Let’s cut the bologna and get down to brass tacks here: Fast food is great.
That’s right – I, a better-than-thou, free-spirited, meat-boycotting vegan, love fast food. I’m OK with admitting it, and you should be, too.
What’s not to dig? In the past five years, we’ve gotten completely vegetarian menus at Taco Bell, more plant options at Chipotle and burgers fit for a king that bleed soybean and fat.
Throw a COVID-19 pandemic hellscape into the mix, and fast food just makes sense: It’s quick, cheap, easy and little-to-no human interaction.
The fact that I can even rank national vegan fast food options at all gives me immeasurable glee. So what follows is a passion project that contributed not 1, not 2, but 3 inches to my waistline.
It was all worth it.
5. Domino’s Pizza
I’m just going to get this out of the way – vegan pizza kind of sucks. No matter how you slice it – pun intended – pizza with vegan cheese is always going to taste, well, kind of like plastic.
That is until you drop the cheese altogether. Yes, I understand it’s probably no longer pizza at that point and a distant cousin to flatbread, but I don’t make the rules, and Domino’s calls it what it calls it.
If you didn’t know, Domino’s thin-crust style is completely vegan. From there, you can load it up with a tomato-based pizza sauce or the honey barbecue (though if you’re like me, you consider honey decidedly non-vegan).
Finish it off with any number of vegetables. I like onions, mushrooms, green peppers and jalapenos.
At the end of the day, it still kind of tastes like pizza. Plus, you won’t be fighting any of your friends for the last slice.
4. Carl’s Jr.
Carl’s Jr. (or Hardees, if you live in the Eastern United States) now serves Beyond brand meats. What’s more, you can sub them for any meat item on the menu. Pretty cool, right?
Well, not so fast. Their burgers aren’t intended to be vegan – only vegetarian, which is great for those folks. They’re still loaded with mayonnaise and cheese.
That’s all to say, you can still eat the vegan version, but much like Domino’s pizza, it’s going to be a bit weird and dry.
From someone who’s tried Beyond and Impossible burgers, I prefer Beyond since it’s less meat-like than the alternative. But both still look, feel and taste like beef – great for someone new to the diet.
Or someone, you know, who likes meat.
3. Burger King
I realize I just talked negatively about Impossible burgers, but I can’t not give praise where it’s due.
Last spring, Burger King was the first national fast food chain to lean hard into the realistic veggie burger craze. It was coincidentally an offering I wasn’t interested in trying, but, at the same time, something I was impossibly – ahem – excited about for others.
And if you’ve gone this long without sinking your teeth into an Impossible patty, I’ll save you the drama.
Ever tried hamburger? Cool. It’s just like that.
If you’re a fan of the Whopper, then there should be no love lost.
2. Taco Bell
I surprised even myself with this ranking. Going into it, I was convinced Taco Bell would take the crown as the best vegan fast food restaurant on the national market.
And in a lot of ways, it is. That’s not by accident, either.
Mexican cuisine in general lends itself supremely well to vegan options, in no small part because it is essentially the same ingredients rearranged in delicious ways. With a base of wheat, corn, beans, milk, meat and vegetables, you can’t go wrong. Just take out the milk and meat, and you’ve still got a full meal.
Now, I know it’s probably sacrilege to even call Taco Bell Mexican food, but it shares the same DNA. Which is why for my money, there’s no better deal in national fast food vegan eating.
Heck, Taco Bell is so aware they’re a vegan and vegetarian paradise, they even have a vegetarian menu. And a blog post on “How to eat vegetarian at Taco Bell.”
My go-to is the bean burrito – as simple as it is mesmerizing. Its base model comes with beans, onions, red sauce and cheese, which means it’s easy as ever to tell the disembodied voice on the other end of the screen to “hold the cheese.” If I’m feeling frisky, I like to add seasoned rice or Fritos.
And one of their most popular items – vegan or otherwise – is the fabled Crunchwrap Supreme. Want to make it vegan? Tell them to make it “fresco style,” which removes the cheese and sour cream, and replace the beef with black beans. Try adding the guacamole for even more flavor.
At the end of the day, who could in good faith argue Chipotle isn’t the gold standard for vegan fast food in America? I mean, come on.
Lately, I’ve gotten so into ordering it to go and eating in shame in my one-bedroom apartment that I became a member. Do you know how often you must do something to even consider being a member?
To understand how good Chipotle’s vegan options are, you must list everything on the menu that isn’t vegan. Chicken, steak, barbacoa, carnitas, sour cream, cheese, caso blanco – that’s it. Everything else, 100% vegan.
On top of that, Chipotle has its own vegan meat option called Sofritas, which is basically just a shredded tofu seasoned with what I imagine is loads of cumin and chili powder.
My go-to is a burrito bowl with chips. Black beans, brown rice, Sofritas, mild, medium and hot salsa, lettuce and guacamole (yes, it’s extra) with a side of tortilla chips. Mix it all together and scoop each bite onto a chip as if it were the chunkiest, most delicious dip you’ve ever had in your life.
I vacuum this stuff up as if I were a Dyson. Time to live a little.
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