Eating meatless in East County is easier than you might think

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East County has never been short on unique places to eat, and the amount of meat-free options has grown exponentially over recent years.

Whether committing to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle or just cutting down on meat intake, it is important to know where meat-free options are.

Offering vegetarian or vegan options at every eatery guarantees options for current East County residents and their potential dietary restrictions, as well as attracting new clientele. While definitions of particular dietary restrictions may vary, knowing where to eat and how much you can expect to pay is all part of being prepared.

Vegetarianism and veganism can be broken down into many categories, but the most general definitions are that vegetarians do not eat meat and vegans do not eat any animals or animal products (eggs, milk, and cheese).

Being a vegetarian myself for more than eight years, I have never encountered a restaurant that did not have a meatless option or would not work with me to create something delicious. Even the most unlikely places — like steakhouses — usually have a vegetarian option, or will craft something from already-there ingredients to better fit your dietary desires.

Most assume that if a meal was not cooked with meat, it is vegetarian. While this technically fits the definition, it is important to inquire further, and find out whether chicken or vegetable stock was used as the base for the soup you want.

Dissecting each ingredient in a meal may not matter if you are trying to eat less meat. If you are making the switch to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, be wary, ask questions and do your research to avoid getting sick.

Certain restaurants are a sure thing: they clearly mark their menu with vegetarian or vegan symbols. Some eateries offer multiple meal substitutions, or can be made without the meat. Whether you want a salad, veggie burger or pizza, there is a meatless option out there. The more popular substituting or leaving out meat becomes, the more options there will be in the future.

Crafted Greens, which labels itself as a fresh and organic eatery in El Cajon, offers meat and meat-free plates. Their menu, which labels the items that can be requested vegan, includes sandwiches, salads and flatbreads. The customer can request vegan cheese as a substitution, and even switch to gluten free bread for an additional $1.50. This newer locale, open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (open until 8 p.m. on Sundays), offers family meals, catering, and most importantly they have a variety of desserts! Once you visit this place and try the amazing variety of fresh, hand-crafted delights you will not have to wonder why this eatery is rated five stars across the board.

Luna Grill, which has locations all across Southern California, offers Mediterranean fare where almost every plate can be made sans meat or made with falafel instead. This unique restaurant presents a multitude of fresh foods, such as soups, salads, wraps, and kabobs. The menu has vegetarian and vegan options clearly marked, so anyone looking to eat less meat can easily find an item they can try.

There are various locations, but the Luna Grill located in Rancho San Diego is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays (or until 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday), so it is the perfect location to stop in for a healthy, fresh lunch or dinner after enjoying a movie or while shopping and running errands.

If you’re craving authentic Mexican food, Hacienda Casa Blanca in El Cajon offers meals that can easily be made vegetarian. This restaurant’s whole and refried beans are made without lard, meaning vegetarians and vegans alike can enjoy them, with or without their homemade salsa or guacamole.

Hacienda Casa Blanca even has its own vegetarian section! The choices include a veggie burrito, potato tacos, and my all-time favorite, veggie fajitas. Veggie fajitas are always a great choice because you can make them your own way, putting as much of each ingredient as you like on the flour or corn tortilla of your choosing.

The Hacienda Casa Blanca also boasts a full bar room, though the restaurant itself is kid-friendly and great for big parties. The restaurant’s hours vary: Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (when their champagne brunch usually takes place), Monday through Wednesday they are open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The hours of operation on Thursday and Friday are 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. With those hours, you are sure to have a chance to enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a drink at any time you like, with or without meat!

Forgoing the meat in your favorite meals would usually mean that the price would decrease. It makes sense, you are removing an item from your meal, it should be less expensive.

While that is typically the case, I urge you to look at price substitutions if you are planning to eat new items or at a new place. Occasionally, the price stays the same whether or not you receive meat with your meal.

Keeping the price the same (and potentially even lowering it) when you are adding a vegetarian or vegan substitute in place of meat, like tofu or falafel, should become more common as less meat is consumed.

Converting all meat-eaters into vegetarians or vegans is not necessarily the end goal. Less meat consumption (and healthier options in general) leads to more benefits in every realm: less damage to the environment, lower food costs, and better health for the nation at large. With new, hip places popping up and more restaurants adding meatless options in East County, it seems like leaving the meat out is becoming more and more commonplace.

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