One of my favorite things about traveling—I almost said my absolute favorite, but then felt embarrassed—is eating. Street food, fine dining, a basket from the market, or, the best, a home cooked meal with hosts. Museums are great but food sticks with you (!) in a different way. And if you’re here I’m sure you agree.
Now look. I know it is a MAJOR privilege to be able to travel at ALL—think of what it means to someone migrating to escape human rights violations or reunite with their family, or just trying to get back into the US with a green card… And traveling just for leisure and to experience other cultures? I know how lucky I am.
Anyway, when I get to a new city, one of my biggest priorities is scoping out the best places to eat. And if you’re looking for the best reviewed restaurants, or simply the most popular, that’s easy. Turn to TripAdvisor.
But what if you are vegan? Or vegetarian? Or simply tired of eating fried things and looking for healthy options? How can you figure out what restaurants will have options you’re looking for?
Turns out I have this down to a science. Here are the exact strategies (this is serious, people) that I use to find all the food I’m always posting on Instagram. I broke it up based on how much time you have to search. 🙂
If you are in a huge rush…
You just got off the plane and checked into your Airbnb, and suddenly realized everyone you’re with is hungry and starting to get all cranky. Now the back and forth ensues about where to eat. No one wants to decide, and you end up going to the KFC you can see from your window.
If you’re trying to find vegan or healthy options fast, just open up the Google app on your phone or computer, center the map around your location, and type in “vegan.” You might be thinking, “DUH.” Stick with me.
Restaurants are sorted and tagged, so even if “vegan” isn’t in the title, some restaurants with vegan options will show up. If you happen to be in, say, Waco, and that yields no results, you can get creative.
Try searching for “organic”:
Or even just “healthy food”:
Chances are an organic or healthy restaurant will have some vegan choices.
If you have 5–10 minutes…
If you are deciding what to eat but no one in your party is about to blow a gasket, maybe you have time to do a more thorough search. In this scenario, I turn to the Happy Cow app (they’re not paying me but I wish they were). In the app, you can search for restaurants that are 100% vegan, 100% vegetarian, or have veg-options.
My strategy here is to search the vegan options first and see what’s there—this will tell you how vegan-friendly the city is. If nothing appears, or only a smoothie shop, you’ll know you have to get creative.
Next I search vegetarian options—sometimes a city has a long-standing vegetarian community instead of a more modern vegan one, and those vegetarian restaurants usually have lots of vegan options.
And if this yields nothing, I search for veg-options. If a barbecue place pops up here, good luck. Hope you brought peanut butter.
If you have some time to plan…
If you are planning this a few hours or days ahead of time, you can dig a little deeper.
After searching Happy Cow, like above, you can turn to Google for more information.
I find Google reviews can be pretty on point (and for the time being, not skewed by pay-to-play advertising like some of the other popular review sites). Use the Google maps app and scroll through some reviews to get an idea of the atmosphere, the service, and the food. Check out the photos and the link to the menu.
You can also investigate on social media to get an idea of seasonal menus, daily specials, and the kind of crowd hanging out at the restaurants.
Try searching Instagram for city hashtags like #austinvegan for a general search.
Or find specific restaurants.
Look at the photos on their own profiles:
Or find the restaurant location, and see what visitors have posted. You can find out what the space is like (fancy or casual?) and also see what people order a lot:
And you can also do Google searches for things like “the best vegan in the east village” or “vegan food houston,” and see what ya get. This is a great way to get tips on the best menu items to order once you get there. I like sites like Eater and Time Out.
Or my favorite—find a well known vegan blogger who lives in the city and search their site for guides. I have used the Austin guides on Love & Lemons (here and here) and used the Denver guides from Oh, Ladycakes (here and here) to plan a lot of our trip—Ashlae knew about local spots with vegan options that didn’t even show up on any of my searches.
You can always try direct messaging local bloggers as well. I know I have never minded answering messages about vegan options in Waco. 🙂
And you can always…wait for it…ask a local! Might be faster than the above. ^_^
Your tools are:
If you get suckered into going to a restaurant with few vegan options…
Sometimes, the crowd you’re with doesn’t have time or patience to deal with your food priorities, and you end up at a steakhouse or taco truck.
My strategy here? Relish in this free pass to eat french fries or chips for dinner. But if I’m really after something vegan and healthy, I just order a combination of salads, soups, and sides.
And then grab a smoothie afterwards to make everyone jealous. ^_^
Hope this was helpful! I’ve been using all these tools like crazy since getting to NYC, where every neighborhood is like its own city. Any strategies I missed???