Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eatin' Vegan at On the Border

I don't usually opt for chain restaurants, especially since Memphis is packed with decent veg-friendly indie restaurant options. But sometimes you just find yourself inside a chain joint — either for a work function, a family birthday, whatever. I first found myself at On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina after my boyfriend Paul got a job there months ago.

I wanted to be supportive and try the food where he worked. Plus, my parents were in town and they adore Mexican whether it comes from a chain or not. In the small Arkansas town where my parents live, chain restaurants far outnumber indie-owned places anyway. They don't think much of chain versus mom-and-pop. As long as the food tastes good, they're happy.

When we got to On the Border, my boyfriend (a server at the time, now a bartender there) told his manager that I was vegan. And lo and behold, the manager produced this "secret" vegetarian menu!

Sorry for the blurry photo, but I took it with my iPhone. As you can see, most of the options are vegetarian rather than vegan. But cheese can be left off most of these dishes with no problem (like the burrito, veggie enchiladas, nachos, veggie chimichanga, and the fajitas and fajitas salad). On the Border even has special animal-free Cilantro Lime Rice and Black Beans as an alternative to their non-vegan Mexican rice and refried beans:

The Veggie Fajitas are out of this world with portabella mushrooms, squash, onions, peppers, guacamole, salsa, and homemade flour tortillas (Yes, they're vegan! And they make 'em fresh in a tortilla press in the kitchen):

My all-time favorite dish, though, is the Grilled Avocado Enchiladas, which I had tonight at a birthday dinner with my girlfriends:

These normally come with cheese, but it's easy to omit. Avocados are nature's cheese anyway! The sliced avos are topped with ranchero sauce (also vegan) and rolled into grilled tortillas.

Of course, no Mexican meal is complete without guacamole and On the Border offers Guacamole Live — fresh dip made right at your table with real avocados and all the fixins. Here's the boyfriend workin' that guacamole magic:

And I wouldn't dream of eating at a Mexican place without a margarita! OTB offers a Skinny Margarita with only 100 calories! That definitely beats the typical 400 to 500 calorie regular margs:

So all this is to say, don't knock the corporate joints until you've scoped out their veg options. A friend of mine years ago warned me to never eat at On the Border because they didn't have anything for vegetarians. Boy was she wrong! I'd still prefer independently-owned restaurants for most of my dining-out experiences, but I make exception for OTB thanks to its' awesome options.

Question: Do you ever eat at chain restaurants? If so, where and what do you typically order?

24 comments:

Kris said...

Chipotle.

There, I said it.

I feel like it's a sin to live in Portland and eat at a chain, but sometimes it's convenient and I like to get the vegan burrito bowl and eat it with chips.

Back in my non-veg days we used to eat at OtB a lot, it's good to know they have vegan options! There is one by my work that sometimes comes up as a location for business lunches.

Cora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cora said...

My friends wanted to explore different vegan foods. I hope one day we can find time to visit your place. I tried to eat in a vegan restaurant last week. The menus there are absolutely good, and their veggies are truly fresh. The only problem that we've encountered in the restaurant is slow service. I can't blame the crew because there are lots of people at that time. I think every restaurant should have a good paging system so service crew can avoid forgetting orders of their customer. Through the use of restaurant pagers, we customers can easily get the attention of one of the crew.

Rick said...

the problem with chain restaurants that keeps me away is that i never where they source ingredients. having vegan options is great, don't get me wrong, but i'd REALLY like to know if my tomato is flown all the way from Cali or if it's from a local organic or chemical-free farm. after reading reports of fecal matter, insects, and other things in chain restaurant vegetables, i just find a lot more peace of mind by eating at home.

we probably eat out for dinner 2-3 times a month, at places we know source local. And our local Mexican haunt, Mad Mex, has an amazing 10-page menu that can totally be made vegan by substituting vegan cheese and vegan sour cream! Check this out http://www.madmex.com/regions/pittsburgh/menus/mainmenu.shtml

foodfeud said...

No, I very rarely eat out and when I do, it's definitely not at a chain restaurant. I'm always afraid of non-vegan ingredients making it into the food, either accidentally or out of lack of care or understanding (butter's vegan, right?) or downright disregard. I feel like this is more apt to happen at a chain restaurant especially, where a lot of the food is pre-made.
A lot of it might be my fault in that I hate to ask and beg and make sure that all food is REALLY vegan (no, butter's not vegan and soy cheese isn't always either...).

It's nice that you knew someone who worked there who could work the back for you, but I really would never trust any restaurant without that.

Eating out, too much stress.

T said...

Oh my god my ex-boyfriend used to work there and boy did he hate "guacamole live" presentations. Other than that, seemed like a pretty cool place to work.

A lot of chain restaurants have secret vegan options if you ask for them! That avocado quesadilla look kickass!

The Kuntrageous Vegan said...

um oh my god; that grilled avocado enchilada looks like something I need to try to recreate at home. What was inside of it..it looks like some sort of hot sauce or something.

