Best Vegetarian Dish in a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant

Fruition

Fruition
Mark Manger

You never know exactly what chefs Alex Seidel and Matthew Vawter will be cooking up for the "grazing vegetarian" meal at Fruition. But one thing is certain: This combination appetizer and entree will be one of the best meals you've ever had. Fruition's commitment to the farm-to-table ethic and locally sourced food is a perfect match for vegetarian dining, and the chefs clearly enjoy exercising their creativity on the vegetarian option, offering up dishes you simply can't find anywhere else. The careful preparation is evident when the gorgeous plate is set down in front of you: It's almost too pretty to eat. But this is one masterpiece well worth annihilating.

Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine
Mark Manger

Although many fans of green chile swear by the pork that's a distinctly Denver addition, Tarasco's emphasizes the green in green chile. This excellent Mexican restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Michoacán, with an entire page of the menu devoted to vegetarian fare. And many of those very good dishes — huevos rancheros, a giant relleno burrito — are made even better when smothered with a vegetarian green chile that can quickly turn into an obsession. Tarasco's version is spicy, leaving a definite tingle on your lips and tongue; the layering of flavors is so addictive that you'll never miss the meat — because there's definitely no shortage of heat.

Native Foods Cafe

Native Foods might be a link in a California-based chain, but it's also one of the best things to have happened to vegetarians in Denver all year. Plus, it's one of the most carnivore-friendly plant-based restaurants you'll ever visit, with an emphasis on meat substitutes (seitan, "chicken" and more) that are all made in-house and are some of the most convincing meat substitutes you'll ever taste. Native Foods goes far beyond soups and salads (although those offerings are invariably delicious), serving up a variety of sandwiches, chef's-special plates and desserts that will make you want to return again and again to try everything. And for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, Native Foods puts together vegan-friendly feasts perfect for a celebration.

Park Burger
Cassandra Stiltner

There's not a lot besides burgers and shakes on the menu at your neighborhood Park Burger. But the eateries (a fourth is coming soon) don't need much more than a darn good burger to thrive in this cowtown — especially when that something extra just happens to be the city's best veggie burger. The grain-based patty is made in-house (there's no egg, so it's vegan-friendly, too) and grilled on the flat-top, then served on one of Park Burger's good buns in a paper-lined basket. The kitchen crew will help adjust the specialty burgers to make them vegan-friendly, or you can create your own by adding some of the toppings available on the long list. So long, in fact, that even the most particular plant-based eater should be able to enjoy his own unique version of the best veggie burger in town.

Steve's Snappin' Dogs
Cassandra Kotnik

There are more ways to dress a hot dog than there are stars in the galaxy — at least that's how it seems when you step up to the counter at Steve's Snappin' Dogs. And for those who eschew meat, this glorified hot-dog stand has made it a point to include as many plant-based options as possible. Steve's even has vegetarian green chile to cover your veggie dog with — and on its own, the chile is almost indistinguishable from its meaty counterparts. If you're looking for a traditional-style hot dog without the traditional health issues, look no further than Steve's.

Lotus Vegetarian

If you're looking for Julia Child-style crepes, don't go to Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant. Inside this tiny, cheerful hole-in-the-wall, with its pink façade and green and blue walls, owner Thuy Pham caters to the vegetarian and vegan sets, so her crepes shun the eggs, white flour and cream that Child used in spades. A turn on the traditional banh xeo (made with pork and shrimp), Pham's version is made with coconut milk and rice flour, with turmeric adding a splash of deep yellow color. Thick as a fluffy omelet, the crepe is filled with a mixture of bean sprouts, carrots and tofu and folded in half, not rolled. Mildly spiced, it's meant to be wrapped in the lettuce and fresh herbs that come on a separate platter, then dunked in nuoc cham. But since this is a vegetarian restaurant, the sweet-and-sour dipping sauce is made without fish sauce, so the flavors of crepe and herbs take center stage.

Viet's Restaurant
Pho and bun dishes with grilled meats are the comfort foods of Vietnamese kitchens, giving diners just a hint of the exotic. While Viet's certainly does an admirable job with the basics, the more adventurous side of the menu really shines. Platters of crab and lobster dressed in thick sauce emerge from the kitchen at regular intervals; orders of goi dac biet bring salads layered with jellyfish and drizzled with a dressing pungent with fish sauce. If you're not sure what you want on the menu, just point and ask; the staff is always willing to explain unusual combinations, what to do with that side of wonderfully funky sauce, or which raw herbs and greens to stir into the simmering goat-rib hot pot at the center of the table. Viet's stands out from the competition for its deep menu and ability to surprise with every plate, whether you're just in for a bar-food standard of stuffed chicken wings or impressing guests with whole fried catfish.
The Truffle Table
Danielle Lirette

Last year, Karen and Rob Lawler, who own the Truffle — Denver's best cheese shop — opened the Truffle Table, Denver's best wine-and-cheese bar. The kitchen, helmed by Crickett Burns, turns out everything from alluringly arranged boards of artisan cheeses with delicious accompaniments to pâté de champagne and all-you-can-stomach raclette (Karen calls it "Swiss sex"), offered every Wednesday night for $40 per couple. And nothing pairs better with a choir of cheese than a symphony of wine (including "stickies," an Australian slang word to describe sweet wines) and French bubbles, all of which you'll find in abundance and the majority of which are poured by the glass. If you have any questions, general manager and grape wizard Miguel Vera is more than happy to uncork enlightening answers.

Vietnam Bay

The food at Vietnam Bay presents a collision of Cajun ingredients and Vietnamese specialties. Before you dive elbow-deep into a bag of the freshest crawfish in town, remember that the kitchen also offers chicken wings in a variety of styles. Best is the version with the house fish-sauce glaze, the deep, fermented funk of nuoc mam balanced by soy, sugar, red-chile flakes and a slurry of finely chopped herbs. Although a ramekin of ranch dressing is included on the plate, you won't need it: The tangy tamarind and creeping heat provide all the impact your tongue can handle.

Basta

"Basta" translates to "enough" in Italian, and true to the name of the Boulder restaurant that Kelly Whitaker opened in 2010, you can never get enough of the food — whether you order the wood-fired pizzas, roasted vegetables, lasagna or, most notably, the sensational wood-roasted chicken, which flies high above its competition. No one makes the humble bird soar quite like Whitaker, who thumps it with salt and fragrant fresh herbs before compressing it in a Cryovac machine. The chicken is finished off in a wood-fired oven stoked with oak, and the result is exceptionally juicy flesh and an exterior the hue of caramel, with a thin, salty sheet of skin so crisp, you wonder if it might shatter.

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