Garbanzo is a very veggie-friendly chain

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In an ideal world, we'd all cook seasonally and locally, procuring our ingredients from farmers' markets -- and when we dined out, we'd eat only at local, independently owned restaurants.

But this isn't Shangri-La, it's the real world -- and in the real world, convenience sometimes takes priority. That's where Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill comes in: With ten metro locations, quick service, fresh food and a fantastic set-up for vegetarians and vegans, eating here is a win/win proposition. After all, although Garbanzo might be a chain -- it's a chain based right here in Denver!

The menu is deceptively simple. You first decide which plate set-up you'd like: an actual plate, or pita (white or wheat, baked on-site), laffa (think a Mission burrito-style wrap) or the "Garbanzo Greens" salad plate. Then you pick your protein: chicken shwarma, steak shwarma, falafel or falarma (a combination of shwarma and falafel). Or you can skip the protein and do a straight-up hummus, salad and sauce combination.

Here's why the menu is deceptively simple: Beyond the basics, the choices are truly dizzying. Among the many items you can add to your plate/laffa/pita/salad are seasoned rice, pickled red cabbage, tabouleh, pickled eggplant, feta, hard-boiled egg and grilled eggplant (one of our favorites -- even if you don't like eggplant, it comes thinly sliced and with the smoky taste of the grill still lingering). Pictured above is a wrapped-up veggie laffa with chips and a drink, ringing in at under $10 total (and that includes the extra cost for grilled eggplant and feta cheese).

The assembly is a typical casual-convenience arrangement: You walk in the door (and are usually offered a falafel to munch on while you wait) and get in line, building your meal from the bottom up. If you decide to eat amidst the orange-and-green decor (which features strategically placed dried chickpeas in clear plastic containers), there are booths to slide into. It's nothing fancy, but you're in a hurry, right?

Here's our favorite thing about Garbanzo: Every item on the line has a sign proclaiming not just what it is, but little symbols that indicate whether it's gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian. And the spread of vegetarian and vegan options is truly impressive, particularly for a chain. The only items off-limits to vegetarians are the meat dishes (obviously), and vegans will have to forgo the feta cheese and a handful of sauces and dressings. But everything else qualifies, and given the handy labeling, you don't have to hold up the line with questions about whether something was cooked with butter or chicken stock. (Yes, even the soup labels indicate what's safe for the restricted diner.)

Visit www.eatgarbanzo.com for location information and hours of operation.

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