Olive Garden's Salad Is Technically Vegan, But There's A Catch

Vegan diners often find it difficult to dine out, especially at fast-food restaurants and fast-casual chains. Though there are more vegan options than ever before on restaurant menus, the pickings are still slim. And frequently, the offerings are simply doctored-up versions of existing menu items with meat and dairy products removed. But when it comes to Olive Garden, vegans have good news — the classic Olive Garden salad we all know and love is actually vegan. 

However, that exciting revelation comes with an important caveats: namely, that the salad is vegan without croutons and dressing. If you want a vegan salad, Olive Garden will substitute olive oil and balsamic vinegar in place of its standard house dressing. If you're okay with making this substitution (and foregoing the croutons and grated parmesan), you can still load up on that unlimited salad goodness before your meal. (Those delicious breadsticks are vegan, too, surprisingly.)

What's in Olive Garden's dressing?

Olive Garden's salad dressing is an Italian dressing, so it might come as a surprise to hear that it isn't vegan. Most of the time, Italian dressings are naturally vegan, as they simply contain oil, vinegar, and aromatics, such as garlic, herbs, and spices. However, Olive Garden's house dressing contains dairy: namely, Romano cheese. The cheese is whisked directly into the dressing, discounting it from the vegan menu. The croutons are also seasoned with Romano cheese, so the vegan version of the Olive Garden salad must forego the crunch as well.

As for the unlimited breadsticks, it may be hard to imagine how something so buttery-tasting can be dairy-free. However, Olive Garden does't use butter on its breadsticks, opting for a vegan spread instead. Vegans can enjoy these treats freely and without asking for any substitutions (just be mindful of which sauces you dip your sticks in).

Other vegan options at Olive Garden

Beyond appetizers, vegans have a few options when dining at Olive Garden. The chain's minestrone soup is vegan, as are most of its pastas. The chain's angel hair, fettuccine, rigatoni, small shells, spaghetti, and the gluten-free rotini are all vegan. For sauces, though, the options are much more limited. The marinara and tomato sauce are both vegan, but that's it. 

The dessert menu is still more limited; Olive Garden has no vegan desserts. You can order a helping of the restaurant's raspberry sauce (typically served with the warm Italian donuts), but you'll have to eat it with a spoon instead of dipping.

Despite the few vegan options, if you love Olive Garden for its soup and salad, you'll be set with a warm bowl of minestrone and unlimited salad and breadsticks. Just be sure to indicate to your server that you want the vegan version of the salad so they can make the necessary substitutions for you.