The Best Plant-Based or Vegan Options at 15 Fast Food Chains
It used to be that if you were a plant-based eater, you had to resort to a lame salad when you found yourself at a fast-food restaurant. You may have paired it with French fries, apple slices, or a drink and hoped you wouldn’t be starving in an hour. But fast-food restaurants have finally got the memo that their customer base isn’t just coming through for a burger, fried chicken, or a beef taco.
Many fast-food restaurants now have vegan options and are coming up with creative, delicious ways to get more greens on the menu. Some of the ways they are vegan and vegetarian fast food options are through the companies providing them with the products: mainly Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Here, Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Game Changers, shares her thoughts on some of the newest developments you’ll see on national fast food restaurant menus as well as what to skip and what to try.
“I think it's great that there are more of these options available for people who want to eat a more plant-based diet – especially for people who travel a lot for work or live in areas where there may not be a lot of options other than fast food establishments,” says Cording. Just keep in mind with all of these menu items that just because something is vegan, doesn’t mean it's healthy, she adds.
How to Order Vegan at Fast Food Chains
1. Burger King
Turns out there’s a lot more to rely on than a salad if you’re eating vegan.
- Veggie Burger: This meat alternative burger is made with a Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Patty, topped with vegetables, and served on a toasted sesame seed bun.
- Impossible Whopper: The Impossible Whopper is just like the classic Whopper® but made with an Impossible™ patty. That “meaty” plant-based patty is made with soy protein, potato protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and heme (a form of iron). Make sure to remove the mayo for a dairy-free meal.
“You still want to be thinking about having a balanced meal because one thing that is really important for promoting overall health is having stable blood sugar,” says Cording. “So if you’re eating French fries and hash browns, they're vegetarian, they're plant-based, but you're not really giving your body a whole lot besides carbs to work with.” With a MorningStar Farms burger, you’re getting protein from the burger and carbohydrates from the bun, so you probably don’t need fries, suggests Cording. Stick with a side salad instead.
2. White Castle
Known for its mini square-shaped sliders, this hamburger chain jumped on the vegan bandwagon at some participating locations.
- Impossible Slider: These look the same as the original sliders but are made from Impossible Foods burgers and clock in at 11 grams of protein. White Castle informs customers that “The Impossible Slider does not taste like our Original Slider and that wasn’t its intent. Its purpose is to offer our customers a vegan slider that replicates the taste of beef, but it does not taste like our core White Castle slider.” You could also make this meal vegan by holding the cheese.
“I think the brands like Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat are a step in the right direction,” says Cording. “The fact that they're becoming more widely available is good. I think the people who like to eat those products at home will like that they can find them in more establishments. And in terms of taste, texture, I think that they're definitely a step above some of the older generation of veggie burgers.”
3. Taco Bell
This fast-food restaurant may have been one of the first you frequented while transitioning to vegan eating. That’s because Taco Bell has eight million vegetarian combinations and sells 350 million vegetarian items a year through menu substitutions or ordering off their vegetarian menu. In fact, they were the first quick-service restaurant to offer American Vegetarian Association (AVA) certified food options.
- Black Bean Burrito: You knew a bean burrito was going to make this list. This wrap consists of seasoned rice, a three-cheese blend, black beans, and sauce. Remove the cheese and sub guacamole for a vegan meal.
- Veggie Power Menu Bowl: This hearty bowl consists of guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, a double portion of seasoned black beans, and lettuce with a side of avocado ranch sauce. Remove sour cream and avocado ranch sauce.
- Spicy Tostada: Enjoy a snack with a kick when you order this open-faced menu item on a crispy shell topped with refried beans, real cheddar cheese, tomatoes and lettuce, red sauce, and chipotle sauce.
- Cinnamon Twists: This certified-vegan dessert is just puffed wheat, corn, and rice rolled in cinnamon sugar. It only rings in at $1 so it's a great add-on to any order if you're craving something sweet.
