It’s summer: the time of year when people are often inspired to jump in the car or hop on an airplane and head for parts unknown. Travel is fun and exciting, and occasionally exhausting but always a learning experience. And one of the greatest joys of traveling is finding the perfect café or restaurant, and sampling the local cuisine.
However, for vegetarians, that’s not always so easy. Whether you are on the road to a favorite US city or resort area, headed across the big pond to savor old world delights, or just doing special days trips or a wonderful “staycation,” a vegetarian’s best friends are your computer, tablet or smart phone, and an internet connection. A little pre-trip research on some veg-centric and travel websites will uncover a trove of veg-friendly choices that will often take you away from the chains and tourist spots and allow you to have an even more authentic travel experience.
Here are a few of my favorites – and for purposes of fun and curiosity, I going to pretend I’m a visitor to Buck’s County and see if they point me to any hidden gems!
HappyCow.net – This is the mother of all vegetarian dining sites, sponsored by PETA. It uses local “ambassadors” to submit listings, and then anyone can write a review. It tags each restaurant as vegan, vegetarian or veg-friendly, which indicates that both vegetarians and carnivores will feel at home.
Pros: Happy Cow asks if it can determine your location, then serves up the closest restaurants without you having to do anything. It provides the address, phone number and a brief description. Hours are also plainly visible, which is very helpful.
Cons: Misses some of the “veg-friendly” options because people don’t always think to submit them. Occasionally misses links to the actual restaurant websites, making it difficult to view the menus.
Rating from the “Tourist in Bucks” perspective: Moderately helpful. It showcases local dinner stars like Blue Sage (Southampton), and Sprig and Vine (New Hope); as well as Doc Baker’s Formulations (Doylestown) the very popular vegan juice bar that is a great choice for breakfast, lunch and take-out (I’m seeing a picnic on the lawn at the Tileworks!)
Unfortunately, the site’s listing of veg-friendly restaurants contains a few that work at only the most basic level, think veggie burgers and salads. I always wish that Happy Cow had a system to highlight conventional restaurants that offer more creative meatless fare. (Which, actually, is one of the main reasons I write for Bucks County Taste!)
Vegetarian Resource Group (www.vrg.org) – Managed by the Vegetarian Resource Group, this site list lots of great information on nutrition, shopping and events, as well as a very understandable vegetarian restaurant guide.
Pros: The site has a robust listing of restaurants in major cities; it is more limited in the surrounding areas. It also has a page with links to blog posts and questions about vegetarian and vegan options at fast food and casual chain restaurants. Lots of great info, but not clearly summarized.
Cons: The main guide does a good job of highlighting restaurants that serve only vegetarian and or vegan food. It does not, however, list places that are veg-friendly but do serve meat. It also only lists cities in US and Canada; if you are headed overseas, you will need to search elsewhere.
Rating from the “Tourist in Bucks” perspective: Fair. The site only lists 3 Bucks County towns: New Hope, Doylestown, and Southampton, so it misses many of the smaller communities and, as stated before, all of the veg-friendly, but totally vegetarian/vegan restaurants.
VegGuide.org – As their website states, this is a world wide, community-maintained guide to veg-friendly restaurants and shopping. And it, too, relies on contributors to build and maintain the site. Individual restaurant listings are well designed to offer all the info you need as a traveler including neighborhood, hours, directions (there’s even a map tab for easier navigation) price categories and credit cards accepted. You can also print a summary sheet by city to tuck into your travel bag.
Pros: Beautifully designed and easy to navigate. Tags restaurants as vegetarian, vegan or vegetarian-friendly, and also lists grocery stores, bakeries and delis that sell vegetarian items. There is even a separate list of online retailers who offer everything from cruelty-free skin care products to vegan chocolates and soy ice cream.
Cons: About a quarter of the listings appear to have been added early in the development of the site (early-mid 2000s) and have never been rated or updated, so it is impossible to know if that restaurant is still open unless you visit the website and/or confirm via Google, Yelp or similar search engine.
Rating from the “Tourist in Bucks” perspective: Good. Although it is not possible to search by county, you can start by entering the name of a town and select a radius of 5, 10, even 20 miles and get a total perspective. Bucks choices I found here but not on other sites include Canal Street Grill, a lovely veg-friendly Greek café in Yardley, and Caffe Galleria in Lambertville, one of my favorite veg-friendly haunts.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s Trip Advisor. It is a virtual treasure trove of information on everything related to travel including hotels, airlines, resorts, restaurants and, of course, where to find the best vegetarian food. I will not bore readers with a further description of that site, because if there’s a travel-lover out there who isn’t familiar with Trip Advisor… you don’t own a computer and therefore, I’ve penned this blog entry for naught. Here’s to delicious and compassionate travel!