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Best Vegetarian Chain Restaurants: Midwest Fast-Food Edition

A vegetarian for almost my entire life, it's been a tireless search for veggie options other than potatoes and salads. Custard counts!

Tofu veggie bowl at Moe's. Yum!

Tofu veggie bowl at Moe's. Yum!

Fast Food for Vegetarians

Let's be honest, being a vegetarian can be a pain in the rear sometimes, especially when it comes to finding something to eat. I chose these fast-food/fast-casual restaurants because they have tastier options than a salad and are pretty reasonably priced. Enjoy!

Quick note: Vegetarianism is often confused with veganism. Being a vegetarian means that you don't eat meat. Some "veggies" may eat eggs or fish, which are still technically meat. It's up to each person to decide what's comfortable for them. Being a vegan is a bit stricter, and means that you eat no animal products whatsoever, including no cheese, no milk, no eggs, etc. This list is specifically for vegetarians.

Welcome to Moe's!

Welcome to Moe's!

Moe's Southwest Grill

If you have one of these in your area, go there now! Moe's is delicious and is basically a Subway for burritos—you can have as many veggies as you want and they won't get huffy. They also offer very tasty tofu that has been kept in some sort of delicious brine.

Here are the options:

  • Burritos with tofu or veggies or BOTH!
  • Veggie nachos
  • Quesadilla
  • Taco bowls
  • Taco salads (where you can actually overload your bowl with veggies)
  • Veggie stacks
  • Veggie tacos
  • Guacamole, queso

The best thing about Moe's is that they have free chips and a salsa bar with every order. If you go on Mondays, they have a burrito, chips and salsa and a drink for $6! In my opinion, this is one of the best veggie restaurants for quality, value, and taste.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell

Taco Bell

This one can be a bit of a pain to order as the vegetarian items are not marked and the cashiers that I have come across have no idea what is vegetarian and was isn't. For example, the refried beans are not vegetarian because they are cooked with lard, and it's fun when they have to ask the kitchen every time (eye roll).

Okay, the options are quite numerous once you know what they are:

  • 7-layer burrito, no refried beans (Includes guacamole, rice, veggies, cheese, sour cream. The price went way up on this, but it's still pretty tasty.)
  • Side of guacamole (I get that this isn't a main meal, but it can be. Guacamole sticks to your ribs pretty well and is super tasty. I had this with the 7-layer burrito, and I felt pretty satisfied.)
  • Black bean burrito (thumbs-up)
  • Cheese quesadilla
  • Cheesy roll-up
  • Cheesy fiesta potatoes
  • Power veggie bowl (I haven't tried this yet because I'm quite annoyed that it's the same price as the bowls with meat. That shouldn't be. They have the same ingredients in the bowls and don't offer tofu. Get with it, TB. Rant over.)
I love you, Culvers, and I'm not afraid to say it.

I love you, Culvers, and I'm not afraid to say it.


Culver's has an exclamation mark because it's Culver's! It's my favorite restaurant on the list. I mean, custard, crinkle-cut fries, and veggie burgers?

Did the word 'veggie burgers' perk up your ears? They should. Culver's has their own veggie burgers—not Boca or Morningstar. And it makes a difference; they are quite tasty. I'm pretty sure they cook them in butter. Depending on where you live, the veggie burger is about $4.

If you're not feeling the veggie burger, their kids' meals offer a grilled cheese, so I can't imagine they wouldn't produce an adult grilled cheese. Heck, if they don't, you get a free scoop of custard with a kids' meal. I'm not judging.

Burger King

Burger King

Burger King

I wouldn't go out of my way to come here. They have a Morningstar veggie burger, which is lean protein and better than nothing. Not to be ungrateful, but a national food chain can't invest in a tasty veggie option that veggies can't get anywhere else? I get they're no Culver's, but come on!