Be wary of vegetarian menu items that consist of a lot of cheese and rice, says Cording. “I usually tell clients that if they are eating vegan at Taco Bell to create a power bowl with black beans and doctor it up with some guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa for a good combo of protein, fat, and carbs.”
4. Carl’s Jr.
Another brand synonymous with beef burgers, Carl’s Jr. offers several vegan options for veggie and plant lovers.
- Beyond Famous Star Burger: Made with Beyond Meat, the team at Carl’s Jr. says it tastes “beyond belief.” This burger packs 30 grams of protein with 20 of those coming from the plant-based patty. You can make any burger or sandwich on their menu “Go Beyond” by substituting this Beyond Burger patty for $2 more.
- Guacamole Thickburger: More like a guacamole sandwich than a burger, this is like eating a burger with all the toppings—but the main protein fell off the bun. Instead of meat, it’s made with guacamole, Pepper Jack cheese, and veggies on a bun. Remove the Pepper Jack for a dairy-free option.
“I think having an option of all the fixings without the burger like in their Guacamole Thickburger is a good workaround, especially if someone doesn’t want to eat a soy-based burger,” says Cording. “I'm not saying it's a healthy option necessarily, because it's still a very caloric meal and high in sodium, but that said if someone wants to skip the burger but they still want to have that burger experience and all of those flavors, this is a creative option.”
5. Del Taco
This was the first national Mexican fast-food chain to offer Beyond Meat at the company’s 580 restaurants across the country.
- Beyond Avocado Taco (vegan): This is made up of Del Taco seasoned Beyond Meat vegan crumbles, topped with avocado, lettuce, and tomatoes in a crunchy shell.
- Epic Beyond Original Mex Burrito: Loaded with Beyond Meat, slow-cooked beans made from scratch, cilantro-lime rice, fresh guacamole, and handmade pico de gallo in a flour tortilla, this burrito is 100 percent vegan.
- Avocado Veggie Bowl: If you're looking for a lower-carb option, this bowl features sliced avocado, seasoned black beans, diced onions, fresh diced tomatoes, and fresh romaine and iceberg lettuce blend, served over cilantro lime rice.
“With any of these menu items, know that you’re getting a very high sodium meal,” says Cording. “So, see where you can be mindful of reducing your sodium intake the rest of the day.”
From the time it started offering breakfast sandwiches in 2006, the coffee conglomerate became a competitor in the fast-food space. You can get your favorite hot and cold beverages made with almond, coconut, or oat milk but there are also plant-based food options available.
- Baja Black Bean Veggie Wrap: This cold menu item makes for a hearty lunch with seasoned black beans, salsa slaw, and mixed veggies, wrapped in a spinach tortilla wrap with paired jalapeño cream-cheese spread.
- Chickpea Bites & Avocado Protein Box: The box is a quick, easy, and filling to-go meal. The pre-packaged meal brings a nutritious and protein-heavy option for any Starbucks patron. The meal box is the perfect purchase if you need a cheap lunch or a mid-afternoon snack.
- Bagel with Miyoko's Non-Dairy Cream Cheese: If you're lucky enough to live in the Washington area, you may be near a Starbucks that is testing Miyoko's non-dairy cream cheese in the flavors Cinnamon Raisin and Everything. Hopefully, this will become a permanent menu item available nationwide in the coming months.
- Impossible Breakfast Sandwich: Although this breakfast sandwich could be veganized by only getting the Impossible patty on the ciabatta bread and adding ketchup, this sandwich does have a not-so-plant-based egg and sharp cheddar slice of cheese.
“I don't think [any] of these fast food plant-based products should be the backbone of your diet and they shouldn’t be part of a daily diet because they are processed foods,” says Cording. In general, Cording says you’re better off basing your plant-based diet on natural, whole foods but when you’re in a rush or have limited options on the go, these menu items can help you stick to your plant-based lifestyle when you’re running limited on time or healthy eating options around you.
