The new vegan menu at Guero's Taco Bar. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons
I’ve been talking a lot lately about vegan menus. Guero’s recently incorporated their secret vegan menu into their regular menu, and I rejoiced. Galaxy Cafe recently made a vegan menu that you can only get if you ask for it, and I rejoiced. And Kerbey Lane has a vegan menu that’s really a cheat sheet for ordering off the regular menu, and I complained. So what’s the difference between all of these, and why does it matter?
It matters for two reasons. As a vegan and really as a consumer in general, I want to know what I’m ordering. And at a restaurant, where the food prep goes on behind closed doors, and in an atmosphere where rumors fly about what chefs do to vegan food orders, there’s a degree of trust involved when ordering food. The more information offered up front in a clear manner, the more confident I can be when I order food. And the more likely I am to show up at a restaurant in the first place or recommend it to someone else.
The other reason it matters is because I’m vegan for the animals. I want other people to go vegan and stay vegan. And that’s much easier to do when your environment and culture supports a vegan lifestyle. For someone new to veganism, I’d much rather recommend a restaurant that has a menu with easy-to-understand vegan options rather than giving them a cheat sheet (“order with no cheese and skip the rice—it has butter”). And for those of us already vegan, it’s much easier to navigate social situations with friends, family, and colleagues when you don’t have to draw attention to yourself by asking the waiter a million questions.
So what makes a good vegan menu? The best vegan menus are incorporated into the regular menu. Either as a separate section, like Guero’s new menu, as a comment at the bottom of the page, like the menu at Titayas, or indicated with a symbol, like the menu at Clay Pit, where vegan items are marked with a green V. These menus are easy to understand and automatically given to everyone at the restaurant.
The next best is a separate vegan menu that you have to ask for, like the menu at Galaxy Cafe. Having to ask for a special menu can be awkward. It also means you have to know that the special menu exists. Just glancing at Galaxy Cafe’s regular menu, it doesn’t look like a very vegan-friendly place.
Third best, is a cheat sheet like the one at Kerbey Lane. Not only do you have to ask for it, but you also need the regular menu to interpret it since there aren’t full descriptions of the items on the vegan “menu”. This means awkwardly flipping between the two menus.
The least helpful (but still greatly appreciated) vegan menu is one that only exists online, like the one at East Side Cafe. I really appreciate having the information, but I don’t eat with my computer. Last time I ate there for a work lunch, I literally made myself a cheat sheet on an index card. Awkward, but less awkward than asking a million questions.
So, who offers vegan menus or marks vegan items here in Austin?*
Black Sheep Lodge
Black Star Coop**
Blue Dahlia Bistro
Brick Oven on 35 (not to be confused with Brick Oven)
Clay Pit (pdf)
Cornucopia (not online)
East Side Cafe
Galaxy Cafe (not online)
Get Sum Dim Sum
Guero’s Taco Bar
Hyde Park Bar & Grill (not online)
Noodles and Company
North by Northwest
Titaya’s Thai (not online)
*I’m certain this list isn’t complete, because it’s from my memory.
**I almost left this one off. They mark items as vegan, but they don’t indicate that the aioli or ranch need to be left off to make it vegan. It’s almost worse than not marking the menu at all.