By AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
October 13, 2021
Have you been seeing more healthful options on your menu lately? Maybe you’re noticing almond or even oat and hemp milk alternatives? Or spotting a growing number of meatless entrées and healthy vegan meals available?
According to the comprehensive Ipsos Retail Performance Study, which stretched from 2004 to 2019, the number of Americans eating a plant-based diet rose from 290,000 to 9.6 million, a 300 percent increase over a 15-year period. The Vegan Society, based in the U.K. and responsible for World Vegan Day, encourages the practice worldwide and celebrates each Nov. 1.
So what is a vegan or plant-based diet? Simply put, it’s one that eliminates animal products. Whereas vegetarian diets eschew eating meat (and sometimes eggs), a vegan diet eliminates all products derived from animals, even honey.
While you might not be ready for such an all-encompassing change, Technomic Inc., which provides insights on the food industry, has noticed some diners are changing up what they consume, with many looking toward smart eating and choosing the best healthy food.
“Twenty-five percent of consumers are consuming more dairy alternatives (e.g., nut- or soy-based items, etc.) more often than they did two years ago, including 37 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds. Sixty-seven percent of consumers find plant-based fare to be healthier, [and] 25 percent find it tastier,” wrote Lizzy Freier, senior research manager, citing Technomic’s 2018 “Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report.”
Consequently, that’s caused more restaurants to change up their menus. “Vegetarian menu mentions are most common at midscale restaurants (e.g., IHOP, Cracker Barrel, etc.), with 49 percent of midscale concepts menuing something with ‘vegetarian’ as a healthy menu descriptor,” Freier noted from Technomic’s Ignite menu data. “After midscale, fast casual is the next most popular, with 36.8 percent of fast casual restaurants menuing vegetarian.”
AAA inspectors have noticed changing preferences as well; it’s part of their job, even if veganism is not their dietary preference. “I don’t have many [vegan restaurants] that I go to,” said one inspector, “but I do like City Silo Table and Pantry in Memphis, Tennessee. The portabella burger is very delicious. I also like … the Go Green juice.” The menu variety is by design. According to the website, “Whether you have food allergies, dietary restrictions, or eat anything under the sun, all will feel welcome here at City Silo!”
If you’re interested in healthy dining — or have dining companions of varying diets, a restaurant that serves a variety of dishes could well be your cup of vegan chai. Unsurprisingly, AAA inspectors have found many such places to eat, even quintessential breakfast spots that you’d expect to just serve bacon and eggs. That is, Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington, Vermont, where you can get tofu scrambles in addition to eggs and a variety of breakfast sandwiches. According to the AAA inspector, it offers “plenty of vegetarian dishes packed with flavor, located in the heart of downtown near the Church Street Marketplace.”
If you enjoy vegetable-based meals and are ready to make the leap to fully vegan, AAA inspectors have you covered as well. The next restaurants on our lists serve fully plant-based meals. (For vegetarian restaurants, which may serve dairy and/or eggs, check out “Best Vegetarian Restaurants to Try”; a few of those picks, such as Ethos Vegan Kitchen Inc., in Winter Park, Florida, are fully plant-based, with others able to accommodate vegan diners.)