With a name that includes chicken in the title, you're not going to find an overwhelming amount of vegan options on the menu, but if you're in a pinch, there are a few ways to satisfy your vegan cravings.
- Grilled Cool Wrap: The Cool Wrap can be made vegan easily when you remove the chicken and cheese. The light lunch option comes packed with green leaf lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage within a rolled flour flatbread. The cool wrap can be dressed with either vegan vinaigrette or Light Italian Dressing. For a little extra flavor, you can throw in some signature Polynesian or Barbecue sauce.
- Grilled Market Salad: The Market Salad can be made vegan friendly by removing the blue cheese and the chicken. The salad blends sweet and savory flavors with a delicious variety of fruit including strawberries, blueberries, and apples on a bed of chopped romaine lettuce and baby greens. The salad is best eaten with Light Balsamic Vinaigrette or Light Italian Dressing.
- Spicy Southwest Salad: Recommended by Chick-Fil-A for either lunch or dinner, the Spicy Southwest Salad is stacked with grape tomatoes, roasted corn, poblano chiles, red bell peppers, and black beans. The toppings sit on top of a bed of mixed greens and Chick-Fil-A finishes the salad with Seasoned Tortilla Strops and Chili Lime Pepitas. We recommended getting the Chili Lime Vinaigrette to substitute the Creamy Salsa dressing, and make sure you remove both the cheese blend and the chicken.
It's no surprise that Chipotle makes this list of vegan-friendly fast-food spots. With a super customizable menu, it's easy to see how you could effortlessly put together unlimited plant-based menu options.
- Burrito: The Chiptole Burrito is the heaviest and the greatest option on the menu. The soft, warmed flour tortilla can be filled with any number of ingredients, making it one of the most filling quick-vegan meals on the market. One of the greatest things about Chipotle is that it serves tofu sofritas, setting the company above its competitors. The restaurant chain offers black beans alongside tofu as a protein substitute, but Chipotle is the only quick-service Mexican-inspired restaurant to provide customers with tofu sofritas for their burritos. From guacamole to cilantro rice, the Chipotle burrito holds all the flavor you can ask for and more.
- Tacos: The three taco meal is the less conventional option at Chipotle, but it hits all the marks necessary to leave more than satisfied. The tacos come packed into soft flour tortillas or crispy corn taco shells. You can customize your tacos to include any of the vegan fillings. The best part is that the three tacos do not need to hold the same contents, making customization a key drawing factor for the three taco meals. Our suggestion is to take one taco for tofu, one for black beans, and one for pinto beans, and then topped to preference.
- Burrito Bowls: The only meal more filling than the burrito is Chipotle’s burrito bowl. Even though this option nixes the tortilla, it's possible to make two full meals out of the burrito bowl. Typically served with a rice base, you can order any of the vegan ingredients to cover the burrito bowl. The lower-carb option is definitely for those who want to either save leftovers easier or would rather sit down and eat unrushed with a fork. Pro Tip: Order a tortilla (or two) on the side to get even more mileage out of your bowl.
- Salads: For the healthiest option, Chipotle’s salads are a perfect choice. The salad comes served on romaine lettuce thatcher than the burrito bowl’s rice base. The salad is an easy, healthy, low-carb option that will still give any customer the full Chipotle experience. You can order any of the normal ingredients on top of your salad, including the sofritas tofu and fajita veggies to get the full burrito experience without as much of the heaviness.
Due to Subway's lack of vegan and plant-based protein options, you'll have to puzzle together a veggie-filled sandwich, but that doesn't mean it can't be done!
- Meatless Meatball Marinara: Across the U.S. and Canada, Subways partnered with Beyond Meat to concoct one of the most beloved plant-based subs: The meatball sub. The sandwich can be found at select locations and it contains plant-based meatballs and Subway’s marinara sauce on your bread of choice. The sandwich comes with parmesan cheese, but it can be left off the sandwich to make a delectable vegan meatball sub. If the meatballs are on the menu, it is possible to get a salad that includes the plant-based meatballs, which is a protein-packed substitute for customers avoiding the bread.