At least their breakfast is pretty good. They have an egg and cheese croissant, French toast sticks, and oatmeal. Burger King used to have those cute little cinnamon rolls—whatever happened to those? (Reminisces.)

"Get in mah belly."

"Get in mah belly."

Sandwich Places

There are numerous sandwich places that have veggie sandwiches. These are my favorites.

  • Subway: You add as many veggies as you want.
  • Firehouse Subs: If I remember correctly, they used cooked onions and peppers, which are a lovely change of pace from all of the cold vegetable sandwiches.
  • Jimmy John's: Don't forget that you can add other veggies—listed here under "Freebies." Bonus points to them for having avocado on their veggie sandwich. Mmm mmm!
  • Potbelly Sandwich Works: They have a wonderful mushroom melt, found in their "Skinnys". It's basically a gourmet grilled cheese with the mushrooms providing actual lean protein and a bunch of vegetables. Because it's a "Skinny," it's a bit less than their regular sandwiches, so that's a plus. With mayo and oil/vinegar, I think it's a really tasty sandwich. They also have a Mediterranean sandwich, grilled cheese, and peanut butter and jelly. I'm not sure if the jelly has gelatin in it, so please be cautious about that sandwich.

These sandwich places are fine but not my favorite:

  • Jersey Mike's
  • Blimpie's
  • Cousins': Living in Milwaukee, I really wish I could figure out why people love these subs. The bread and veggies are nothing special.


Panera Bread

Panera Bread is known for its extensive menu and slightly expensive food. You don't go here every day; you go because you want something different. Plus, their bagels are pretty good. I mean, their asiago bagel ... am I right?

For breakfast, they also have fancy egg souffles, yogurt with granola, oatmeal, buttery pastries, egg sandwiches, and fruit cups. Their smoothies are great, and I believe you can add extras, like protein shots.

Of course, they have about three vegetarian sandwiches that they make on their freshly baked bread. With your sandwich, you can have one of their various soups, including a black bean and tomato florentine. Do be careful: some of their soups sound vegetarian, but they are not. One of their most popular soups is their broccoli cheese soup—which is not. It probably contains chicken broth or stock. Just be sure and look for their "V" symbol on their menu.

Their mac and cheese is a bit expensive, ($5 for a small, last time I check) but it's quite good. I was very surprised at how you could actually taste the white cheddar. Most places just advertise white cheddar and don't deliver. Their mac and cheese does. I have not tried their pasta as it is too expensive, so please let me know how it is.

Panera does have (GASP!) a few salads as well, but why when you have mac and cheese to try?


Au Bon Pain

This cafe is pretty similar to Panera. What impresses me though is the variety of soups with protein sources they have, including Tuscan white bean, black bean, and wild mushroom bisque.

Other options:

  • Bagels and other wonderful pastries
  • Breakfast sandwiches
  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt, fruit
  • Black bean burger
  • Caprese sandwich
  • Hummus and veggie wrap
Get some more vegetarian options and you might make the list next time!

Get some more vegetarian options and you might make the list next time!

Avoid These Restaurants

Unless you simply want fries or hash browns, these restaurants have no veggie options that I'm aware of:

  • Hardee's/Carl's Jr.
  • Dairy Queen: The ice cream may fill your heart, but not your stomach.
  • McDonald's: A lot of their breakfast is vegetarian, including their hotcakes, fruit and yogurt parfait, oatmeal, Egg McMuffin, no meat; and an egg burrito that you can ask for without sausage. You can get a salad there, but their fries are not safe—they're cooked in beef stock. McDonald's makes it on my avoid list as when I worked there, they were not terribly understanding of vegetarians. Besides their salad, you can get order a cheeseburger without the cheese, and they'll charge you the same price as a cheeseburger. That's not kosher in my book, but they are getting better thanks to the demand for veggie food.
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken: You can have macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and corn; that's it
  • Wendy's: baked potatoes, side salad
  • Taco John's
  • Sonic

© 2017 Lauren Sutton