“I Ate Vegan on a Cross-Country Road Trip and Here’s How it Went”
One of the biggest trials while on the road when you're eating vegan or plant-based is figuring out exactly what there is to eat. You can't sustain a 14-hour road trip on an empty stomach, but almost every option feels either unhealthy or unsatisfying. To make this challenge exponentially harder, trying to find a quick vegan bite on the open road when you fail to pack adequate snacks is an almost impossible task.
The keyword here is almost, because as more companies recognize the increasing number of plant-based consumers, the universe of food we have to choose from is expanding. The accelerated introduction of these plant-based offerings has made eating plant-based anywhere easier, allowing for some much-needed breaks on an unyielding drive.
Earlier this month, I embarked to drive from New Orleans to Chicago, taking the interstate routes I-55 and I-57 north. The dining selection along these highways is remarkably sparse with only a few bursts of fast-food options to pop up between long stints of driving. Typically, plant-based drivers can default tp Burger King’s Impossible Whopper or Carl’s Jr’s Famous Beyond Star Burger. However, without passing any of these spots, the chance of finding a sustainable meal to keep the energy up is slim to none.
Over the course of 14 hours on the road, keeping plant-based snacks in the car like peanuts or apples turned out to be essential. But nuts and fruit don't cut it over the course of two days at the wheel. Thank goodness for Taco Bell and Chipotle. Anyone driving through the western US may find that Taco Bell isn't an option, but Del Taco offers even more plant-based options on its menu with items made with Beyond Meat. Inspired by my personal venture, here is a quick guide to how to eat plant-based meals on the road:
First Stop: Taco Bell for a Crunchwrap Supreme
There is almost no easier menu to navigate than Taco Bell’s. Although intimidating at first, the menu opens up to plant-based eaters once you learn the initial tricks. Taco Bell also debuted a vegan and vegetarian section on its menu, giving plant-based consumers an in-house guide to ordering at fast-food restaurants. Whether you are starving or traveling on a budget, Taco Bell is the ideal first stop.
Personally, I go for the Crunchwrap Supreme. This signature Taco Bell menu item is traditionally served with several animal products, but the chain’s flexibility regarding menu changes allows for the CrunchWrap to be one of the best and most filling options. First, ask to substitute beans for the traditional beef filling, and then ask to remove the cheese and sour cream. To substitute the loss of the dairy products, ask to add guacamole to the Crunchwrap, providing a delicious avocado addition to the meal. The bonus ingredient is the iconic Taco Bell potatoes. Just ask to add the potatoes straight into the Crunchwrap Supreme to concoct the most filling and delicious plant-based iteration of the Taco Bell staple.
To complete the Taco Bell experience, it is necessary to load up on sauces. Almost all of Taco Bell’s signature sauces are made from plant-based ingredients, giving customers the full range of spice levels. I suggest getting the Diablo or Fire sauces for the perfect extra kick to your meal. If the Crunchwrap Supreme doesn’t spark your interest, here is The Beet’s list of Taco Bell’s plant-based offerings.
Second Stop: Vegan General Tso’s Tofu
Pulling in late to our stop-over in Memphis, the best option: Late-night Chinese. When stopping in an unknown city, the most reliable cuisine that caters to meatless consumers is Chinese food. During my drive, I stopped in Memphis with nearly no knowledge of the city’s food scene. I also arrived too late in the night for a proper selection of restaurants, so, the best option was a Chinese restaurant that offers a heavy selection of tofu dishes. Make sure that when you call in or order at the restaurant to make sure that the restaurant does not use animal or fish products in its veggie dishes’ sauces. Oftentimes, a tofu or vegetable dish will have fish oil or fish sauce as a minor ingredient, so check with your waiter to see what the kitchen uses and if it can be modified to suit your needs.
Once you find the closest and best-looking Chinese restaurant, (in my case it was Memphis' Mulan's Asian Bistro) my favorite dish is General Tso’s Tofu. Typically, the dish comes with a side of white rice and some steamed broccoli, providing a full and filling meal. The General Tso’s Tofu is a protein-rich, delicious Chinese food staple that combines sweet and savory flavors to present a dynamic, delicious dinner. This often cheap menu item will always make a perfect, in-budget, last-minute dinner option when traveling into the night.
Traveling with non-plant-based companions, it can be tough to decide on a place. Using our on-site HappyCow search engine is the perfect method to picking the best restaurant for everyone. HappyCow will show you places with veg-forward options, making it clear which restaurants in town will be willing to work with a plant-based diet.
Final Stop: Chipotle for a Sofritas Burrito Bowl
Chipotle is the gold mine when it comes to plant-based lunches. On a road trip, I usually wake up early in the morning, eat a piece of toast, drink some hot coffee, and hit the road. After seeing how far down the road I can get, I end up famished nearing lunchtime. When I see a Chipotle on the side of the highway, I know I've found my next meal.
The Mexican-inspired chain has recently enhanced its plant-based offerings after facing years of criticism and now ranks as one of the top plant-based options among quick-service restaurants. The chain expands across more than 2,500 locations across the United States, meaning that travelers everywhere could pull into a Chipotle and order a plant-based burrito, burrito bowl, or taco salad for lunch.
My personal order is always a burrito bowl with Chipotles signature shredded seasoned tofu, known as 'sofritas' for my plant-based protein. On top of a bed of rice, I order the vegan sofritas, fajita veggies, guacamole, lettuce, roasted chili-corn salsa, and fresh tomato salsa. The final product is a delicious, extremely nutritious burrito bowl that will keep you full until you reach your destination. If you want to see the other options, check The Beet's guide to vegan at Chipotle. After the visit to Chipotle, you will be set for the rest of the day, arriving ready for dinner at your final destination.
To find vegan and plant-based options in unfamiliar territory, The Beet's onsite HappyCow widget and City Guides can help point you to meatless fare.