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Ranked: Fast Food Options for Vegetarians

Fast Food Options for Vegetarians

Fast Food Options for Vegetarians
It’s easy to rag on fast food restaurants, but we have to give credit where credit’s due: they offer cheap, predictable food. And when you’re a vegetarian, predictable can be a good thing. I asked our contributors and other vegetarians I know for their fast food picks and combined them with my own to come up with this super-scientific (okay, totally not scientific) ranking. Although there are a lot of veg-friendly fast food options at smaller chains like Qdoba and Pei Wei, I only included larger chains that have restaurants in most areas.

Also, a note: some restaurants seem to be pretty evasive about whether or not their menu items are vegetarian or not. I’ve done the best I can to make sure anything recommended below is meatless, but I’ve erred on the side of caution when it comes to including items I’m not sure about. Remember, too, that with any restaurant, there’s the issue of shared equipment—if you’re a strict vegetarian and don’t feel comfortable with your food being cooked on a surface where meat has been cooked, make sure you ask about it before you order.

1. Taco Bell (Pictured Above)

Taco Bell! Who knew, right? Taco Bell has 13 menu items that are already vegetarian (see them all by going to, clicking on Food, then searching for the word “vegetarian”), but you can also customize other menu items to make those meatless too. The most expensive item on the menu is $2.69, so it’s great for those of us who are on a tight budget. While most fast food restaurants have one or two vegetarian entree options at best, Taco Bell stands out for sheer number alone. We also like that most of the vegetarian options include beans, so there’s some nutritional value involved too. If you’re vegan, ordering items “fresco style” will sub in pico de gallo for the cheese. Taco Bell gets props for being one of the restaurants that’s most transparent about their vegetarian menu options.

2. Pizza Hut

Pizza is always a good option for vegetarians because it’s easy to customize. You can create your own pizza without getting eye rolls and frustrated sighs while placing your order. If you order your pizza online, Pizza Hut lets you build it with their handy little Create Your Own Pizza app. It includes standard options like type of crust and vegetable toppings, but things get interesting when you click on the sauces. Honey Sriracha on my pizza? YES PLEASE. You can also get flavors on your crust, like Ranch and Toasted Cheddar. Options like this can perk up any veggie pizza.

3. Burger King

Burger King gets points for having a veggie burger on its menu. Asking around, I found that people either love it or hate it—it’s made with a MorningStar Farms patty, so your feelings about those will probably determine your feelings about the Burger King veggie burger. (Personally, I’m not a fan, but I do appreciate that the option exists.) For breakfast, you have a few more options, like oatmeal, French toast, and the Egg & Cheese Croissan’wich. Although there’s conflicting information online, it seems that fries and other sides are vegetarian too.

4. Wendy’s

Confession: when I was pregnant, one of the foods I ate over and over again was the Wendy’s baked potato. Their fries are also vegetarian and they have a veggie sandwich option that’s not on the menu—it’s basically a burger without the patty. The Garden Side Salad is also made without meat—it’s a side salad, but combined with a baked potato, it could be a decent meal. Not terribly impressive, but here’s the good news: Wendy’s is testing a black bean burger in some markets and it’s supposed to be really tasty. Please make it available nationwide, Wendy’s!

5. McDonald’s

McDonald’s doesn’t have much for vegetarians. Their fries are not vegetarian, they don’t have veggie burgers—it’s not even slim pickings, it’s no pickings. They do mention on their website that items can be ordered without meat, so at least there’s that. For breakfast, the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal is vegetarian, but the Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait, which you’d assume is vegetarian too, is made with gelatin.

Bonus! Favorite Fast Casual Restaurants

They aren’t exactly fast food and aren’t quite as ubiquitous as McDonald’s, but fast casual restaurants offer a lot more options for vegetarians, even if they come with a slightly steeper price (and longer wait). Here are some of our favorites.

1. Chipotle

Chipotle was always a favorite because of its build-your-own concept, but then they went and made us love them even more when they introduced Sofritas, spicy shredded tofu that can be added to your burritos and tacos. In fact, nearly everything Chipotle offers is vegetarian except the meat.

