Best Vegetarian Dish in a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant 2012 | New Saigon | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Vegetarian Dish in a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant

New Saigon

Mark Manger

The book-like menu at New Saigon is dizzying, an ocean of letters and numerals with a whole bay of vegetarian options. But we always land on 10N, Bun Tau Hu Xao Sa Ot, located under the noodle bowl section and highlighted in red. Described simply as "stir-fried tofu with lemon grass noodle bowl," this peanut-topped dish is a tangle of thin rice noodles, carrots, mushrooms, snow peas and thin strips of crispy, savory tofu. While New Saigon's fried rice and cari chay curry are also good vegetarian options, 10N could be the best vegetarian dish in the city (leave the special sauce on the side; it's made with fish) -- and definitely the best vegetarian dish you'll find in a non-vegetarian restaurant.

Readers' Choice: Arada Restaurant

Danielle Lirette

In its various incarnations, Sam's has been serving up classic diner fare for close to nine decades. The current Sam's No. 3 was featured in a recent episode of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives devoted to a "Porktastic" theme, so you know that its pig (and ubiquitous pork green chile) is up to scratch. But vegetarians have their own reason to seek out Sam's: The thick, spicy vegetarian version of the green can be added to any number of dishes on Sam's extensive menu, smothering huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos or ordered as a side, cup, bowl, pint, quart or even gallon to take home. The hearty flavor and texture is enough to make even the most reluctant vegetable-eater sit up and say "Arriba!"

Readers' Choice: Illegal Pete's

Ravi Kumar and Ehmad Ansari, two strict vegetarians, opened Masalaa in an Aurora strip mall close to a decade ago, and it's still going strong — and is still meat-free. While some specialties from the north, as well as Indochinese offerings, have crept onto the list, the focus is definitely food of southern India — and not a single dish contains meat. The best time to try Masalaa is during lunch, when a hot buffet table is filled with spicy curries and bright stews featuring lentils, chickpeas, eggplant and okra. The server will also deliver plenty of hot, bready items to supplement your feast, including the best dosa we've had in town.

Best Vegetarian Meal From a Non-Vegetarian Food Truck

Quiero Arepas

The food-truck revolution in this city was kind to vegetarians and vegans, with almost every vehicle offering at least a couple of options for non-carnivores. Quiero Arepas drives down both sides of the street, catering to both meat-eaters and plant-eaters with a roster of arepas — corn-based, flatbread-style wraps — with filling choices that include beef and smoked salmon as well as eggs, roasted red-pepper hummus and creamy slices of avocado. The vegan arepa really gets our motor running, with a thick dollop of black beans, avocado slices and plantains tucked in the crispy corn blanket.

Pho 95 has been drawing pho-natics for years, especially those of the non-meat persuasion — because this strip-mall Vietnamese noodle shop serves up the best vegetarian pho in town, featuring tofu sliced into triangles and fried, then added to an incredibly flavorful vegetarian broth swimming with rice noodles, slices of carrot, broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas and thin strips of onion. The portions range from small (which is really rather large) to eye-poppingly massive (which still costs less than $10); all serving sizes include a plate heaped with Thai basil, dandelion leaves, spicy jalapeño slices, bean sprouts and lime wedges. You'll be bowled over.

Danielle Lirette

WaterCourse Foods just keeps getting better. The atmosphere has always been lovely: The open, airy space features animals and landscapes painted across the walls by Ravi Zupa, with tall stools lining the bar and comfortable booths tucked by the walls. But over the past year, WaterCourse cut out its weekday breakfast hours, allowing chef Rachel Kesley to concentrate on the meals where the kitchen really shines: lunch and dinner. In addition to a solid spread of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and other entrees, there are daily specials, including creative soups and rotating cheese boards, and the dessert tray is massive and decadent. Add to those elements a solid wine and beer list, and you've got a vegetarian restaurant that caters to any palate, every day of the week. But Kesley's penchant for rolling out multi-course spreads tied to Valentine's Day, Denver Beer Week and other blowout occasions makes this a great special-occasion spot, too.

Readers' Choice: WaterCourse

Amie Arias took to the streets with the Vegan Van last November, bringing an international menu to different points about Denver. She changes her lineup regularly, so whether her van is pulling up to Great Divide or idling at a corner for lunch, there's always something interesting to try; the rotating winter selections have included a notable take on a Caesar salad, a buffalo-tofu sandwich and beer-battered nori "fish," as well as dessert specials and flavor-infused waters. Wherever the Vegan Van cruises, plant-based eaters are certain to follow.

Park Burger makes the best veggie burger in the city, hands down. A grain-based patty is bound together with egg and then smashed on the grill until it's perfectly browned; the chef then adds lettuce, tomato, onion, a special sauce and whatever else you might want, including a fried egg, mushrooms or onions. The regular fries make a perfect traditional side, or you can mix things up with the sweet-potato variety. Whether you want to wash your meal down with a cold draft beer or a Moscow Mule, arm yourself with plenty of napkins — because it's going to be a falling-apart, messy, delicious ride until the savory end. Even without moo juice.

Readers' Choice: Park Burger

It's no secret that some of the best cooking in town happens on Federal Boulevard, Denver's melting pot of noodles and pho, street tacos and salsas, dim sum and durian. If you aren't willing to duck into a seedy taqueria that's roosting next to a foot massage parlor, or a restaurant adjacent to a liquor store that reeks of stale cigarettes, then you're going to miss out on on some special dishes — including the seafood hot pot at DaLat. This Vietnamese spot has a behemoth menu — make that menus — that can make ordering a challenge, if only because there are so many dishes that beg for your attention. Still, while the pages go on...and on...and on, it's rare that we make it past the hot pot, a seething ocean of broth bubbling with crushed chiles, perfectly cooked seafood, crisp vegetables and astringent Vietnamese basil, one of the most herbaceous scents in the universe.

Saigon Bowl has held down its spot in the Far East Center for more than fifteen years, but it would probably take a lifetime to eat your way through its extensive menu. The kitchen cooks up a vast array of bun and worthy, consistent pho, but it also turns out stir-fried frog's legs, jellyfish salad, lobster tail, a variety of traditional fish preparations — including one stewed for hours in a clay pot — and a particularly excellent seafood soup, served in a flame-shooting pot. The specialty, though, is the restaurant's appetizer combo, a platter piled high with soft-shelled crab, egg rolls, grilled pork and shrimp paste served with a stack of rice papers and a mélange of produce so you can create your own rolls.

Readers' Choice: New Saigon

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