For most of America, the time between Thanksgiving and the holidays is a delicious nightmare. Overindulgent meals taste so good going down, but the scale in the coming months is brutal and unforgiving. If you’re like me and ate in excess this holiday season, the new year is the perfect time to rein it back in. There’s only one problem: I freakin' love food. It’s my life; it’s how I socialize. And it’s simply unrealistic to go from restaurant-hopping a few times a week (at a minimum) to committing to a strict diet of lean proteins at home; I’d be lying to myself if I said anything different. To compromise, I looked into a few Denver spots that allow you to make healthier choices and stick to your resolution goals while still getting out and enjoying the Mile High meal circuit. Life is all about balance, after all.
10. Caveman Chefs
Order online at www.cavemanchefs.com
Caveman Chefs is the first gourmet meal service with a rotating paleo menu available for delivery or pickup at various locations around the metro area. Choose from plans of six or ten meals a week in varying portion sizes meant for singles, couples or families. Dishes highlight cauliflower, squash and other veggies in place of grains to complement the meat-centric menu in innovative ways. There is also a catering side of the business if you’d like to throw a different kind of New Year’s Eve party this year.
9) Denver Bicycle Cafe
1308 East 17th Avenue
If your resolution is to work out more, why not make it a social activity instead of a chore? The Bicycle Cafe is a great place to meet friends for a java fix or toss one back without feeling quite so guilty about skipping the gym that day. In fact, it’s the perfect excuse to whip out your wheels in winter and earn those calories by combining cycling with your morning coffee routine or happy-hour stop.
8. Mmm…Coffee! Paleo Bistro
910 Santa Fe Drive
When you need a little extra motivation, reward yourself for all the sweat and tears at the gym with a treat in the form of naturally sweetened, gluten-free and grain-free muffins, cookies and brownies at Mmm...Coffee! Touted as a paleo bistro, the spot also sells savory snacks like chicken legs and bacon-wrapped dates, and staffers serve up cups of Bulletproof Coffee like it’s their job (because it was the first place in town where it really was). The menu may appear random, but it satisfies a wide range of sweet to savory cravings, with offerings that fuel the body without upping the carbs.
7. Native Foods Cafe
This fast-casual vegan chain boasts a 100-percent plant-based menu, with housemade tempeh and seitan that make interesting substitutions for the protein in burgers, bowls and wraps. I recommend keeping it simple and spicing up your salad routine (especially if you're not into the texture of meat substitutes) with the ensalada Azteca, which bursts with avocado, jicama and cucumber salsa, toasted pumpkin seeds, raisins, romaine and quinoa dressed with mango-lime vinaigrette.
303 West 11th Avenue
A no-frills juice, salad and soup spot, Parsley is another time-tested lunch option with killer sammies. You can mix and match halves of the textured tuna, lox and guacamole, or fig and Brie sandwiches and feel good knowing that most of the ingredients are local, sustainable and damn delicious.
5. Protein Bar
Another solid lunch option you can find in multiple locations around town, Protein Bar’s high-protein, low-fat concept has really taken off over the past couple of years. Popular menu items include the low-cal bar-ritos, bowls and chili, all made with quinoa instead of rice. Paired with a blended drink as a supplement, it’s the perfect amount of fuel to help you power through a case of the Mondays. Or Tuesdays. Or Wednesdays.
4. Root Down
1600 West 33rd Avenue
Root Down’s philosophy is to create a menu that accommodates multiple dietary needs, including vegetarian, vegan, raw and gluten-free. Strict sustainability practices mean that more than 50 percent of of the food served is locally sourced, including some that’s grown right in Root Down's garden. If the raw-food movement intrigues you, the kitchen offers a four-course tasting menu on the first Tuesday of every month in which nothing has been heated above 118 degrees in order to preserve nutrients.
3. True Food Kitchen
2800 East Second Avenue
I never believed a “healthy” restaurant (let alone a chain) could taste so good, but True Food is truly an anomaly. With a wide selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free offerings chosen for their anti-inflammatory properties, True Food has Cherry Creek moms eating up the entire concept. Instead of a salad, opt for the delicious global-inspired entrees like turkey lasagna, panang curry or red-chili shrimp, all of which you might say are to die for — if they didn't make you feel so alive.
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2. Vert Kitchen
704 South Pearl Street
With a chef-owner who helped develop CorePower Yoga’s first nutrition program, Vert features a menu full of sandwiches, soups, salads and sides that you don’t have to feel guilty about. Available to mix and match in duos and trios, the dishes sound so mouthwatering (hello braised pork shoulder, skirt steak and curry chicken), you almost wouldn’t believe it’s not terrible for you. If you can't make it over to the the tiny Wash Park deli, Vert makes to-go options that are available in cold cases around town at Natural Grocers, Tattered Cover, Pura Vida and Door-to-Door Organics.
1. Zeal – Food for Enthusiasts
1710 Pearl Street Boulder, CO 80302
Whether you stop by Zeal to pick up a juice cleanse or a healthy breakfast, rest assured that partners Conscious Cleanse helped develop a menu that’s both approachable and tasty. From cold chia puddings and build-your-own acai bowls to hot egg and pancake options, sensible portions of filling food mean you can be as good or as bad as you like — because even treats like chocolate shakes and hot chocolate sneak in a few hidden veggies. And if you really want to flush the system, stop by for one of Zeal's monthly detox dinners.