Mushroom Bolognese at Leaf. Courtesy photo

Best Vegan and Vegetarian Food in Boulder

In Food & Drink by Aimee Heckel0 Comments

There’s more than just salad here. A vegan or vegetarian diet can be indulgent, luxurious and innovative, too.

Whether you’re meat-free for health, environmental, ethical or personal reasons, Boulder is built for you.

The HuffPost named Boulder one of the top 10 cities for vegetarians in the US in 2015.

PETA also put Boulder on the top 10 cities for vegans.

There are also vegan clubs and groups, like the Vegan Meet-Up group, which organizes monthly potlucks, restaurant outings, vegan-friendly happy hours and other events. It can even connect you with vegan cooking classes.

Grocery stores in Boulder also go out of their way to cater to vegans. Around Thanksgiving, look for special vegan Thanksgiving meals at stores like Natural Grocers.

Looking for a night out? Here’s where to get the best vegan food in Boulder County’s restaurants.

Shine Grilled cheese

Yes, you can get a gluten-free, dairy-free grilled cheese sandwich at Shine. Courtesy photo

1. Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place

Shine is known for being a completely gluten-free restaurant, but you can also sub cheese on any item for dairy-free cheese, making Shine a versatile restaurant for vegans, too. Everything here is made in-house, including vegan rolls and vegan sandwich bread, all made with brown rice flour, millet flour, tapioca flour, chia seeds and extra virgin olive oil.

This means you can enjoy vegan (and gluten-free) mac and cheese, grilled-cheese sandwiches, pizza and creamed kale. The mac and cheese is made with cashew cream with a touch of turmeric for the color and health benefits.

“When you can get that cashew cream by a kid, you know you’re doing a good job, and our kids love our mac and cheese,” Jessica Emich, co-owner and chef.

A popular vegan appetizer is the beet hummus, topped with sprouted (meaning it’s still raw) quinoa tabouli and served with crispy, gluten-free and vegan flatbread and flax crackers. If you like beets, you’ll also like the cultured beet drink. These are both made with locally grown beets.

“Our ingredients are local whenever possible, even the grains. We have personal relationships with our farmers,” says Emich.

There’s also vegan mushroom bisque (with a cult following), made with mushrooms from a local farm and blended with cashew cream; a house-made curry served with sprouted quinoa or cauliflower rice; a locally grown veggie burger made with local beans, local beets, caramelized onions and basil pesto; and jackfruit tacos so rich that customers often take a bite and then say, “We think you may have given us the chicken,” according to Emich. Even the refried beans are vegan.

For dessert, you can find vegan, grain-free chocolate chip cookies; vegan chocolate truffles with flavors that vary by season (rose, macha, herbs); and (wait for it) vegan “donut eyes”.

“You literally can’t tell the difference from glutenous and dairy donuts,” Emich says. “They’re crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and dusted with a whole-grain sugar that can be processed by the body better than white sugar.”

Fun fact: At the bar, instead of using egg whites to thicken some cocktails, Shine uses water from chickpeas. It has the same effect (creating froth) but is vegan.

Jefes vegan

The three vegetarian tacos at Jefe’s. Courtesy photo

2. Jefe’s tacos

This hip, modern taco joint in Longmont isn’t a vegetarian restaurant, but three of the best tacos on the menu happen to be vegetarian.

The Squashacado is made with butternut squash roasted with Mexican spices, fresh avocado, cilantro-lime crema, pico de gallo and toasted sunflower seeds. Remove the crema to make this option vegan. The Bangin’ Cauliflower (our favorite taco on the whole menu) is made with fresh cauliflower in a crisp, rice flour tempura, spicy citrus-sriracha aioli, fresh basil and pico de gallo. Even if you’re not vegetarian, you must try the Bangin’ Cauli. (The aioli on the cauliflower does contain eggs – sorry vegans!)

To pack in some vegan protein, don’t miss the Sofritas tacos: pressed tofu braised in tasty Chile Colorado and served with fresh avocado, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo.

Of course, a side of Jefe’s killer guac, salsa and corn chips makes this a paradise for meat-avoiders. Order your tacos with corn tortillas instead of flour and you’ve knocked out meat and gluten all at once.

Jill’s vegan coconut green curry. Courtesy photo

3. Jill’s Restaurant

Jill’s Restaurant, located inside the St. Julien Hotel in downtown Boulder, has three ways to enjoy high-end vegan fare.

Every Monday night, there’s a four-course vegan tasting dinner that changes weekly. Options may include the likes of a fig, pearl onion and hazelnut tart with truffle arugula and port syrup; coconut green tofu and grilled artichoke; or a smoked poblano corn chowder that’s spicy, yet subtly sweet, velvety and absolutely perfect. The dinner is $29.95 and includes a glass of wine, served in the dim, upscale (but friendly) restaurant — perfect for a romantic date night or special occasion.

