Cafe Society

Three Healthy, Fast-Casual Lunch Options

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 Protein Bar 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. Modmarket 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. Bubu 1423 Larimer Street 303-996-2685 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.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz