These days, healthy fast-casuals are sprouting faster than chia seeds. So if you want a quick, healthy meal and you're tired of brown-bagging it, there's no need to fight I-25 traffic to eat at LYFE Kitchen
in Park Meadows, which I just reviewed
. I recently popped in for lunch at three more centrally-located healthy fast-casual competitors, and here's what I found.
See also: LYFE Kitchen Has Good Intentions, But Needs More
Three (soon to be four) metro locations, including 1755 16th Street
With a name like Protein Bar, it would be easy to dismiss this chain as a source of protein-packed shakes. And, indeed, those are on the menu, with whey, soy or egg protein added to drinks with local names to disguise the fact that this is a chain from Chicago. But when I recently stopped by the Protein Bar near Union Station, I skipped the Aspen Acai'd and Pikes Peeled, choosing instead to get my protein from tofu on the Green City Vegan, one of eight so-called "protein bar-ritos." As someone who asked for whole-wheat tortillas long before they were available at the likes of Qdoba, I was happy to unwrap my overstuffed wrap to find a whole-wheat-flax tortilla, loaded with marinated organic tofu, chickpeas, kale and toasted pumpkin seeds in a vegan chia seed dressing. Other bar-ritos are grilled, but this one was chilled, which matched its mild, salad-like flavors. One of the highest in calories, clocking in at 620, it packed more calories than punch; maybe next time when I stand at the counter, where words like "fuel" and "omega-3" scream at me in tall, all-capital letters, I'll order the BBQ, which promises more flavor with its agave barbecue sauce.
Multiple locations, including 900 16th Street
Modmarket doesn't have the edginess of Protein Bar. Where the latter boasts bright orange accents and a wall-sized graphic straight out of chemistry class, this homegrown chain reflects the calm of Boulder, with white chairs, wood paneling and dark wood tables. When I visited the 16th Street location recently, I skipped the sandwiches and brick-oven pizzas and ordered my usual: the Thai coconut salad, with tender strips of grilled chicken, cucumbers, sweet potatoes cut into noodles, and a dusting of coconut. My only complaint is that the peanut-mango dressing isn't remotely spicy, as food with Thai in the name should be.
1423 Larimer Street
Despite appearances to the contrary, not all healthy fast-casuals are chains. This summer, Troy Guard opened the subterranean Bubu in the former home of TAG|Raw Bar on a stretch of Larimer Square known for high-end dining, not fast food. Here, you can either build your own bowl or choose one off a menu packed with many tempting options. Afraid of holding up the line as I tried to decide, I asked the guy behind the counter for advice. "The Hawaii Five-o, definitely," he said. The bowl was nothing like the colorful restaurant, with its pumpkin-colored stools, silver shimmery backsplash, and a mural of crops in a field. Instead, it was neutral in color -- hearts of palm, fennel, shiitakes, white tofu cubes and brown rice, with a few splashes of green from edamame. But by the time I added a zesty soy-onion dressing and ripped open a packet of sriracha, the bowl was just what I wanted.