Lauren said...

confession, i LOVE on the border. i am actually kind of sad that philly doesn't have one. i never knew about the secret veggie menu though, i need to scope that out!

Babette said...

Such nice food!

I don't typically eat at chains, and when I do, all I can usually eat is salads, potatoes, fries or cheeseless pizza or pasta with tomato sauce (when those options are vegan of course).

Other than than, we have a lot of Lebanese fast food joints in Montreal, and I order a vegetarian pita or plate there.

Amanda @ Hungry Vegan Traveler said...

I had a coupon for free queso dip on my birthday, which I promptly handed over to my friends and I enjoyed a margarita instead. I skimmed through their menu out of curiosity and did not find a vegetarian menu. I didn't even bother to ask because I'm so used to chain restaurants just not having anything like that! Now I'm interested in going back just to try it out!

I don't eat at any chain restaurants with any frequency. I'm vegan and I have a wheat sensitivity (no sammiches or pasta), so that really limits my options. Plus, I find chain restaurants overcharge veg meals, especially salads, when I've requested to have half of the ingredients taken off. Pfft!

totefullofveggies said...

Ahhh...I love On the Border. I don't usually eat at chain restaurants myself, but OTB is pretty good. Plus, my parents love it.

It's actually a tad bit sad that my city doesn't have one.

jessy said...

the only chain we frequent is chipotle. i'd say we go maybe once a month or so. i get a naked bowl and dan gets a burrito. so yum!

that's awesome of you and your family to check out the place Paul's working - and hooooooray for a secret veggie menu that's easily veganizable. gotta love that! the mushies fajitas look scrumptious and those grilled avocado enchiladas = heavenly! table made guac is the awesomest! :D

Jess of Midwest Vegan said...

Yep. I'm all about Chipotle too. I used to work there and I know for a fact what is vegan and what is not (and I actually converted to veganism while working there).

They also use separate pots and utensils for the vegan items and no animal products ever touch the fryer (yay chips!), just in case you were wondering. :)

I live near and small town <75000 (which makes it sounds like it should have some culture, but it's the Midwest and everyone is old here, so it doesn't) and there isn't anywhere really for me to eat, other than said Chipotle (which is still kind of new). In fact, this town is notorious for how many restaurants it has but they're all typical Midwest fare-type chains, so I rarely eat out.

I always have to tell them to leave the butter off my steamed veggies and they look at me like I'm nuts. I also hate paying full price for a salad when half the stuff is gone!

Eric said...

haha we use to go to OTB soo much in Texas... never seen the veggie menu but was happy when i found out the tortillas, fries, and cilantro lime vinaigrette was vegan :)

shelby said...

I worship Chipotle. It's so good. There was a time during senior year when I went there like 3x a week! I'm going tonight (:

The Shenandoah Vegan said...

Great ad for On The Border. I've only been once many years ago, and you've almost convinced me to give it another try.

Erin said...

I try to avoid chain restaurants, but don't put up a fuss if someone else wants to eat at one. I ate at On The Border a few times back when I lived in Gainesville, and was actually really impressed with the server's knowledge of what was vegan and what wasn't. I do particularly remember getting the veggie fajitas one time, and they were awesome!

Jessica said...

I don't actively avoid chains. My favorites are Chipotle (like everyone else, apparently!) and PF Changs.

That avocado enchilada looks amazing! I don't like that the vegetarian menus is secret though: what if you don't ask? Maybe they have a note that a veg menu is available on request.

Velovegan said...

Mmmmm cocktails! ^_^ Those enchilladas look gooood!

Tanya said...

Wow, this is great to know. When we're on the road we often have to stop at chain restaurants. We've stopped at Cracker Barrels mostly, but all I can eat is the baked potato, salad, or oatmeal. And well, Ruby Tuesday's is great for the salad bar. I usually try to research veggie places first, in our destination.

River (Wing-It Vegan) said...

A secret vegetarian menu? Oooh that sounds very Area 51! All restaurants that serve Mexican food should be at least vegetarian friendly - beans+rice+sauce = win! So many of them cook their rice in chicken broth or add lard to their beans. It's silly, business-wise!

I would totally eat at chain restaurants if it wasn't for the germaphobia...

Lindsay said...

Love your blog! Just stumbled upon it. I'm a new vegan (6 weeks) and live in Nashville. I'm also combating the Southern food and culture. I love your ideas! And thanks for posting the link to Vida Vegan Con. I wouldn't have known about it otherwise, and I think I might just go up there for it!

vegannifer said...

I wish that menu wasn't a secret! It's been years since I've eaten at On The Border, but I remember having a bad experience last time I was there and it was related to lack of veg options.

My family and I eat at Noodles and Company ALL. THE. TIME. Seriously, sometimes twice a week (which is a lot of eating out for us)!. They have so many vegan options, but my daughters are NUTS about their mac and cheese. Anyway, it's a place we can go where everyone is happy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this info I had no idea what I was going to order.