There are plenty of reasons to convert to veganism: your health, the environment, and of course, the animals. But as of now, plant-based options are significantly harder to find, particularly in the fast-food drive-thru. For years, on-the-go vegans and vegetarians were presented with a pretty bleak menu: a wilted side salad, fruit cups, hash browns, and...that’s about it. Vegans have typically had even fewer options, with animal products like cheese, sour cream, and eggs being the main staple of most “no meat” fast-food meals. Luckily, the vegetarian and veganism trend has started to catch on, and more and more fast-food restaurants have started to follow suit.
Even if you don’t go full plant-mode with your diet, eating vegan in the drive-thru is an easy way to find healthier, low-calorie options amid greasy burgers and bacon wraps. Through specialty menu items and lesser-known substitution options, eating plant-based at your favorite fast-food joint has literally never been easier.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of popular drive-thru restaurants and the plant-based options they offer from the most vegan-friendly to “well, we have plenty of potatoes for you to eat.” The next time you’re in the car looking for an easy meal, opt for these menu items to keep your meal quick, convenient, and humane.
Even though they recently took away their potato-based items, much to the chagrin of plant-eaters everywhere, Taco Bell is still one of the most vegan-friendly restaurants widely available across the country.
*Make sure to remove the cheese and sour cream from these items by ordering them fresco style, which replaces all dairy products with fresh pico de gallo.
With loads of healthy plant-based options and deliciously fresh-baked bread, Panera (or St. Louis Bread Co., depending on who you ask) has plenty of ways to modify and special-order your way to a completely plant-based meal.
Following closely behind Taco Bell in the plant-based Mexican cuisine category is Del Taco, which allows you to substitute meat on any menu item for soy-based Beyond meat. While there’s some debate over whether this “fake” meat is actually as healthy as, say, beans or lentils, it’s still a super convenient choice for on-the-go vegheads. Their bean AND soy-based protein options would put them at the top of the list if they weren’t almost exclusively located in California, making it a little trickier for vegans in the heartland.
Burger King led the way in offering a vegan substitute to their world-famous sandwiches. Unfortunately, you can’t substitute their Impossible patty on other sandwiches yet. There's also the potential for cross-contamination if you don't ask for your soy patty to be cooked separately from the beef ones. But luckily, they have lots of extra potato-based and meat-free snack options for a quick and easy veg meal.
Hardee's and Carl Jr. have made the best of both worlds with their new line of plant-based hamburger options available for every menu item. Plus, they don't add animal products to their fried potato items. Score.
Starbucks isn’t just for your Insta-worthy pink drinks anymore. Their menu is chock-full of healthy plant-based options, and most of their popular drinks can be modified to not include any dairy. Since they have a million and one drink options, we thought it’d be easier to tell you what to avoid and what to add to make your favorite caffeine stop vegan-friendly.
Following the vegan-friendly coffee shop trend is Dunkin’, so coffee-drinkers everywhere rejoice: you don’t have to sacrifice caffeine to find humane snack and meal options. While they don’t offer as many prepackaged snacks as Starbucks, Dunkin’ has plenty of caffeinated drink options and a few great plant-based meals.
Panda Express almost didn’t make it on the list since not all of their nationwide locations offer a drive-thru, but since there are some that do and for the sake of including some delicious, quick Asian cuisine on the list, they’re getting an honorable mention. Panda Express does state that they cook all of their animal and plant-based products in the same area, so cross-contamination is possible and something to keep in mind if you’re strictly vegan.
While some Subway locations have offered a soy-based "meat"ball option, they haven't switched to nationwide distribution quite yet. In the meantime, pile on your favorite veggies on one of their vegan bread options (and don't forget the plant-based sauces!)
Unfortunately, there aren't many plant-based options available at Wendy's locations yet, but we're holding out hope for the possibility of a veg-alternative to their spicy chicken nuggets. (We can dream, right?) Until then, here are some plant-based snacks and salads to try.
Although one of the most prominent fast-food joints across the country (and the world), McDonald’s is still falling behind on the plant-based trend. The home of the Big Mac and McRib doesn’t have a vast vegan menu, and their potato products include animal byproducts, unfortunately. But here are some options to try if you’re in a pinch and have to stop at the golden arches.
Because even vegans deserve a little ice cream now and then. These dairy-free alternatives offered by Baskin-Robbins are also a great option if you're having trouble digesting lactose. They might not be the lowest in calories, but these vegan treats are definitely delicious and worthy of eating guilt-free.
We hope that as the plant-based train keeps rolling, we'll eventually reach an era where any and all restaurants will offer as many delicious, healthy, and satisfying vegan and vegetarian options as they do burgers, chicken strips, and bacon wraps. Until then, stick with these forward-thinking fast-food joints. And if you're in the mood to cook at home, try these amazing vegan and vegetarian recipes.