“I want my babyback, babyback, babyback …” Can you name the jingle? Chili’s seared the tune into our heads for years while promoting its famed baby back ribs. So what’s a vegan to eat at a restaurant known for barbecue-slathered rib cages? Actually, plenty.
The next time you’re seated in a plush red booth or hightop with a giant chili anchored on the wall in front of you, pull up this guide to order the best vegan food at Chili’s.
How to order vegan when dining out
Before diving into the specifics of the Chili’s restaurant menu, it helps to know what to look for when seeking out vegan options at non-vegan eateries.
The first tier is to look for a vegan menu—some chains and quite a few independent establishments offer a dedicated menu for plant-based patrons. The second tier is dedicated vegan items. Each company signifies these animal-free options differently—V, VG, Vegan, or a carrot or leaf icon are the most common. Scan the bottom of the menu to look for the key and ensure the icon stands for vegan, not vegetarian.
Chili’s doesn’t offer a dedicated vegan menu, but it does offer a vegan/vegetarian/allergen menu online that indicates vegan-as-is items and denotes common allergens.
When a restaurant does not label its vegan-friendly items, that’s when you need to get creative and ask for help. First, look at the sides. These are often vegetable or grain-based and are naturally vegan or can be modified as such. Steamed or roasted vegetables, fries, side salads, beans, and more are usually fair game. All of these options are available at Chili’s, making it easy to cobble together a filling meal if you can’t find a satisfying entrée option.
After scanning the sides, look at the salads, but don’t get your hopes up. Many colossal chain restaurants (like Chili’s) go heavy on the meat and cheese for their entreé salads, and putting a plant-based spin on them may reduce a $20 salad down to sad lettuce. Modify to the best of your ability by removing any animal products, choosing a vegan dressing, and omitting croutons (they often contain dairy).
Priscilla Du Preez
The best strategy when assessing an omnivore menu is to go back to your food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein in the form of beans, tofu, or plant-based meats. Find these items, ensure they’re not paired with animal ingredients, and you can hack your way through any menu.
A note of importance: once you decide on your order and modifications, tell your server you are vegan and double-check that your request is free from animal products.
Looking at the menu and not seeing a single vegan thing? Ask the chef. Some chefs are more than happy to accommodate a vegan diet. You’re more likely to encounter a flexible chef in an independently owned, table service restaurant as opposed to a fast-casual or a large chain, but it never hurts to ask. Some people may pleasantly surprise you.
The next time you find yourself at Chili’s, check out these options for a vegan-friendly meal.
The Chili’s menu is a bit of a chain restaurant smorgasbord. The eclectic selection brings to mind a taste of Outback Steakhouse, On the Border, and TGI Friday’s. As such, you’ll find Tex-Mex staples such as guacamole and chips and salsa—all of which are vegan.
Every salad at Chili’s comes with meat, cheese, or a combination of the two, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a vegan green here. For a salad that has a little more to it than just chopped lettuce, opt for the Santa Fe Salad (no cheese, chicken, ranch, or Santa Fe sauce). Request a side of the Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette and avocado to add even more substance to your bowl of greens.
If you’re looking for something basic to accompany a larger main, the House Salad made with romaine, tomatoes, red onion, and cucumbers is vegan when ordered with no croutons or cheese.
3 Big Mouth Burgers
Chili’s has some work to do in the burger department. But it does now offer a vegan burger bun and one vegan black bean patty, which is great progress. You can also order the Mushroom Swiss Burger, which comes with sautéed onions, mushrooms, lettuce, and tomato, without the mayo and the Swiss cheese.
Chili’s used to offer a Black Bean & Veggie Fajita, but this has been removed from the menu. However, for a completely plant-based sizzling skillet, ask to modify the Chicken Fajitas, instead. You can swap the chicken for one of the chain’s vegan black bean patties, and don’t forget to take off the dairy-based sauces and cheese, too.
5 Bowl Hacks
You won’t find a menu subsection with this title, but if you look under the Chicken & Seafood section, you’ll find the Chipotle Bowl. It’s layered with field greens, Mexican rice, pico de gallo, corn salsa, avocado, cilantro, and tortilla strips—all of which are vegan-friendly. Just request no meat, pesto, cheese, or ranch, and you’ve got yourself a flavorful rice bowl. Add Mango Habanero Sauce for a fruity accent.
Chili’s isn’t a steakhouse, but it does offer steakhouse-adjacent sides. Vegan options include steamed broccoli, plain corn on the cob, roasted asparagus, and fries. Ask for a side of the House BBQ Sauce (which is vegan) for dipping. On the Tex-Mex side, the corn and flour tortillas, Mexican rice, black beans, grilled avocado, guacamole, salsa, and pico de gallo are vegan as well. You could easily build your own tacos from that hearty spread.