Jill’s also has a vegan Ooh Là Là Lunch Buffet 11:30-1:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. And its weekly Friday lunch service, with an ever-changing assortment of vegan dishes, is so popular that there are two different seatings: 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Leaf Carrot Cake

4. Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant

You can’t talk about meat-free food in Boulder without giving a big nod to Leaf, an exclusively vegetarian joint ideal for a fancy day or night out. Best of all: The produce here comes from the local Three Leaf Farm whenever possible.

The gourmet menu here is marked with vegan, gluten-free and raw items, and the selection is impressive. Find items like Jamaican jerk tempeh, beet steak in a sesame crust that rivals beef steak (but for reals), root veggie gnocchi in orange butter, vegan crab cake, mushroom burgers and an edible seaweed salad.

Leaf even has a vegetarian breakfast, with things like raw pancakes and biscuits with vegan gravy.

Emmerson Whole Roasted gourd_preview

The whole roasted gourd at Emmerson. Courtesy photo

5. Emmerson

For a restaurant with such strong meat menu items, you might not expect to find our No. 1 favorite vegan dish at Emmerson, but this one is a shining star. Emmerson’s menu, as a whole, doesn’t have a ton of options for vegans, but there’s no need to pick and choose. Just order the whole roasted gourd and thank us later.

This roasted gourd is so rich and hearty, with hay cream, made from toasting hay, then steeping it and running almond milk through it to pick up the flavor. Add in veggie (rutabaga) “noodles,” in-season veggies and pine nuts. It’s so comforting.

The type of squash rotates with the season and availability (spanning kabocha to acorn to butternut to even spaghetti squash). It’s served on a bed of slightly smoky hay embers. You’ll feel like you just ate a giant bowl of cheesy pasta.

Oh, my gourd.

Next Door-Roasted Veggie Salad-Rachel Adams

The roasted veggie salad at Next Door. Photo by Rachel Adams

6. Next Door Eatery

Next Door isn’t a vegan restaurant, per se, but it makes it super convenient to eat vegan on the run. While you can eat in the restaurant, too, we love the ease of Next Door’s website (nextdooreatery.com), with a special widget that allows vegans to tick the box and narrow the menu to only vegan options. Order your meal for pick-up and it’ll be ready when you get there. Vegan or vegetarian to go is a cool and unique offering for vegans on the run.

The selection is impressive (and tasty), too. Our fave is the Next Door Veggie Bowl, with mushroom, cauliflower, broccolini, onion, quinoa and a slightly spicy cilantro tahini. The kale chips are a must-try, and the veggie tacos (cilantro slaw, pico, roasted jalapeno and lime crema) and balsamic beets with feta crumbles and toasted almonds are a win for vegetarians. There is a cozy vegan butternut squash  soup, too.

Other places in Boulder County to get vegan and vegetarian food:

Tsing Tao Asian Kitchen: This Boulder restaurant has designated vegan and vegetarian sections, including dishes made with soy meats, like orange “chicken” and Mongolian “beef.” It has vegan buffets on Monday and Thursday nights for those dinners when you want to really fill up on plant goodness.

Nepal Cuisine: This authentic Boulder restaurant has several plant-based menu items, from appetizers like vegetable samosas to steamed veggie dumplings stuffed with minced carrots, cabbage and onions and then served tomato achaar. The restaurant also does a vegan buffet on Monday.

PizzaRev: This make-your-own pizza joint offers dairy-free cheese, plant-based sausage and gluten-free and vegan crusts and sauces.

Boss Lady: Here’s another Boulder pizza spot with vegan and vegetarian options. Boss Lady has four cheese-free, vegan pies, or a lot of veggie options if you want to make your own pizza.

Cholaca: This isn’t a restaurant, but you can find this Boulder-made cacao in local retail stores. If you’re craving sweets but want to keep it clean, Cholaca is made with only three ingredients. No preservatives or additives, and it’s vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free.

Sun Deli & Liquor:  Don’t let the casual name of this hidden-gem joint steer you away. Sun Deli serves awesome vegan pizzas, topped with dairy-free cheese, dairy-free pesto, vegan chicken and seitan sausage. About half of the menu items here offer a vegan alternative, so there’s plenty of selection.

Julia’s Kitchen: This cafe is 100 percent vegan and gluten-free. It’s open all day, too. Try the hummus pizza, buckwheat pancakes or kitchari. The veggie pancake saute is also popular.

Gurkhas On The Hill: The specialty here is Indian, so it’s no surprise that Gurkhas has many vegetarian options (many Indians don’t eat meat). From noodles to wraps to spinach Sag Paneer, most things on the menu here are vegetarian.

The Yellow Deli: As part of the Yellow Deli’s regular menu is a daily vegetarian soup special; it changes every day.

Boulder Baked: This dessert-delivery joint also has a good selection of vegan desserts and cookies. They can deliver your vegan cookie to your hotel room late at night if you need a midnight snack.

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