In the past, going out to eat as a vegetarian or vegan often meant coping with limited options or an unwelcoming atmosphere. That’s no longer the case, especially when it comes to the vibrant Boulder culinary arts scene. Read on to learn about some of the best places to find a vegetarian or vegan meal that does not compromise on taste:
Native Foods Cafe
National chain restaurants are not usually the first choice for vegetarians or vegans, but these fast-casual establishments have built a name on an all-vegan menu. The chain’s website states they are “invested in serving organic whenever possible,” citing organic soybeans and corn as priorities. First established in California, Native strives to make vegan choices accessible with variations on familiar fast food and deli staples, such as seitan Reubens, tempeh tacos and imitation chicken wings.
Thrive is a new addition to Boulder, opening its doors in July 2015. The restaurant caters to the local raw vegan community and anyone else interested in exploring an intriguing menu of organic salads, juices and smoothies. It also boasts an impressive array of raw treats and liquid nitrogen ice cream. The decor is calculated to inspire positive vibes, heavy on natural wood, dreamcatchers and crystals. The menu follows suit with smoothies called Green Gaia and Natural High and salads dubbed Inner Flame, Gratitude and Heart Opener.
A small cafe, Julia’s is focused on using only organic, gluten-free ingredients for its vegan entrees and treats, including raw options. The Daily Camera was impressed with owner’s efforts to appeal to a health-conscious crowd. Reviewer Liz Moskow wrote, “Julia’s will offer solace, a home away from home in which to take a break from cooking, for seasoned vegans, anyone on a strict gluten-free regimen or those already dedicated to a diet based on optimal nutrition.” The rotating menu includes items like red lentil coconut curry, mung bean and millet burgers, and an array of gluten-free baked goods.
Opened in October 2014, Naked Lunch specializes in sandwiches, salads and baked goods made with locally sourced, organic ingredients. While many of these items include meat and cheese, the cafe also has some excellent offerings for vegetarians and vegans. These include banh mi with portobello and hummus or avocado sandwiches. Save room for dessert so you can try the fresh vegan donuts.
Half Fast Subs
In most ways, Half Fast is a typical university campus lunch hangout, and much of what it has on hand is decidedly not vegetarian. However, the sandwich shop gives patrons numerous meatless options. Cheesesteaks are available with tempeh, as well as beef or chicken. On what the shop claims is the largest sandwich menu in the city, the list of vegetarian subs is not quite as long as the meat specialties. Nonetheless, it is quite respectable, with delicious sandwiches like the Portobello Boomer, featuring marinated mushrooms, tomato, roasted red peppers, provolone, tomato and garlic pesto. A few vegetarian sandwiches come without cheese, as in the veggie grinder or tofu veggie sub.
Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant
For all the other contenders, Leaf remains the first name in Boulder vegetarian cuisine. Boulder Weekly declared the restaurant the town’s finest spot for a vegetarian meal, and it even made The Daily Meal’s list of the world’s best vegetarian restaurants. The owners of Leaf use sustainable farming methods to grow their own organic ingredients locally. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its Jamaican jerk tempeh, but other exceptional creations include smoked beet fettuccine or mushrooms and grits. Leaf strives to accommodate a diverse crowd, gladly making substitutions to render many of its vegetarian dishes vegan and presenting a range of clearly labeled raw or gluten-free dishes.