Yard House's Gardein entries have just the right texture -- and flavor

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Not every vegetarian or vegan likes substitute meats -- but those who do understand that there is such a thing as a fake meat that tastes like the real thing. Gardein is one brand that does fake meat really well, and many of its products are available on the menu at Yard House, which just opened its third metro area restaurant on Sunday. Made from soy, wheat and pea proteins, Gardein's meat substitute has just the right texture (and flavor) -- almost scarily so -- for those diners who avoid eating animals.

The first Colorado Yard House location, at Colorado Mills right across from the movie theater, was busier during the between-meal hour than we'd expected it to be on a recent Saturday, with shopping families and groups of women gathering at tables while their mates gathered to watch baseball on the giant televisions.

Above is the Orange Peel Chicken, featuring Gardein's mandarin orange chicken substitute with baby corn, bok choy and onions, as well as rice (your choice of white or brown). It was topped with a tangle of crispy noodles and was a delicious and filling, if not totally original, take on orange chicken. If you've been craving something like orange chicken, though, this is what you should order at Yard House.

The buffalo wings were also amazing, dripping with sauce, crispy and spicy. Although the ranch wasn't vegan, the "wings" were so saturated with the sauce that they didn't need a lot of extra moisture (and they weren't ridiculously spicy, either). The true test of any meat substitute these days is the beef product, though, and Gardein's burgers definitely deliver. You can order one on any style of Yard House burger; above is the Hawaiian, topped with fresh chopped pineapple, pepper jack cheese, aloha sauce and roasted garlic aioli. and served with a side of thin shoestring fries cooked to crispy perfection. It tasted just as good as it looked, juicy and meaty (although probably smaller than a regular Yard House burger). Paired with one of the restaurant's many beers, it was the perfect summertime meal for a plant-eater.

Fair warning: Yard House does not confirm that its products are vegan, most likely because they are prepared on the same surfaces as the meat dishes at the restaurant.

Visit www.yardhouse.com for more information.

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