings go, you can choose between their zesty apple cider vinaigrette, Polynesian sauce, light Italian, and reduced fat berry balsamic dressing. They do also serve a fresh Fruit Cup and Cinnamon Apple Sauce on the kid’s menu.
This is one of the best options if you're looking for vegan fast food. At Chipotle, they emphasize non-GMO, organic, quality ingredients – you won’t have to compromise many of your health beliefs when ordering from here. What's more, the only non-vegan items on their menu are meat, cheese, and sour cream!
You can choose all of the different tortillas, guacamole, burritos, bowls, tacos, salads, chips, beans, salads, quesadillas, and fajita veggies. They've also added tofu sofritas to their menu, which makes all of the burritos, bowls, tacos, and salads vegan. Note: their honey vinaigrette is obviously not vegan!
For the most part, diner food is pretty unfriendly towards vegans... but Denny's actually has some solid vegan options. The vegan menu items here include English muffins, plain toasted bagels, grits, oatmeal, applesauce, fresh fruit, vegetable plates, seasoned French fries, veggie sandwiches, bakes potatoes, and garden salads with either light Italian or oil/vinegar dressings.
They also serve Amy's burgers as the veggie patty for "Build your own Burger". The sesame and whole wheat buns are vegan. Make sure to always tell your waiter that you cannot have dairy!
Not all pizza places are safe bets, because the crusts can contain animal products. But at Domino's, you can order the Thin Crust along with their original or regular Pizza Sauce and are good to go! Then you can take your pick of an array of veggies and even top it off with some sauces like BBQ, garlic, hot buffalo, or Italian dipping cups.
Together with a Garden Salad (hold the cheese!) and some Balsamic or Italian dressing, you've got a nice and filling combination.
These can be real saviors too! Most falafels are vegan by default. Put them into a pita bread along with some hummus and veggies or get it in lavash bread. Some places (especially Greek) put yogurt in their tahini dressing, whereas others (Middle Eastern) are completely vegan.
Jack in the Box
There are a few options you can choose from here. From seasoned curly fries, potato wedges, black beans to a breakfast blueberry muffin and oatmeal - these are all vegan.
You can also get some sesame breadsticks, pita bread, or a tortilla bowl.
You have a fairly good choice of tasty vegan options here. There is an organic vegetable soup, a spinach veggie wrap (hold the cheese), salsa, hummus, guacamole, steamed veggies, Mediterranean wrap, and a fresh fruit cup (without dip).
Besides the many options from the salad bar, you can also get the organic blue corn tortilla chips, bagged chips, baked lays, pozole verde soup, and fire roasted tortilla soup.
Besides of all their chips that are vegan (sorry, no salt and vinegar flavor), you can get a gourmet or regular veggie "unwich". This is basically a filled lettuce wrap. Skip the cheese and mayo, add in some avocado spread and top with vinegar or Italian vinaigrette.
They make their crust vegan as well! You can choose from various veggies as a topping and have a simple and tasty meal.
You won't believe it, but you will find a separate vegan menu here, including Daiya cheese as a substitute for any dairy cheese item! The vegan menu includes pretzels, hummus, several salads, pizzas (including build-your-own), calzones and several subs with tofu, tempeh, or mushrooms.
Be careful when it comes to this brand - even though they've tried to greenwash most of their products, the official website states that there aren't even any certified vegetarian options right now. This could mean part of various animals in all more or less likely places. But since they are so omnipresent, we still chose to include the very few options.
Their cooking oils contain hydrolyzed milk and beef flavoring (so do their fries). The only things you could opt for are apple slices, a side salad with either Cilantro Lime Glaze or Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette, and some oatmeal without cream.
Noodles and Company
You don't have to get your pasta along with some cheese! If you want to grab your meal here, you can find several ways of getting some yummy plant-based options. There are the penne fresca, penne rosa, whole grain Tuscan linguine, and spaghetti that can be made by request without any cream, cheese, or meat.
Also, the Japanese pan noodles and Indonesian peanut satay are vegan-friendly by default. You can also add tofu to round up your meal. Look out for a "v" next to the dishes and make sure they don't have any eggs or dairy. There are also soups and salads from which you can choose.
Chinese food is usually vegan-friendly, and here you will even find a separate vegetarian menu. Almost any dish can be made vegan too. Make sure to ask for any eggs or milk beforehand and also which broth or stock they've been using. Also, your food could be cooked in the same oil as meat products.
Good food choices are the Buddha's Feast, Coconut Curry Vegetables, Stir-Fried Eggplant, and Ma Po Tofu. They also have Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps, Orange Ginger Edamame, Veggie Spring Rolls, Veggie Dumplings, Tofu Dishes like Tofu ‘pork’ or ‘chicken', Vegetable Soup, Tofu Vegetable Soup, Vegetable Fried Rice, Steamed Rice, General Tso’s Tofu, Moo Shu Vegetables, Sweet and Sour Tofu, Orange Tofu, Kung Pao Tofu, Veggie Chow Mein.
Here are a couple of vegan options: from the pinto or black beans to the rice, salsa, guacamole, and chips... all of these can be combined into a meal. Try ordering a veggie burrito bowl with any of these ingredients!
Unfortunately, their tortilla dough is made with powdered milk, so stay away from burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.
This restaurant chain serves lots of meals with natural ingredients and full flavor. Plus you have a plethora of food choices! Let's start with the PB&J or Mediterranean veggie café sandwich (hold the cheese) on sourdough, stone-milled rye, country loaf, or sesame semolina bread.
There are also a soba noodle bowl with edamame, garden vegetable soup without pesto and a low fat vegetarian black bean soup (optional: get it in a bread bowl!). If you like to get more fresh food, choose a Greek salad without cheese, ancient grain, arugula, and chicken salad minus the chicken. Or just go for the strawberry poppyseed summer salad and Mediterranean chicken and quinoa salad without chicken.
For your dressing, choose among Greek, poppyseed, low-fat Thai chili, reduced sugar Asian sesame, or white balsamic Fuji apple. You can also enjoy a side of fruit, potato chips, or a French baguette. Your bagels of choice could be either plain, blueberry, sweet onion poppyseed, or sesame - toasted with peanut butter. You can also get any smoothie made without yogurt and whip.
Their original hand tossed crust is vegan and so is their sauce. You can just order their pizza without any cheese and top it off with any vegetables you like! As a bonus: get some garlic dipping sauce. Naughty but vegan too.
Both the skinny slice and the thin crust are dairy-free here. Like Domino's, you can choose vegan-friendly toppings too. Both the regular and sweet pizza sauce are fine along with your veggies like banana peppers, mushrooms, onions, and black olives.
Just make sure they don't top it with cheese! Unfortunately, the gluten-free crust does contain some honey and is therefore not vegan. You can still enjoy a simple and tasty vegan meal here!
Have you tried their hearty Mediterranean sub (hold the chicken and cheese) or a PB&J from their underground menu yet? Make sure to choose white bread though, since multigrain does contain some honey. You can also go for a chickpea veggie salad or Mediterranean salad - both without the chicken and cheese of course.
As for your dressing choices, you got non-fat, potbelly, or balsamic vinaigrettes. Just make sure to skip the croutons! Another option is to try their garden vegetable soup.
Here you can be provided with vegan black or pinto beans, brown or cilantro lime rice, flour or corn taco shells or soft tortillas, fajita veggies, guacamole, salsa, and corn tortilla chips. This can be made into either a burrito, bowl, quesadilla, taco, or tortilla coup.
You can find both a Gardenburger and a Boca patty on their menu - but be sure to mention they should use these two combined. The patty that comes with the Gardenburger has eggs and dairy in it. It's usually topped with pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and Dijon sauce and serves on a whole-grain bun.
Other vegan options are the hummus plate, wedge salad, and steamed veggie sides.
Make your own hefty vegan salad here at the Create Your Own Garden Bar with choices ranging from spring mix, fresh greens, tomatoes, olives, edamame and green peas to sunflower seeds. Top with balsamic vinaigrette or olive oil and vinegar.
Another option would be to choose three side dishes - these include grilled asparagus, baked potato, grilled zucchini, steamed broccoli, fresh green beans, and roasted spaghetti squash. Make sure to request the veggies not be cooked with butter first.
Okay, this one is kind of easy. Since you can pick and choose everything that goes on your sub and also watch it being prepared for you, And because Subway has even more U.S. locations than McDonald’s, so you’re never far from a vegan sandwich.
Simply order a Veggie Delight without the cheese or mayo. Have it on Italian, Hearty Italian, Roasted garlic bread or Sourdough bread. Sometimes they also have some guacamole. Choose plenty of veggies and top it with vinegar, mustard, deli mustard, sweet onion sauce or fat-free Italian dressing.
If you're not up for a sandwich, there is also The Veggie Delight Salad, apple slices or some types of chips (Lay’s classic chips, Oven Baked Original Lay’s, original Sun Chips).
Although they have very different options than most other fast food places, Starbucks still makes the list. Now in more than 50 countries, you'll never be far away from a soy latte or frappuccino (watch out for the caramel drizzle which isn't vegan!).
Food choices include oatmeal topped with brown sugar and a nut/fruit medley or a plain bagel. There is sometimes also blueberry oatmeal with agave and a hearty veggie & brown rice salad bowl - although the lemon tahini dressing that comes with it is not vegan.
This is actually a fairly good choice for eating vegan fast food. When you order a burrito "Fresco Style", this means they'll use pico de gallo tomatoes instead of cheese - leaving off all dairy ingredients. You can also substitute beans instead of meat and add some extra potatoes.
For an extra charge, you can add rice, guacamole, tomato, or lettuce — all of which are vegan. There are also Taco salads or crunchwraps which are satisfying choices. Just swap the meat for beans, hold the cream and cheese, and add rice, potatoes, guacamole, and one of the many vegan dressings: red, green chile, fire, green tomatillo, hot, or mild sauce and regular, citrus, or fiesta salsas.
What's more, Taco Bell has made history by being the first-ever fast food joint to offer menu items certifies by the American Vegetarian Association.
Taco Del Mar
Although there aren't many options overall on the menu, you can make some tweaks and get a few vegan meals out of them. Both the Mondo and Mondito Burrito can be made vegan, their tortillas are without any animal products, and so are the rice, black beans, refried beans, and whole pinto beans.
For your sauce, you can choose between salsa, habanero, green sauce, red sauce, and guacamole. Put them into a salad which comes with a taco shell and you have a fairly healthy meal!
The Cheesecake Factory
Even though the name wouldn't suggest finding many vegan options, you will probably be able to get some very decent meals here. Most of the time, it already works if you ask them to keep the chicken and cheese out of the dishes.
However, there are also options like a Vegan Cobb Salad which contains lettuce, grilled asparagus, green beans, roasted beets, avocado, tomato, cucumber, chickpeas, quinoa, almond, and sunflower seeds with a house vinaigrette.
Then, their "Skinnylicous Veggie Burger” is made with brown rice, black beans, mushrooms, couscous, and other yummy vegan stuff. There's also the Penne Pasta with eggplant, broccoli, artichoke, olives, and pine nuts.
When they partnered with Silk, there suddenly was the first ever national dairy-free almond milk-based frozen yogurt option with a chocolate flavor. Due to this success, they also created a vanilla almond flavor.
On top of that, they now offer silk almond nog and coconut. Available toppings are almonds, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, coconut, dried fruits, mangoes, peaches, raspberries, and of course, Oreo pieces.
You won't find many vegan options here, but those that are vegan, are a lot healthier than in other fast food places. They serve plain baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, apples, side salads with light Asian vinaigrette or Italian vinaigrette. The fries could be considered vegan too but might be shared with other foods in a frier.
Have you ever tried eating vegan out at a fast food restaurant? Have we forgotten about any important ones? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.