Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Indianapolis, IN
It took me a while to realize that you have to ask about things like lard in beans at mexican restaurants and fish sauce in Asian ones. Frustrating!
If you're at an American restaurant, the biggest things to look out for are cheese and butter, even if it's not on the menu. If I ever get just a side of veggies, I just say no butter. I've never had a problem with that. A lot of places put cheese on salads even when it's not on the menu, so I say "no cheese or croutons" any time I get a salad. (I guess croutons can be vegan or not, but it's not a big enough deal to ask about them so I just get it without). If they have a veggie wrap or something like that on the menu, they usually list everything in them, so I just say "no cheese or dressing" when I order. If they have a baked potato on the menu I order it without butter or sour cream and ask for salsa if they have it (which is a really good combination if the salsa is good!) There's a salad dressing topic on here, so that's probably best to look at for those.
At an asian restaurant, you'll have to ask if they have any fish sauce or chicken broth in their rice or sauces. A lot of times there will be something like that even when there's a "vegetarian" section on the menu. I love that cheese isn't an issue at asian places!
Mexican food is another one that often has a "vegetarian" section that isn't. Ask if they use lard in their refried beans, and chicken broth in their rice. I've found that most places don't use the lard, but they do use the chicken broth in rice. A lot of them have veggie fajitas, so ask if they use butter to cook it. And with every order, you have to specify no cheese. They put it on everything.
For italian restaurants, you need to ask about cheese or meat products in marinara sauce, and if they put cheese on top (which happens a lot without it being on the menu). Pasta will be fine as long as it's dried pasta (not fresh/handmade), and nothing special like gnocchi or cavatelli.
At indian restaurants, you have to look out for ghee/yogurt. I don't eat at them much, so I don't have specific recommendations though.
That pretty much covers most of the things that I eat at restaurants! I like to find a place that can do everything I need and then keep going back. Once they remember you, it's so much easier than having to repeat all the questions and substitutions! And I always try to pick ethnic places instead of American ones when I can. In my opinion, most American places don't know how to cook and spice vegetables!