Fire Bowl Cafe is a cool option for a summer meal

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The Fire Bowl Cafe franchise is based in Austin -- and you can make whatever jokes you like about Texas producing an Asian fast-casual eatery, but the only location in the metro area is packed every lunch hour. Fire Bowl seems to be the go-to place for Denver Tech Center types who want to snag lunch outside the office hives; if you don't get there early, you're likely to be hunting for a table while your lunch cooks. Aficionados of eateries like Tokyo Joe's or Pei Wei will find similarities with this menu -- and Fire Bowl offers quite a few options for the vegetarian or vegan diner.

See also: - The tofu dishes at Szechuan Chinese are as good as the pork dumplings - Thai Lotus is a hidden jewel in the Tech Center - The veggie pho at Pho Lee is just as good as at Pho 95...any Pho 95

One of the differences that sets Fire Bowl apart from the competition is the Stir Fry Your Way part of the menu: Pick a protein (tofu is available), one of two vegetable combinations, a sauce and a noodle or rice base, and Fire Bowl will cook up a stir-fry to your specifications. The vegetarian sauces are clearly marked on the board, but vegans should look out for the rice and noodle options; the ramen-style lo mein noodles, for example, have egg in them.

If you don't feel like choosing your own adventure, the restaurant also offers several already created plates that are also marked as vegetarian-optional. Pictured above is the cold peanut noodle salad, with lo mein noodles tossed with peanut sauce and then topped with carrot, cucumber, peanut and cilantro. You can choose this dish with grilled chicken or fried tofu; the silken fried tofu is cubed and fried to a crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside. The result is a quick, cool lunch that's the perfect temperature for summer and fills you up faster and more effectively than a lettuce-based salad.

For an appetizer, plant-based eaters should try the soft Thai summer roll: rice paper with tofu, thin rice noodles, lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro and carrots served with peanut dipping sauce and a sort of cole slaw -- shredded cabbage and dressing on the side. If you're a fan of the Thai-style rice-paper wraps at local Thai restaurants, you'll enjoy this one, too.

Fire Bowl Cafe is at 11435 East Briarwood Avenue in Englewood; for more information, visit www.firebowlco.com.

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