How to Eat More Plants at Your Favorite Restaurant Chains

Today’s customers demand more from restaurants than just food. As issues like health, sustainability, and animal welfare continue to concern diners, a growing number of major fast-food and quick-service restaurant chains are experimenting with more plant-based menu items suitable for a range of different eating lifestyles.

This wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, vegetarian options were limited to french fries, a side salad, and maybe a lifeless veggie patty, rarely ordered and hardly promoted. But now, with the adoption of brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and a host of others, plant-based options are the stars of the menu, creating buzz as customers are interested in trying exciting, next-era restaurant creations. 

When coming up with this list, we wanted to feature restaurants that were taking the next step to ensure that all customers could have at least one solid plant-based option available to order. And while one option may not sound monumental, it’s actually quite significant, especially for U.S. national chains like KFC and Burger King, amongst others. Remember, as a customer, your dollar is your voice; ordering the vegan or vegetarian option is the best way to encourage the further adoption of more plant-based foods and ingredients.

 

Bareburger

Bareburger is a leader in plant-based and vegetarian burger offerings. The menu is designed for mixing and matching, which means you can have an Impossible Burger; sweet potato, kale and wild rice burger; black bean roasted corn and poblano burger; or Good Catch fish-free patty as the foundation of any sandwich/burger creation. With plenty of salads, sides (like plant-based “chicken” nuggets), and vegetarian-friendly toppings such as wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, spicy pico de gallo, and organic tempeh bacon, there’s endless options for every dietary preference.


Burger King

The Impossible Whopper, which uses the Impossible Burger, is still a popular seller on the Burger King menu. And although there aren’t too many vegetarian options included on the BK menu besides the Impossible Burger, Impossible ‘chicken’ nuggets (select locations), french fries, and hash browns, the company makes alternative cooking options available, so that customers can enjoy their plant-based products on surfaces that haven’t been used to cook meat. Just remember to ask.


California Pizza Kitchen

Although the foundation of classic pizza is cheese and sauce, California Pizza Kitchen makes it easy to remove any cheese or dairy products from their pizzas. The California Veggie pizza and the Tostada Thin Crust can both be easily made plant-based. There’s also the newly-released plant-based Don’t Call Me Chicken” BBQ pizza. If you’re in the mood for something that’s not round and doughy, CPK offers lettuce wraps with Chinese vegetables, a Dakota smashed pea and barley soup, a banh mi bowl with plant-based chicken, and a tomato basil spaghetti.


Cava

A rapidly expanding fast-casual restaurant concept specializing in Mediterranean flavors, Cava is a relatively new player to launch on the scene, but with over 100 locations nationwide, the fresh, veggie-forward food is clearly a hit with customers. When ordering you have the option of salad, grain bowl, RightRice (a high protein and high fiber grain made from 90% vegetables), or pita sandwich, and they can all be stuffed or layered with your choice of proteins, toppings, dips, and spreads. They have falafel, roasted vegetables, and roasted sweet potatoes that can be paired with typical salad toppings, although they do have some unique ingredients, like lentil tabbouleh, fire roasted corn, and tomato and onion salad. Nearly all of their salad dressings are vegan, so have fun trying their Greek vinaigrette, tahini Caesar, hot harissa vinaigrette, and Skhug (a cilantro-based spicy topping).  


Carl’s Jr.

The Carl’s Jr. menu features a lot of beef, but they’ve done a commendable job at adding at least one plant-based burger to their menu. You can customize a number of their burgers with a Beyond Meat patty, including their Famous Star, Western Bacon Cheeseburger, and Original Thickburgerjust remember to ask for these menu items to be served without mayonnaise or cheese if you want them to be vegan-friendly. They also have fried zucchinia nice alternative to the ubiquitous french fry.   


Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory has plenty of options for every type of eater. Some of their meatless options include the vegan Cobb salad, Korean fried cauliflower, pasta pomodoro, avocado toast, spinach and mushroom flatbread, lasagna, french country salad, and their version of the Impossible Burger.


Chipotle Mexican Grill

It’s easy for people of any eating lifestyle to dine at Chipotle Mexican Grill. The chain is built upon the idea of customizing dishes to fit your preference, and they offer a number of naturally vegetarian and plant-based meat alternatives. For protein-packed fillings, you can go with beans (pinto or black) or their vegan sofritas (braised tofu with poblano and chipotle pepper). Of course, there’s also the many fillings and toppings, including guacamole, corn, roasted veggies, lettuce, and Chipotle’s signature salsas.   


Del Taco

The national taco chain is still leading the pack when it comes to vegan and vegetarian menu items. You can get Del Taco’s Epic Fresh Guacamole Burrito, 8-Layer Burrito, and Guacamole Taco all with Beyond Meat’s plant-based crumbles. However, they also dish out the classicstacos, burritos, tostadas, and quesadillaswith beans and veggies (and cheese if you’re interested).


Just Salad

With a name like Just Salad, you’d expect a lot of vegetarian and plant-based optionsand you’d be right! Just Salad’s menu is loaded with tasty, fresh, and healthy options for everyone, including salads, warm bowls, wraps, soups, smoothies, and, yes, avocado toast. If interested in eating something a little different, try their Tokyo Super Greens with sesame tofu, avocado, edamame, almond, and miso vinaigrette; Feisty Fiesta Bowl with homemade cauliflower/broccoli rice, shredded cabbage, roasted corn, pickled onion, and crunchy tortilla with a spicy avocado sauce; or Chipotle Cowboy with Daring Chicken, which is like a Buffalo chicken salad with avocado and homemade pico de gallo.


KFC

A new addition to the list, KFC now offers an option for individuals looking to try some non-meat “chicken.” The international restaurant chain collaborated with Beyond Meat to create a Beyond Chicken, which mimics the look, taste, texture, and smell of their iconic chicken bucket. Beyond Chicken is now available at KFCs nationwide, so it’s worth stopping in and taking a taste of what might become the fried chicken of the future.


Panera Bread

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Panera Bread has you covered. That’s why the line for the drive through is always so darn long. If you’re there before 10:30 am, you can get one of their bagels (a few of which are vegan), as well as one of their vegetarian egg sandwiches or soufflés. When it comes to non-morning meals, many of their salad and bowls can be customized to remove any dairy or meat products. The Baja bowl, Mediterranean grain bowl, tomato basil cucumber salad, ten vegetable soup, Greek salad, and strawberry poppy salad are all excellent vegetarian options that can be modified to be totally vegan-friendly.


Pret A Manger 

Pret A Manger is an international cafe chain that started in the UK and has since found success in the United States. Their aesthetic is clean and fresh, and these principles apply to their food offerings as well. When it comes to plant-based options, Pret has quite the lineup: a meatless meatball wrap, falafel and hummus wrap, Mediterranean mezze salad, creamy oat M*lk porridge, moroccan lentil soup, as well as their Pret’s Acai Bowl and Sunshine Bowl.


Peet’s Coffee 

Peet’s Coffee is dedicated to giving customers a range of options for any eating (or coffee drinking) lifestyles. They have great almond and oat milk coffee and espresso drinks, such as their hazelnut oat latte, cold brew with vanilla oat foam, and vanilla almond latte. For food, Peet’s offers a Mediterranean flatbread and an everything plant-based sandwich, which feature JUST Egg, a now-popular plant-based egg alternative, Violife plant-based cheese, and Beyond Breakfast Sausage. 


Qdoba

Qdoba has wholeheartedly embraced the plant-based movement, adding a variety of vegetarian and plant-based meat options to their menu. Tacos, burritos, and bowls can be ordered with beans, pinto or black, as the central protein, but these menu items can also be ordered with Impossible Meat instead to recreate that crumbly, saucy filling central to fast-casual Mexican inspired restaurants.  Try the Impossible Fajita Burrito, Impossible Taco Salad, or Fajita Vegan Bowl.


Red Robin

Red Robin offers two different vegan friendly burger patties: a house-made veggie patty made with quinoa and ancient grains and the Impossible Burger. You can customize many of their burgers to be vegan by omitting the cheese and aioli.


Starbucks

Starbucks has made plant-based foods a cornerstone of their menu, offering a number of coffees, snacks, and sandwiches that are both vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. Nearly all of their beverages can be made with oat, soy, almond, or coconut milk, although they still come with an upcharge, to the dismay of some of their more vocal customers. Starbucks began a Meatless Monday special earlier in January 2021, selling their popular Impossible Breakfast at a discount, and the company decided to continue the promotion the following year. The Impossible Breakfast Sandwich is a terrific alternative to a sausage egg and cheese, and their selection of vegetarian protein boxes include fruit and cheese, chickpea bites with avocado, egg and Gouda, and peanut butter and jelly. And if you’re looking for a non-coffee beverage, Starbucks also has a menu of naturally dairy-free drinks including Refreshers, juices, iced teas, and lemonades.


Taco Bell

Vegans and vegetarians can eat well at Taco Bell. Their menu revolves around combinations of rice, beans (black and refried), cheese, and toppings, and they can be added to everything from tacos and burritos to chalupas and bowls. Although they don’t currently offer a plant-based meat alternative, Taco Bell did bring back their potatoes to the delight of their many devotees.


Restaurants to Watch 

McDonald’s

Last year McDonald’s tested its McPlant burger, a collaboration between McDonald’s and Beyond Meat. The trial period, which took place during the pandemic, wasn’t a smashing success, so the company is still unsure if they’re going to release this limited time offering nationwide. That being said, if you can find one on a menu near you, give it a try in support of more plant-based menu items. 


Panda Express

Panda Express has a handful of plant-based options and sides, including eggplant tofu, veggie spring rolls, super greens (broccoli, kale, cabbage), and vegetable chow mein. The company has experimented with a plant-based chicken alternative, which may find a permanent place on the menu in the future. 


Subway

Subway, nation’s largest sandwich chain, is slowly but surely bolstering their meatless options. They have the Beyond Meat Meatball Marinara at select locations, as well as a vegetable patty that can be customized with all of their toppings. There’s also the Veggie Delite, which includes a combination of as many vegetables as your tummy craves. 

 

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