A Vegan's Guide to Olive Garden: Best Menu Options, Swaps, and More

Olive Garden

Photos courtesy of Olive Garden. Illustration by Treehugger / Catherine Song

Olive Garden doesn't have an extensive menu of vegan options. However, some of their most beloved items are vegan, including the minestrone soup and the unlimited salad and breadsticks (with a few modifiers).

Beyond the handful of vegan dishes on the menu, your best bet is to use the Cucina Mia option to build your own pasta entree. Cucina Mia makes it easy to create your own vegan-friendly meal.

Here are our top picks and recommendations for vegan diners at Olive Garden.

Olive Garden's Definition of Vegan

Olive Garden defines vegan as not including animal meat, stock, gelatin, rennet, or ingredients derived from animals, including honey. Keep in mind that cross-contamination with animal products during preparation or cooking is possible, particularly for fried dishes.

Top Pick: Minestrone Soup

This vegan classic comes packed with fresh vegetables (think zucchini, carrots, onion, and celery), beans, and pasta in a light tomato broth. Olive Garden’s version of minestrone is just as hearty as any, making it the perfect dish for fueling up on healthy vegetables without feeling unsatisfied. Plus, it can be paired with the breadsticks and salad to create a super filling lunch or light dinner.

Top Pick: Unlimited Salad and Breadsticks

Olive Garden breadsticks contain no eggs, no dairy, and no sources of cheese rennet, making these deliciously fluffy appetizers 100% fair game for vegan guests. Ask for a side of marinara to dip your breadsticks into for a bit more substance and zing.

Ordering the endless salad and breadsticks paired with a vegan soup or entree makes it a complete meal and you won’t leave hungry. Keep in mind that the salad must be modified as crouton- and dressing-free (just ask for extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead), and you should definitely skip the cheese.

Vegan Entrees

If you're visiting an Italian-themed restaurant chances are you'll be looking for a delicious pasta dish—and you won't be disappointed with Olive Garden's spaghetti with marinara.

There aren’t a lot of options when it comes to vegan pasta sauce, as only their marinara and plain tomato sauces contain no dairy or eggs (all of their other sauces, like the alfredo or mushroom cream, are dairy-based). You do get a choice of pasta, though, as their angel hair, fettuccine, rigatoni, and small shells are vegan as well.

Vegan Appetizers

Most of Olive Garden’s appetizers are fried or meat-based and therefore off limits for vegans. Some locations offer a bruschetta appetizer, which consists of toasted ciabatta bread topped with Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil.

Vegan Sides

The only option at Olive Garden is the side of steamed broccoli (no butter). Eat it on its own with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice to liven it up a bit, or mix it in with your pasta to give your meal some extra bulk. While it may not be the most exciting side, adding these green veggies will definitely help fill you up.

Vegan Desserts

Vegans are out of luck during the dessert course since Olive Garden’s only sweet option is the raspberry sauce. All other menu items contain dairy or eggs.

To end your meal with a sweet treat, go for a cocktail or choose from the nonalcoholic beverage section with a choice of raspberry lemonade, classic lemonade, Bellini peach-raspberry iced tea, or mango-strawberry iced tea.

Build Your Own Pasta

Your best bet for a vegan entree at Olive Garden is to utilize their “Cucina Mia,” or build your own pasta option. Choose from either the angel hair, fettuccine, rigatoni, small shells, or spaghetti as a base, and top with marinara sauce or plain tomato sauce.

The menu also gives the option of supplementing your pasta with garden veggies, so be sure to ask your server.

Also keep in mind that Olive Garden regularly features seasonal specials and promotional items, and it may be possible to request the meat and dairy portion withheld or substituted with fresh veggies or extra pasta for these items. These modifications may depend on the availability of ingredients, however, so it’s best to come prepared with some knowledge of the limited vegan options.

FAQ

Are Olive Garden Breadsticks Vegan?

While the company doesn't list the exact ingredients on its website, it does confirm that the breadsticks and garlic topping are completely vegan and contain no dairy or eggs (the topping is made with soy or margarine rather than butter).

Is Olive Garden Dressing Vegan?

The famous house salad comes with tomatoes, olives, onions, and pepperoncini, though the default dressing from the menu has both eggs and romano cheese. Instead, grab the olive oil and vinegar for your salad.

Is Olive Garden Pesto Vegan?

While it is certainly possible to make your own delicious vegan pesto at home, Olive Garden’s take on the basil-based sauce contains cheese and is not vegan-friendly.

Does Olive Garden Have Vegan Options for Children?

Olive Garden’s children’s menu consists of the usual chicken fingers, mac and cheese, and pizza, making the only vegan option tomato sauce with a choice of pasta. 

Are Olive Garden Mints Vegan?

At the end of your meal, there’s a good chance your Olive Garden server will add a couple of chocolate mint candies to the top of your check as an after-dinner treat. The restaurant's mints are exactly the same as Andes Candies (the company orders them custom-made with a special shape and wrapper). Since Andes Mints contain a few different milk-based ingredients like nonfat milk, lactose, and milk protein concentrate, Olive Garden’s mints are not vegan.

What Frying Oil Does Olive Garden Use?

The chain restaurant uses highly refined canola oil. All fried food items are cooked in the same fryers, so cross-contamination with animal products is very likely.