I’m not a big fan of chain restaurants (unless they are SUPER AWESOME), but sometimes you’re with people and they want to eat at one, so you do what you have to do. Also, a lot of them have standardized menus with informative websites about ingredients, so you’ll know in advance what is vegan and what isn’t. Furthermore, I like to go to restaurants with few vegan options for two reasons: (1) I want to show that there is, in fact, a demand for vegan dishes in “mainstream” establishments and (2) I want to show my co-diners that vegan food is relatively easy to find, appetizing-looking, and delicious. I recruit future vegans one meal at a time. Anyways, on to the food.
Who doesn’t love chips and salsa? It is one of the things you can practically always order as a vegan. Now, the chips at Chili’s may not meet some people’s definition of “vegan” as they are fried in oil also used to fry other non-vegan foods (so are the fries). Not to delve too much into my personal politics, but I’m vegan to reduce animal suffering, and refusing these chips does nothing to stop the slaughter of animals for food, so the chips are fine by me. If you don’t like to eat food that may or may not have been deep fried right after chicken tenders, avoid the chips.
The salsa at Chili’s is really not that good. It’s quite runny, and it doesn’t really taste “fresh.” Still, it’s Chili’s; what did you expect? I like the chips because you can totally tell they were just fried mere moments before you were eating them, but ours had way too much salt.
I decided what to eat here based on an extremely informative post on the blog Vegan Restaurants Master List. They have a great post about Chili’s here. As you can see, that post is from 2007, but as far as I could tell from the questions I asked at the restaurant it still holds true. On my plate above is the following: pico de gallo, guacamole, corn on the cob, black beans, and rice. Off to the side of the picture (you can see them in the first photo of the post) is a dish of corn tortillas. I made myself some interesting taco-like constructions, but the tortillas kept breaking open (as corn tortillas are apt to do) and I got frustrated and just started eating stuff with a fork.
And now, for your reading pleasure, I shall break the meal down bite by bite. First, corn tortillas are weird. They don’t wrap the way that flour tortillas do and they split open and you get guacamole all over yourself (don’t ask how I know that). It seemed that the restaurant did the best they could to soften them, but they quickly got hard and icky. I would say don’t even bother. Second, the pico and guac are mediocre at best. I personally prefer a nice, chunky guacamole, and this was basically a puree. It didn’t taste fresh at all (likely because it wasn’t). But hey man, it’s Chili’s. Third, the corn on the cob was awesome. I was so pleasantly surprised. It was really sweet and tasted “grilled” if that makes any sense. It blew my mind. Make sure you order it with no oil or butter. If you pick the corn up and there is a pool of yellow liquid underneath it, that’s oil and butter, send it back. I know because this happened to me (not like the guacamole-tortilla-shirt mess, which totally did not). Finally, the beans and rice … the beans are not as awesome as many other black beans I’ve had, partially because the liquid they’re in is really thin and watery, but that rice. I could eat nothing but that rice for a week and be happy. I don’t know what they put in it but I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of crack cocaine. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Bottom line: if you’re sitting around asking yourself “where can I get some awesome vegan dinner tonight?” the answer is not “Chili’s.” But if your crazy uncle Phil is in town and change makes him act like he’s gone off his medication (or you just don’t want him to ask the waitress what “TAPE-nade” is), humor the man and go with him to Chili’s. Who knows, he might even want a bite of your delicious delicious vegan super rice. And you will tell him to back off because you need every last grain.
Multiple locations – they are everywhere!
Vegetarian Menu (PDF) – you may find this helpful in making a food choice. It’s a new addition to their website, which used to only have an extremely confusing and unhelpful allergen list.