Beans Not Beef: Vegan Eating at Mexican Restaurants

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Are you trying to boot the beef and get more beans into your diet?  There are oodles of reasons why you might want to (see the video above and “Why You Should Eat More Beans” by Dr. Michael Greger).  Buuuuuutttt, there are some practical, everyday issues aren’t there?  Let’s face it, you live a busy life.  There’s no slow cooker in your car (or app for one on your phone).  And sometimes you just plain want someone else to cook and clean up.  Right?  Be honest.  So the question becomes, “How do you get your beans when you eat out at restaurants?”

In this series of posts, you’re going to get the step-by-step skinny on ordering beans at different types of ethnic restaurants.  This post will focus on Mexican restaurants, and future posts will look at Mediterranean and Chinese eateries (and maybe some others).


Let’s start with getting your beans, vegan-style, at Mexican restaurants.  In most cases, since beans are such a staple of Mexican cuisine, it’s pretty easy to find them on the menu – usually in the form of pinto beans, black beans, and refried beans.  To make things really specific for discussion below, we’ll use the menu from a Chipotle restaurant.  (But feel free to follow along using the menu from your own favorite, local, Mexican hangout.  Here’s one from our preferred spot, Los Chiludos).

If you’re not familiar with Chipotle, it operates like many sandwich shops.  You place your order at one end, then you work your way down the glass counter, pointing at the ingredients you want to add to your basic selection.  Suppose you order the Veggie Burrito Bowl at Chipotle.  As you walk down the counter, you choose your rice (white is alright, but brown wears the crown, nutrition-wise), then your beans (pinto or black – or ask for some of each.  I do.)  Next, you can add some fajita veggies (grilled peppers and onions).  To top things off, you might include some lettuce, some salsa (I like the the corn variety), and maybe some guacamole (if you’re not trying to lose weight).

Beans Not Beef - Vegan Eating Mexican Restaurant

Veggie Burrito Bowl Nutrition Info – Click to expand

That’s it – you’ve chosen beans not beef at a Mexican fast-food restaurant!  If you want to dive into more details (and you know you do), check out Chipotle’s nutrition calculator.  It’s really easy to compare calories, carbs, fat, and fiber for your veggie burrito bowl to a steak version from your old carnivore lifestyle.  You’ll see that you’re adding significant fiber and good carbs, subtracting fat and cholesterol, while still getting plenty of protein.  At right is a screen shot of the veggie burrito bowl results from the calculator.  But it’s not the numbers that make this meal really fabu.  For me, it’s the “whole” thing – all the pieces parts look like they did when they came out of the field.  The beans look like beans.  The rice looks like rice.  The veggies look like veggies.  Nothing has been processed or pulverized into unrecognizable oblivion.

Transparency & Challenges

The transparency of Chipotle (both at the counter and via the online nutrition calculator) is great for making informed choices.  But what do you do at your local, family-owned, Mexican restaurant where the food is cooked in the back and the only info on the web site is the phone number to call for take-out?  First, and most important, you need to screw up your courage and ASK – about everything!  For example, are the beans cooked in chicken broth, beef broth, or water? Or lard?  Always ask to hold the cheese and sour cream to create a vegan version.  If you’re really struggling to find something on the menu, you can often create a healthy combo of side dishes.  I bet you’ll find that you can be very satisfied with side plates of beans, rice, and veggies.  It might even become your standard order.  For some more general suggestions on eating out, see “Vegging Out“.

What other challenges do you face at Mexican restaurants?  Do you have questions about particular items or a specific menu?  Please leave a comment to share with me and others.  I would love to hear how you get more beans, not beef.

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