- Falafel: The falafel sandwich filling is often shown accompanied by a dairy tzatziki sauce, but if you’re lucky enough to find a Subway location that offers the sandwich, the falafel is paired nicely with a number of plant-based sauces. The vegan-friendly option can be found at a select amount of stores. The protein substitute consists of fried chickpeas flavored with a selection of Mediterranean herbs and acts as the perfect protein for either a salad or a sandwich.
With a highly-customizable menu like Chipotle, Qdoba also has a wealth of vegan options, although the Tex-Mex chain is lacking when it comes to plant-based dairy alternatives, it does offer Impossible Meat for an easy protein swap. Here is everything they do offer:
- Impossible Fajita Bowl: The featured plant-based staple offers an easy option for all vegan customers. The signature bowl comes complete with plant-based Impossible protein, fajita veggies, corn salsa, salsa, Verde, and black beans over cilantro lime rice. The vegan bowl is the perfect option for something quick and filling. The bowl can also be customized to include any other vegan sauces or ingredients that you want to add on. The Qdoba bowls work perfectly for leftovers as well. Pop the leftovers in the fridge and take the portable lunch with you the next day.
- Impossible Fajita Burrito: The impossible Fajita Bowl can be easily turned into a delicious burrito. Everyone loves the personalized fast-casual Mexican restaurants for the huge, affordable burrito options. The Impossible Fajita Burrito gives the customer everything they want from the plant-based protein to the delicious vegetable medley into a jam-packed, filling tortilla. Add whatever plant-based ingredient you desire into the burrito to make it delicious to your satisfaction.
- Impossible Bowl or Impossible Burrito: Beyond the Fajita options, it is possible to go choose to just add the Impossible protein. The fully customizable bowl or burrito can be topped with any of the plant-based ingredients listed below to make a tasty, filling meal to meet any craving. From salsa Roja to guacamole, the customer can complete either entree style with whatever they please. The customer can choose between cilantro lime rice or brown rice and black beans or pinto beans as their base. The same thing can be done with the Fajita veggies by ordering the Veggie Burrito Bowl or Veggie Fajita Burrito.
11. Panda Express
In the last year, Panda Express has branched out into plant-based dishes, partnering with Beyond Meat to make more vegan dishes. Here are some of the chain's greatest plant-based hits:
- Vegetable Spring Rolls: You can never go wrong with the Vegetable Spring Rolls at Panda Express. The crispy wonton exterior is stuffed with cabbage, green onions, carrots, celery, and Chinese noodles.
- Eggplant Tofu: When plant-based diners originally struggled to find a proper vegan entree, Panda Express debuted the Eggplant Tofu. The entree uses a glazy soy-based sauce to flavor its eggplant and tofu mixture, creating an addictively delicious plant-based option. Before the company's plant-based protein development, the Eggplant Tofu has been the go-to item to order and beyond its taste, the entree is a cheap and delicious lunch or dinner option.
- Beyond the Original Orange Chicken: The vegan orange chicken will use a completely vegan breading and sauce on Beyond Meat’s newly released plant-based chicken.
Visit the All-American eatery Fatburger for decadent burgers, crispy fries, and milkshakes that even plant-based eaters can enjoy. In recent years, the chain has upped its plant-based offerings and now boasts a healthy amount of menu options for vegetarians or vegans.
- Impossible Burger: The classic burger is served with “The Works” which includes relish, mustard, onions, pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce. Make sure that you ask for no mayo to ensure that the juicy burger is 100 percent plant-based. The burger can be ordered with a slice of Daiya cheese that brings it all home with a timeless cheeseburger.
- Impossible Chicken Nuggets: A perfect option for kids or picky eaters, Fatburger recently added Impossible Foods' chicken nuggets to its menus nationwide.
