(Photo Credit: True Food Kitchen)

Vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants aren’t as scary as they might sound: There’s a lot to be had on menus sans animal products. Throw away those thoughts of just pasta and salads. These five places prove vegan-friendly restaurants promise all of the flavor and none of the guilt — if you ever had any — on scrumptious menus.

(Photo Credit: Au Lac)

Au Lac is a local go-to in the world of vegan-friendly restaurants in Orange County. Kristine Smith of Au Lac said, “We’re not trying to create just a food experience, but also a comfortable, accepting experience. We serve two different concepts of vegan food, but meat eaters are comfortable with our menu of authentic Vietnamese flavor because the fake meats taste and look very similar to the real thing. Our raw kitchen is for vegans who are a little more particular. As long as you’re interested in Asian food and are open-minded, you will have a great experience.”

(Photo Credit: True Food Kitchen)

The secret to the success of True Food Kitchen is simplicity. When you look at the menu, you will see dishes (both vegan and containing meat) that contain only a handful of ingredients. Vegans will be relieved to enter a place where they have more far more options than just a veggie burger, and where it’s clear what’s going into each dish. True Food Kitchen has plenty of vegan options that go heavy on the superfoods such as kale and almonds. This place not only satisfies tastebuds, it’s a healthy area option any diner can get behind.

(Photo Credit: The Gypsy Den on Facebook)

If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly place with a cozy atmosphere, The Gypsy Den is perfect. From appetizers to soups and sandwiches, The Gypsy Den offers a lot of options for vegans (such as chipotle chili and chipotle vegan “chicken” if you’re looking for some spice) at prices that are pretty reasonable. The Gypsy Den also offers delicious beers and wines to pair with your food if you are so inclined.

(credit: Avanti Natural)

Avanti Natural makes the list for several reasons. Being in Costa Mesa, it’s pretty easy to reach no matter where in Orange County you come from. Secondly, the prices are reasonable. The most expensive item on the dinner menu is $12. Then of course there is the food. From peanut and pumpkin hush puppies to pizza or tacos (to which you may add barbecued tempeh or miso-roasted tofu), Avanti has vegans covered with plenty of flavorful options.

(credit: Taco Loco)

This is quite possibly a surprising entry, but it has a lot going for it. You can’t beat the location on Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, looking out at the ocean. The prices are great with the most expensive item on the menu being less than $13. What Taco Loco does is provide menu options you won’t really find anywhere else. Snag tacos, quesadillas or nachos with blackened tofu, mushrooms or potatoes. This restaurant is pretty legendary in Laguna, and if you’re looking for a vegan-friendly place with a really cool vibe, it’s the place to go.

Gary Schwind is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.