Recently I ate lunch with one of my BFFs, Vicky. Dining out with her is always an interesting adventure – she doesn’t eat gluten, and I don’t eat meat. We both make ourselves tiresome and sometimes even frightening to waiters inquiring about sauces and broths and requesting modifications to our orders. Interestingly, we have found that many of the places that cater to vegetarians and vegans also offer gluten free choices.
One of these restaurants is the chain P.F.Changs, which has no doubt enjoyed much of its success due to accomodating those with special diets. No MSG and a large gluten-free section on their menu. As for vegetarian/vegan items – first, let me clear up some misconceptions or “urban rumors” (always common with the big chain restaurants). Google P.F. Changs and you’ll come up with lots of stories about “the vegetarian dishes all have fish sauce/chicken broth” and “the waiter told me the only vegan dish was Buddha’s Delight!” I checked with Corporate and here’s the story. All of the vegetarian dishes are prepared with vegetarian sauces – no meat broths or fish/oyster sauce. There are no eggs, dairy, or honey in any of their vegetarian dishes. Some coconut milks have casein (a milk protein) added, but the coconut milks they use do not. However, they do use refined white sugar, which may or may not have been processed with bone char. If refined sugar is a concern for you, then the only items guaranteed to be absolutely vegan is the endamame and the steamed Buddha’s Feast.
The gluten free and vegetarian dishes are all to be made in a clean pan with clean cooking utensils to avoid cross-contamination – a nice touch! P.F. Changs is a large chain with many cooks, so I’m not sure it happens EVERY time – but it’s *supposed* to.
Vicky and I visited the P.F. Changs at Phillips Place. Both the person who seated us and our regular waitress took the news very well when I dropped the bomb a gluten and a vegan were dining. In fact, they hardly seemed scared at all! They were both very knowledgable, and both pointed out menu choices and different sauces we should be aware of or avoid.
The options for vegetarians?
For appetizers, I recommend the Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps – light and tasty, just something a little different. They also have vegetarian springs rolls and endamame. Beware of the crispy green beans – they are not vegetarian – I’m thinking there must be egg in the batter.
Vegetarian entrees include Coconut Curry Vegetables (my favorite, a nice assortment of veggies in a flavorful cocunut milk and curry sauce). I always ask them to make it extra spicy, and they do! They also have Stir Fried Eggplant, which I don’t care for – but I’m not a fan of eggplant. Buddha’s Feast – aka mixed Chinese vegetables with baked tofu – again, a nice assortment of veggies you can order stir fried or steamed. Ma Po Tofu – excellent with a garlic chili sauce. And Vegetarian Fried Rice – which I’ve never had.
They also have a number of vegetarian side dishes. (An aside – I really HATE places that try to pass off side dishes as vegetarian entrees. I mean, does anyone really want to eat spicy broccoli or spinach in garlic sauce as their entree and entire meal? Pleeeeeeaase!) Sichaun Style Asparagus, Asian Tomato Cucumber Salad, Spicy Green Beans, Shanghai Cucumbers, Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic, and Garlic Snap Peas are your options.
All of their desserts are meatless, but all contain dairy/eggs.
Overall, I give P.F. Changs an A for effort. Personally, I prefer some of the local Asian “fusion” restaurants for quality, cost, taste, and variety, but for a chain restaurant P.F. Changs does an impressive job!!!
Two locations in Charlotte – Phillip’s Place and Northlake Mall