Be it a café, diner, “American bistro,” or punnily named food truck found at that local brewery every Saturday: I am that vegetarian menu item you non-meat-eaters find during every dining-out venture.
And I’m about to disappoint the hell out of you.
Some restaurants put me on their menu after too many negative Yelp reviews, while most just did it by happenstance.
Whatever the reason for this gracious act of inclusivity, here I am! The unsatisfying meal you’re about to consume—guaranteed in its duration to make you consider at least pescetarianism—ranked from worst to best.
10. A Hummus Wrap
Restaurants love putting me on the menu because I can not only make the vegetarians happy, but also the vegans, the gluten-free, and the lactose intolerant. Okay, “happy” is a strong word. What’s the word for “this meets your dietary restrictions, so what the fuck are you complaining about?”
Ingredients: A light layer of hummus; perhaps a bit of balsamic drizzle; whatever vegetables the kitchen already has in stock including but not limited to carrots, lettuce, and a single slice of cucumber; and some sort of gluten-free wheat wrap that tastes like eerily like that sheet of notebook paper you were dared to eat in fourth grade.
9. A Side Salad
Sometimes I’m the only meat-free thing on the menu. A side salad. You know, the thing you order before your meal.
Ingredients: I don’t know, mostly just romaine and maybe a cherry tomato or two with some sort of balsamic or store-bought ranch on the side. I’m just on the menu for decoration, people are only really supposed to order me out of pre-entrée obligation.
8. A Meal Salad, but with Your Choice of Animal Protein on It
Sometimes the only other meat-free thing on the menu is a meal-sized salad, but what sets me apart from a side salad is the additional option of grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp. And maybe some craisins. And when you request to have the meat removed, they’ll still charge you full price so at least your bank account feels like you’re eating a real meal.
Ingredients: Yeah still mostly just some lettuce and tomatoes but no one is really supposed to pay attention to that because it’s technically just bedding for our warm grilled animal proteins.
7. A Grilled Cheese
When in doubt, put cheese on it. You vegetarians love cheese. And you love bread. But to make you feel like you’re eating a meal of substance, I’ve got two types of cheeses. Like cheddar. And provolone!
Ingredients: Bread. Two types of cheeses. Like cheddar and provolone.
6. A Kid’s Grilled Cheese
That’s right: I’m higher on the list than regular grilled cheese because at least I don’t try to be something I’m not. Which is a real meal for a real person.
Ingredients: American cheese with buttered and toasted white bread. And if you use the magic word, they’ll remove the crust.
5. Some French Fries
And then, hey, sometimes all you can really do is eat sides for dinner. But if you order ketchup and make a humorous comment about it being a vegetable, you can convince yourself that your meal is a little more well balanced than it actually is.
Ingredients: Some French fries.
4. The Soup of the Day
When you guys are really, really, really lucky, I’m a vegetarian soup of the day. And not like garden-vegetable-with-chicken-stock soup, or creamy-potato-with-tiny-bacon-bits soup. I’m like, actual vegetarian soup.
And when you’re really, really, really, really lucky… I’m not tomato.
Ingredients: Probably tomato, though, let’s be honest.
3. A Caprese Sandwich
When you see me on the menu, I’m here to show you vegetarians that this particular restaurant gets it. The chefs in this kitchen have way more exciting food options besides those standard salads-and-wraps, and your meal is about to get “caprese” (sorry).
Ingredients: Mozzarella cheese, tomato, a strip or two of basil, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction if it’s some sort of super fancy sandwich place, all on top of a toasted brioche bun that is guaranteed to cut your gums when you bite into it.
2. A Black Bean Burger
I came long before the Impossible Burger—you know, that plant-based burger that tastes, smells, and feels freakishly like a real beef burger—and I’m here to stay because mushing together black beans and flour is a lot cheaper than those $10-per-two-pack Impossible Burgers. But who cares?! If you add enough ketchup, I basically taste like a real burger.
Besides the fact that I’m the exact same consistency as the bun.
Ingredients: Some sort of soft black bean patty, some sort of soft bun, and ketchup (insert “it’s a vegetable” joke here).
In between the chicken Caesar salads and the duck fat fries and the Brussels sprouts with bacon, sometimes, literally, the only thing on the menu that hasn’t been tainted with meat is me. The molten brownie sundae. The tangy raspberry cheesecake. The cinnamon caramel apple crunch masterpiece.
And who doesn’t like dessert for dinner, especially when you’re an adult with things to do after this?
Ingredients: A whole bunch of sugar, just as long as that sugar did not come from a slaughtered animal.