- Vegan Shakes: From the classic Vanilla shake to the more exciting Maui Banana shake, the company is working to provide customers with a full, classic LA burger joint experience within a plant-based diet. Fatburger’s shake selection makes this restaurant chain one of the few that offer vegan ice cream. The shakes come sourced from Hollywood-based Craig’s vegan ice cream, providing a delicious vegan base for the shakes. Instead of a soft drink, complete the Impossible Burger meal with one of the four shake options.
13. Panera Bread
Although vegetarians will have an easy time finding a meal at Panera Bread, it's a bit trickier for those who avoid dairy, as every meatless menu option tends to include cheese. Here's how you can eat vegan at Panera.
- Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich: The sandwich comes with feta but can be made vegan easily by requesting no cheese. The sandwich is filled with piquant peppers, cucumbers, emerald greens, tomatoes, and hummus. The sandwich is delicious and can be paired with a side salad to make an extremely delicious and filling lunch. It is possible to add avocado to the sandwich as a substitute for the feta, but the sandwich contains enough delicious ingredients without it.
- Baja Bowl: Typically served with a french baguette, the Baja Bowl is an extremely nutritious and filling menu item. The bowl contains cilantro line brown rice and quinoa topped with black bean and corn salsa, salsa verde, red grape tomatoes, and avocado. The bowl usually comes with feta and Greek Yogurt, but just ask to remove the dairy products to make the Baja Bowl completely vegan.
- Fuji Apple Salad without Chicken: The Fuji Apple Salad is a perfect salad for a sweeter, lighter craving. The salad comes on a mixed base of arugula, romaine, kale, and a red leaf blend with grape tomatoes, red onions, toasted pecan pieces, and apple chips all tossed in a sweet white balsamic vinaigrette. Ask for the salad without gorgonzola and chicken to make it fully vegan.
Dunkin Donuts has been on a plant-based roll lately, adding several food items to its menu that are filling options when you're in a pinch. Besides all of its dairy-free drink options, here's what you can eat at Dunkin as a plant-based diner.
- Avocado Toast: This consists of an avocado spread made with avocado, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, served on Dunkin’s toasted Sourdough Bread, and topped with everything bagel seasoning. The quick-service take on the indescribably popular breakfast and brunch item hit menus at only $2.99.
- Hummus Toast: If avocados aren't your thing, load up on protein with Dunkin's hummus toast, topped with roasted tomatoes and za'atar spices.
- Hashbrowns: Dunkin Donuts flavors its potato snack with a special spice blend. Other than the quick-to-order coffee, the hashbrowns remain one of the main reasons to love Dunkin Donuts in the morning.
- Beyond Sausage Sandwich: The sandwich may not come fully plant-based, but when you ask for the sandwich without eggs and cheese, it will be fully vegan. Although without the cheese and egg the sandwich is only the muffin and Beyond Sausage, at most stores you can easily order it with the new avocado spread or top it off with some ketchup and hashbrowns.
McDonald's has received criticism in recent years for its lack of meatless options (even its fries are cooked in animal fat!) but has answered critics by debuting the McPlant. Here's what else is vegan at McDonald's
- McPlant: The meatless burger features a Beyond Meat patty made from potatoes, rice, and peas, topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard. The McPlant also comes with dairy-based American cheese and mayo, but customers can easily ask to remove the animal-based ingredients.
- Fruit & Maple Oatmeal: In a pinch for breakfast? This fruity oatmeal should do the trick. Just ensure you remove the cream when ordering to make it fully dairy-free.
- Side Salad: Need to load up on some nutrients? Add a side salad to your order. For your dressing, order the Newmann's Own Creamy French or Balsamic Vinaigrette to ensure the dressing is vegan.
Bottom Line: Most major fast-food chains have a few vegan-friendly options on their menu.
If you're unsure if something is vegan, ensure to ask the employees about ingredients and cross-contamination.
For more plant-based eats near you, visit The Beet's Find Vegan Near Me category.