When it comes down to it, nobody knows Denver's plant-based dining scene like the folks making the food and living the vegan lifestyle every day in the metro area. Along with innovative and delicious vegan cuisine being served by a growing number of restaurants and mobile vendors, there's also a groundswell of camaraderie and support the purveyors share. We talked to vegan chefs and business owners to find out their favorites; here are ten great dishes they came up with — and that you should seek out soon.
Banana Blossom Fish & Chips from WongWayVegwongwayveg.com
Selected by the Ben Como of Veggie Yeti
Ben Como and Jared Simpson, who run the Veggie Yeti food truck, want to break stereotypes that vegan food is boring and bland. Como’s pick is the banana blossom fish and chips from fellow food truck WongWayVeg that truly sums up his mission. WongWayVeg presents a large banana blossom prepared in a manner similar to chile rellenos; the blossom is stuffed with a filling (free of meat, dairy and eggs) and then battered and fried. “They are so tender, and taste just like fish,” Como says. “They are, hands down, the most creative, best-tasting vegan or not-vegan food truck in Denver.”
Vegetarian Pho at Tony Pho Vietnamese Restaurant1002 South Federal Boulevard
Selected by Kris Carino of Hella Herbivore
Kris Carino, founder of Denver vegan pop-up experience Hella Herbivore, creates flavorful Asian dishes with a twist. He's eaten his way around town as part of his research, and when it comes to flavorful meat-free pho, his go-to is the vegetarian noodle bowl at Tony Pho. “Their broth is clean but packs full flavor, which is exactly what I look for when eating pho,” Carino explains. “They also give huge amounts of veggies like broccoli, carrots, onions and huge chunks of tofu.” Carino likes to squeeze a little lime in when he’s halfway through, adding that “it’s almost like eating a different bowl of soup.”
Poki Salad at Turtle Boat2231 South Broadway
Selected by Sarah Eastin of Veganizer DEN
Sarah Eastin is the plant-based consultant at Veganizer DEN, helping Denver restaurants curate vegan menu options. The poki (Turtle Boat's spelling, to match the typical Colorado pronunciation) salad from Turtle Boat is one of her favorite lunches in Denver. “The best part about the vegan dishes at Turtle Boat is that they use a housemade protein called Alma, which is made from ancient grains,” she notes. Other menu perks that Eastin loves include locally sourced fresh produce, a variety of vegan sides, and unique salad toppings such as nori dust, fried garlic, roasted coconut and wasabi peas.
Vegan Reuben at Ivy on 7th410 East Seventh Avenue
Selected by Natalie Gilbert of WongWayVeg
Natalie Gilbert of WongWayVeg, Denver’s quintessential vegan food truck, has been dreaming about the vegan Reuben at Ivy on 7th ever since she tried it. “We can't stop telling everyone we know to go try it,” Gilbert admits. “It was perfection in a sandwich." Ivy's Reuben is made with thin-sliced eggplant pastrami, housemade red cabbage kraut and a creamy sauce on buttery marbled rye bread.
Shojin Roll at Blue Sushi Sake Grill1616 16th Street Mall
Selected by Michael Reeves of Meta Burger
Meta Burger’s goal is offering affordable, quick traditional fast food free of cheese, eggs and meat — burgers, hot dogs, fries, shakes and other craveable fare. But when co-owner Michael Reeves is in the mood for something different, he hits up Blue Sushi for the Shojin Roll, packed with barbecue seitan, grilled asparagus, pineapple, shallot, Bibb lettuce, nori, brown rice, soy paper and sweet soy sauce. “Imagine a vegan Hawaiian pizza as a sushi roll,” Reeves states. “It just works. We all love this roll and love Blue Sushi.”
Cheesy Gordita Crunch from Vegan Vanveganvan.com
Selected by Jenn Sickels of Alternation Brewing
Alternation Brewing's Jenn Sickels and her husband, Brandon Pleskow, consider themselves lucky to have so many vegan food trucks in Denver park outside of their brewery. Her pick for favorite Denver vegan dish is Vegan Van’s Cheesy Gordita Crunch. The Taco Bell-inspired wrap is made with a crunchy taco shell filled with seasoned seitan beef, spicy ranch sauce, lettuce and dairy-free cheddar cheese, all tucked neatly into grilled flatbread with a melted vegan cheese blend.
Barbecue Party Tacos from Migration Tacomigrationtaco.com
Selected by Helen Williams of Best One Yet
Helen Williams, maker of deliciously dairy-free ice cream at Best One Yet, praises her fellow Denver vegan food trucks. Specifically, she is loving Migration Taco’s unconventional twists on tacos. For her, the Barbecue Party taco is a must. “Get two. Get ten. They're amazing,” she says. “It's everything you love about barbecue, like the sauce and the sides — the mac and cheese and coleslaw — but in a taco. It's genius, it's delicious, it will ruin your life in the best way possible."
Borrachos from Vegan Vanveganvan.com
Selected by David Alires of Cholo Ass Vegan
For advice on the best plant-based Mexican cuisine, ask David Alires, founder of Cholo Ass Vegan, who is cranking out favorites such as seitan asada, jackfruit pozole, seitan “pollo” diablo and more. For nachos, he turns to Vegan Van’s borrachos. “I love the name, because 'borracho' is Spanish for 'drunk,'” he says. Housemade chips are topped with queso, black beans, meatless chicken, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and sour cream. “It's layers of booming flavor and is truly a dish that has the power to draw people to veganism through flavor. It is a testament to their cleverness and creativity.”
The Cuban at Watercourse Foods837 East 17th Avenue
Selected by Tracy Rackauskas of Migration Taco
Tracy Rackauskas, co-owner of Migration Taco, creates vegan versions of both classic and inventive tacos, such as chorizo and cheese or buffalo wing. Her must-have sandwich comes from Watercourse Foods, which serves a completely vegan menu of Southern-inspired comfort foods. Rackauskas loves the Cuban sandwich, loaded with smoky shaved seitan, melted Follow Your Heart mozzarella or Swiss cheese and tofu bacon. Watercourse gives it a tangy kick with pepperoncinis, pickles and mustard, and the whole thing is pressed and grilled to toasty deliciousness.
Country Fried BBQ Sandwich from WongWayVegwongwayveg.com
Selected by Brandon Pleskow of Alternation Brewing
Brandon Pleskow, brewer/co-owner of Alternation Brewing, is creating vegan beers of styles that often contain milk-derived lactose, such as milk stouts and trendy milkshake IPAs. He says one of the best things he has eaten since he became vegan four years ago is the country-fried BBQ seitan sandwich from WongWayVeg, which often serves food in front of the brewery. “It was out of this world,” he says. The crunchy, saucy, tangy sandwich topped with slaw and pickles isn't always on the menu, but you can follow WongWayVeg's Instagram feed for the latest offerings.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.