Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant has launched a separate vegan menu to make ordering meat-, egg- and dairy-free meals easier for guests. The restaurant, with locations in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Frisco and Greeley, has served fresh, scratch-made Tex-Mex for more than thirty years.
“We want to take the time to make vegan options taste equally as amazing as the meat,” says Erich Whisenhunt, director of food and beverage. “This is where you have to change your perspective and work on developing recipes.” That time and dedication to flavor is proven in simple dishes like Rio Grande's beans, made with onions that have been caramelized for three hours.
Whisenhunt says that it wasn’t too difficult to create a vegan menu, since the foundation of a good Mexican meal — salsas, guacamole, rice, beans and tortillas — are all free of animal products. The beans and rice have always been vegan, he explains, by skipping the traditional chicken stock in the rice and lard in the beans. Items you won't find on the menu are meat and cheese substitutes, since the restaurant relies on traditional Mexican ingredients in its recipes.
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Besides kicking things off with fresh salsas and guacamole made twice daily, there are also portabello nachos, tortilla soup topped with avocado and cilantro, a mixed green salad with grilled mushrooms and pepitas, and a veggie green chile built with housemade vegetable broth.
The black-bean burrito is smothered in ranchero sauce or green chile and can be packed with grilled fajita vegetables. Veggie fajitas are served with grilled squash, portabello, pico de gallo and guacamole, and tostadas are topped with guacamole, black beans, lettuce and tomatoes. The menu also offers simple substitutions to make standard items completely vegan. “We’ve always felt that that was important to offer good vegan options,” Whisenhunt says. There is also an entirely gluten-free menu.
The most popular vegan options ordered are the veggie fajitas with grilled portabello and squash and the bean burrito, he notes.
Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant is located at 1525 Blake Street in Denver, with other locations throughout the Front Range. Happy hour offers drink deals from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 303-623-5432 or visit the Rio Grande website for more information.