admit it up front. I’m a carnivore by nature, though I will also confess I’m a bit of a fraud. Push come to shove, if I had to hunt instead of buying meat, I’d be a vegetarian, which got me to thinking: what are your options in the Mile High City if you have made the move to a more plant based diet? Are you relegated to the house salad or the one-vegetable plate that looks like it was tossed on the menu as an after thought? The quick answer is no, but you have to look. There are some great restaurants in our community where chefs are creating culinary masterpieces without meat. With that in mind, here are a few alternatives for those who thrive on a plant-based diet.

(credit: watercoursefoods.com)

Watercourse Foods

837 E. 17th Avenue
Denver, CO 80210
(303) 832-7313

For the past decade, Watercourse Foods has enjoyed both national and international acclaim for its lovingly prepared vegetarian comfort food. They proudly admit their greatest accolade comes from the reluctant first timer, dragged into their vegetarian restaurant, only to watch his or her eyes light up after that first bite bursting with flavor. With a menu including everything from Thai influences to pastas, even a polenta Po Boy, you’ll savor the flavor and embrace a restaurant that embraces vegetarian cuisine. There’s not just great food, but you can also grab smoothies, savor tea from a large selection, juices, even vegan milkshakes. With great local brews on tap as well and an evolving wine lists featuring vintages from small vineyards, Watercourse may change the way you think about a vegetarian meal.

(credit: leafvegetarianrestaurant.com)

Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant

2010 16th Street
Boulder, CO 80302-5446
(303) 442-1485

It’s in a location that’s not easy to spot, but Lenny Martinelli’s Leaf in Boulder is worth a closer look if you are interested in upscale, vegetarian-only dishes. Leaf states that it is “global cuisine and health conscious” and features vegan, raw, and gluten-free meals. They offer a three course Prix Fixe and do creative work with fun vegetarian ingredients like seitan, tempeh, cous cous, tofu, fava beans and plantain.

(credit: madgreens.com)

Mad Greens

6825 E. Tennessee Ave #650
Denver, CO 80224
(303) 355-2499

At first glance, a salad might not seem terribly inventive, but there’s an art in something simple done well, and if you’re looking for a healthy meal, Mad Greens delivers. Mad Greens is a quick-service restaurant, where you basically build your own salad, but this is no ordinary salad bar experience. You start with a lettuce base, choosing from crisp romaine, spinach and tender baby greens. A wide array of vegetarian enhancements are available, and they include everything from asparagus to mangos. The flavor combinations are extensive with offerings as sweet and delicate as the mandarin orange to the spicy kick of a jalapeno. Top of your creation with one of their 20 homemade dressings (many gluten free), and you’ve got a great meal that’s healthy, too. Oh, and if you find yourself with someone who just can’t go without satiating their meat loving craving (or if you’re that someone), Mad Greens has chicken, fish, and steak options for your salad, too. With several locations in and around Denver, there’s one near you.

(credit: vgburgers.com)

VG Burgers

1650 Broadway St
Boulder, CO 80302
(303) 440-2400

Yes, you read the name correctly. Boulder’s VG Burgers is Colorado’s only entirely vegan, organic quick serve restaurant. Committed to sourcing locally, its products are either local to Colorado when available or come from small sustainable communities from around the globe. They serve up seven different styles of veggie burgers and claim their “bacon cheeseburger” will blow your mind. In addition to other customer favorites like vegan nachos, fries and mac ‘n’ cheese, they also offer uniquely healthy options like their new quinoa bowls served with seasonal veggies.

(credit: rootdowndenver.com)

Root Down

1600 West 33rd Avenue
Denver, CO 80211-3507
(303) 993-4200

Root Down has a simple mission statement. They’ve strived to solve “the omnivore’s dilemma” by creating a dining spot where all dietary needs are met. You’ll find a substantial amount of vegetarian and vegan fare here. Each course has multiple options from the tomato-cantaloupe gazpacho starter, to small plates featuring sweet potato “falafels” and organic spring risotto. Veggie Burger Sliders and Country Fried Organic Tofu are prominently featured on the dinner menu, in addition to sustainably caught seafood, Niman Ranch beef and Heritage Berkshire pork. And if you ask, many menu items can either be prepared gluten free while others can be prepared vegan. (The menu will point out possibilities.) Tuesdays feature a prix fixe raw vegan dinner menu prepared by raw food certified chef Daniel Asher.

(credit: duodenver.com)


2413 West 32nd Avenue
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 477-4141

Denver’s farm-to-table restaurant, Duo partners with outstanding Colorado farmers such as Red Wagon Farm, Cure Organic Farm, Grant Family Farms and many others to offer its seasonally changing menu. While the restaurant is not completely vegetarian, there are great inventive vegetarian options here that are a far cry from a standard vegetable plate. Start off with the stuffed squash filled with onions, pecorino and bread crumbs. For a main course, sample the sweet corn risotto with warm brown basil vinaigrette or the lemon gnocchi. Their gnocchi is a house made potato dumpling pan seared with wilted spinach, ricotta and roasted tomatoes. Then top off dinner with one of their pastry chef’s inspired creations. One taste and your sweet tooth will thank you.

(credit: katesrestaurant.com)

Kate’s on 35th

3435 Albion Street
Denver, CO 80207-1815
(303) 333-4816

While not entirely vegetarian either, Kate’s on 35th promises each day to offer at least one vegetarian and one vegan entrée on its concise, seasonally driven menu. Recent offerings have included a vegan black bean, wild and brown rice, fresh vegetable casserole served on organic greens, loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables, topped with red pepper hummus and fresh fruit. Recent Sunday brunches have included the garden vegetable and egg white casserole. A lot of their food is actually grown on premises, and while the restaurant is available for private functions (and often is), there are limited open public hours as well. Reservations are recommended and appreciated to help them maintain their commitment to sustainable, responsible business practices that reduce waste.

– Scott Smith is a director at CBS4