Eating Out? 3 Reasons Why Seeking Beyond Meat Gets You Better Food

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A couple years ago, I took a trip to San Francisco with my family. Before going, a friend asked me about where I was planning to eat in the Bay Area. Having already done some research, I excitedly rolled out a list of pizza and seafood joints I had read positive reviews for.

My friend returned a peculiar look on his face. “There’s not much out there in San Francisco, then, huh?” he asked.

That’s when I noticed something. I didn’t mention any options for meat, such as Halal restaurants. As such, he thought I was not going to have a very good eating experience overall. In other words, no meat, no good eats.

The thing is, my wife and toddler son at the time actually did eat some excellent food in San Francisco. We enjoyed Neapolitan pizza, gourmet doughnuts, authentic San Francisco sourdough, memorable breakfasts, and great coffee. And while we did hit up some Halal restaurants, we still had some real good eats without really consuming much meat at all.

That’s because when I go out to eat, I don’t only look for Halal meat. I look for good food period, be it with meat or without. By seeking beyond meat you get better food. Here’s why.

1. You get more options

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The pan bagnat tuna sandwich and cheddar soup from Toni Patisserie in the Loop in Chicago. [Photography: Saqib Shafi, unless otherwise noted]

Sure, Halal meat has become increasingly available at restaurants in many cities across the country. But if you only search for restaurants based on whether or not they serve Halal chicken, beef, or lamb, you’re still ultimately limited in what you can eat. By including vegetarian and seafood in your searches, you can find a lot more food to eat.

This is what led me to finding one of the best sandwiches for Halal eaters in the Chicago Loop, the pan bagnat, a tuna sandwich from Toni Patisserie near Millennium Park.

No one really seeks out a tuna sandwich, a meal that’s usually considered the boring fall-back option for Halal eaters. But this sandwich isn’t about the fish; it only uses a modest amount of tuna. Its main appeal is the most important aspect of a good sandwich, the bread. All their sandwiches are served on authentic baguettes baked at the French Pastry School of Chicago. The baguettes are so good, they actually almost taste meaty by themselves. Together with the tuna, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, onion, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, and spring greens, this is one the best eats I’ve found while working in the Loop. Sure, I could get a Halal burger at a few joints from around there. But, honestly, this sandwich is straight up just better.

They key is to redefine your idea of Halal. Halal encompasses all food made permissible to eat by God, including vegetarian and seafood. Understand it this way and you’ll find a lot more options to choose from.

2. You eat more of the best food in town

Classic chocolate frosted cake doughnut from World’s Best Doughnuts in St. Louis.

Classic chocolate frosted cake doughnut from World’s Best Doughnuts in St. Louis.

Every city or town has its own signature regional dishes many of which are vegetarian or seafood. Other times, they’re desserts, pastries, or breakfast items. Each of these icons tells its own story and gives you something to write home about.

Most Halal places are typically ethnic Muslim establishments. If you only to eat at those places, you’ll miss out on the little pieces of history that come with a region’s food. By seeking out these local dishes, however, you experience the culture of a region itself. Think of it like a museum exhibit in your own town or city you’re visiting, only in a delicious, edible form.

Take the doughnut scene in St. Louis, for example. While the city is known for its contentious take on pizza, it has an established history of old school doughnut shops. We visited a number of them while there. All of them were good, but World’s Fair Doughnuts stood out the best, offering no non-sense classic American doughnuts. We ate so many that lunch at a Halal place with meat wasn’t needed. And that wasn’t a problem. We just had some of the best doughnuts in the nation.

3. You eat better food

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The world famous DiFara pizza in Brooklyn. [Photo: Adam Kuban]

Meat is delicious and easy to make good. But if food at a restaurant is isn’t good on its own without meat, consider eating somewhere else.

For example, you could eat a pizza from a place that covers it in Halal gyro meat. But would you ever eat pizza from there without that salty, fatty, spicy meat? If not, invest your caloric intake elsewhere. Search for pizza that’s made with artisan-style fermented dough, fresh house made tomato sauce, top quality cheese, and expertly baked to an optimal balance of tender slices and crispy charred crust. You’ll end up eating a completely great pizza, not a mostly mediocre pizza with an easy to like topping. No meat, but better eats.

This is the mantra by which we hope you’ll approach eating out. It may take some getting used to, but with this method, you’ll be able to find great options in any city even if Halal options aren’t that many or very good.

While every meal may not have meat, more importantly, every meal will be great.

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