2. Noodles & Company

We love Noodles & Company because they mark every vegetarian item with a handy little V on their menu. Convenient! And looking at their menu, you’ll notice that nearly everything is vegetarian and even some of the non-vegetarian items can be easily made vegetarian if you ask (my favorite is the Chinese Chicken Chop Salad with tofu substituted for the chicken). Organic Tofu is offered as one of their protein options—it’s especially good in the Japanese Pan Noodles and Bangkok Curry.

3. Starbucks

I’ll never turn down the opportunity to get a Chai Tea Latte, but Starbucks has some decent vegetarian meal options too! Although she isn’t vegetarian, Julie from The Little Kitchen recommends their Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella Panini. For breakfast, yogurt parfaits, oatmeal, and Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wraps are vegetarian; for lunch and dinner, try the Egg Salad Sandwich, Edamame Hummus Wrap, or Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl.

4. Panera

When I asked around for friends’ favorite vegetarian options from fast food restaurants, Panera came up more than any other restaurant. So why am I ranking it so low? Well, first they took away the Portobello and Mozzarella Panini which I ordered every single time I went there, then they discontinued Tomato & Mozzarella Panini this year. Why, why, why?! There’s a Tomato Mozzarella Flatbread in its place, but it’s a mess to eat and just not as good as the other options, in my humble opinion. I just wish Panera offered more vegetarian sandwiches! On a positive note, our social media guru Kate recommends their Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich and Kare from Kitchen Treaty notes that it can be ordered without feta if you’re vegan. Courtney from Know Your Produce likes the Garden Vegetable Soup. When I go to Panera, I usually order the Creamy Tomato Soup or the Soba Noodle Bowl with Edamame, which is delicious and different from a lot of other restaurants’ vegetarian options.

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  • Reply
    October 15, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Does Burger King generally use a dedicated “vegetarian” griddle to prepare their morningstar patties? When McDonald’s had veggie patties, I was told from multiple sources that they were cooked on the same equipment as the meat burgers.

    This concern is the ONLY reason I’ve never tried BK’s offering.

    • Reply
      Melissa Hayes
      October 19, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      I am a vegetarian because I have a meat allergy – so I’m particularly sensitive to when “vegetarian” foods are not prepared properly. Generally, BK does not use a veggie-only griddle, and their fries are cooked in the same oil as their chicken and fish. Also, Wendy’s uses the same frying oil for their french fries as their chicken. I am unable to eat at either of these places without getting sick.

      One thing McD’s will do is make a “cheeseburger” without the meat, so it still has cheese, pickles, onion, ketchup and mustard, and it is actually not too bad, especially when its the only option on the interstate.

      • Reply
        October 20, 2015 at 8:14 pm

        When I was a kid, I used to order grilled cheese from McDonald’s like that – basically a bun with cheese on it. Thanks for the info re: shared equipment!

      • Reply
        Daniele Koon
        April 2, 2016 at 11:24 am

        i work at Culver’s and they have veggie burgers that are made with designated spatulas. and if you mention an allergy, special care is taken to make sure food is not contaminated.

      • Reply
        October 5, 2019 at 5:55 pm

        I realize I am replying to a comment from four years ago. However, I did want to mention for posterity that by corporate policy, both BK and Wendy’s use dedicated oil for their french fries. A particular restaurant may or may not adhere to that rule, but, in any case, it is the policy.

        As for the BK Veggie Burger, I think it was heated in a microwave or some kind of oven, not on the regular burger conveyor belt that carries beef patties over the open-flame grill they are known for. I wouldn’t swear to this, however, and at this point (October 2019), I believe it has been discontinued in favor of the Impossible Whopper, which *is* cooked on the same conveyor as beef patties. As a result, BK has gone from my second-favorite vegetarian fast-food option to not somewhere I’d even bother stopping (would just as soon eat junk food from a gas station now). It’s ironic that this happened because of a much-hyped vegetarian burger 🙂

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      Yup, that’s why I mentioned at the top of the post that shared equipment can be an issue. I don’t think you can ever assume grilled or fried vegetarian menu items are made on dedicated equipment, so for ethical vegetarians, it’s essential to ask before ordering – I don’t think fast food restaurants are very diligent about these things!

  • Reply
    Dawn F
    October 15, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Oh how I miss the variety of US restaurants! We don’t have much to choose from here but our McDonalds fries are vegetarian and they do a veggie burger but I’m not sure what it tastes like. The one awesome thing about the UK is that almost everything, from food in supermarkets to restaurants will either have a green V or say “Suitable for vegetarians”.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    On #4 Wendy’s, you mean a burger without the patty? (Veggie sandwich description says burger without the bun)

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Oops, that’s what happens when I write posts while sleep deprived. 🙂 Fixed it!

