Sputnik a late-night haven for plant-based diners

It's not hard to see why Sputnik is so popular. At 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night -- a time when most restaurants would see guests trickling out the door -- the Baker-neighborhood joint is still packed, with every table occupied and almost every seat at the bar hosting a rump. The orange-striped walls, light-up bar top, wrap-around benches and old-school photo booth lend a retro vibe to the establishment, and the late-night hours and live music certainly bring people in the door. But there's a bigger reason that Sputnik continues to pull in the crowds: the food.

Looking at the menu is a moment of bliss for many plant-based eaters; too often we're faced with spreads that might contain -- at best -- three or four dishes suitable to our dietary needs. At Sputnik, though, the situation is reversed: Almost every plate on the menu is vegan or vegetarian -- or it can be modified to meet veggie standards.

Above are the Ethiopian sliders. Although many complain that sliders are overdone in this city, we haven't seen any other venue carry a slider like this one: two lentil-and-chickpea burgers topped with berbere ketchup, vegan creamy garlic sauce, lettuce and cucumber. The ketchup is spicy, adding a kick to the dish, and the crisp burger patties are perfectly balanced by the other ingredients on the mini-sandwiches.

The vegan-optional Freddie Murphy is another fine choice; this version is served with smoked tofu instead of pastrami, but it keeps the Provolone, sweet-and-sour slaw, sliced tomatoes and hand-cut fries on Italian bread. A side of fries with the sandwich might seem redundant, but you can always go with chips and salsa or sweet-potato fries if you feel you need a little extra to fill you up. The vegan green falafel pita features chickpea-and-fava-bean falafel patties served with harissa, tahini and cucumber salad on a pita. The kitchen is generous with the falafel; after a few bites from the front of the pita, the little patties were spilling out the back end. Whether it's the fava beans or blend of herbs that make the falafel so delicious, we're not sure, but it's very tasty indeed -- much better than you'd expect from a kitchen that doesn't specialize in Mediterranean food.

Besides salads, soups (including vegan green chile!) and the appetizer menu (which includes veggie-friendly arepas, tacos and hush puppies), every other sandwich on the menu either comes veggie-friendly or can be ordered without meat; there are also two breakfast-for-dinner items, both of which are vegetarian-friendly and one of which is vegan-friendly, and Sputnik's weekend Hangover Brunch offers even more breakfast items for your morning fix.

Sputnik is at 7 South Broadway and is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday; learn more and peruse the menu at www.sputnikdenver.com.

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