  • Reply
    October 15, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    My favorite vegetarian fast food option is Subway. So many delicious options for enjoying lots of colorful, raw veggies! (I won’t claim they’re healthy since I tend to order with oil/vinegar and salt/pepper — and I eat the whole giant bread loaf they use for the sandwiches.)

    Last I heard, Subway had surpassed McDonald’s in number of restaurants and many still make fresh-brewed iced tea rather than the pre-packaged Not!Tea that most other places are dispensing from their soda fountains these days.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    I love Panera’s Mediterranean Veggie sandwich, I usually pair it with the black bean soup.

    Corner Bakery has a surprising number of vegetarian items, I’ve been impressed the last few times I’ve been. The Tomato Mozarella sandwich is my favorite. They used to have a great veggie-white bean soup and a lentil soup, but they’ve discontinued both. I got their Siracha black bean soup last time I was there and it was quite tasty!

    • Reply
      October 16, 2015 at 9:48 am

      This sandwich is the always choice for my husband who isn’t even a vegetarian and usually turns up his nose at any meatless meal. It is delicious. I concur with the article’s comment about the flatbread sandwiches being “messy.” I defy anyone to escape unscathed from any of them–tasty, but deadly to hands and clothes.

      • Reply
        October 20, 2015 at 8:52 pm

        They are SO messy. Eat them there and you’ve got lemon juice all over your hands; take them home and you have a soggy sandwich. Not a fan.

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      I LOOOOOVE Corner Bakery. I didn’t list it in this post because of the limited locations, but I definitely prefer it to Panera. Their California Grille Panini is awesome. Also: brownies.

  • Reply
    Garden Goddess
    October 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Here’s a surprising note about Starbuck’s: The Strawberry Frappuccino was NOT vegetarian. They admitted that they used beetles in the food coloring… Alllugh!

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      Yeah, I remember when that news came out! Ick.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Taco Bell is my go-to since I quit eating meat. You didn’t mention McDonalds breakfast sandwiches, which are now available all day. That puts them back in the game for me (Egg McMuffin, no canadian).

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      I didn’t list that because none of them are vegetarian, but you’re right, they can be ordered without the bacon.

  • Reply
    Heather Mason @NuttyNutrition
    October 16, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Taco Bell is totally my junky food splurge meal. You can get anything you want vegetarian pretty much!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Not sure about the Starbucks yogurt parfaits, actually. They’ve got some kind of partnership with Dannon, and last I checked Dannon uses gelatin in their yogurts. That’s why I have avoided their smoothies as well, since the yogurt is probably not vegetarian.

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      Gelatin isn’t listed as an ingredient in the yogurt on the Starbucks website. Since people avoid gelatin for religious reasons as well, I’d hope they’d list it if it was in there!

  • Reply
    March 2, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Also, Moe’s has many vegetarian options we have vegetarian versions of all of our items and even offer Tofu as a protein option. ( I work for a Moe’s Franchisee) and I’m vegetarian.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    I this the f#####g twilight zone ! how the hell can you be vegan or vegetarian and support any fast food chain apparently no one understands how these companies keep meat and their products so cheap I wont go into the horrific details I shouldnt have to this day and age… enjoy Hypocrites… 😉

  • Reply
    December 1, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    i worked at mcdonalds for over a year, and was the only vegetarian there. surprisingly enough, i found tons of stuff to eat on my breaks! the hotcake happy meal with yogurt, fries/hash brown/apples was a favourite, as well as the grilled cheese happy meal. the fries are vegan/vegetarian, they were fried in a different vat than everything (there was a chicken vat, fish vat, etc) and used canola oil. the salads are really big portions and good, you can get them without chicken. there’s a vegetarian wrap as well. My favourite thing to do was order a cheeseburger no meat and a hash brown, then put the hash brown in the buns. hopefully some of these suggestions are helpful for others!!

    • Reply
      Katie Trant
      December 2, 2017 at 8:38 am

      Sarah, I looooooove cheeseburgers no meat from McD’s! Everyone always thinks it sounds crazy, but they’re the best!

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