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Susan Joy Paul

One of my first columns for this paper was about eating vegan here in Colorado Springs. I hadn’t thought much about it since then, but a Dec. 8 letter to the editor from reader Jenny Rice caught my eye: "In search of plant-based restaurant meals." So I decided it was time to revisit the topic.

I stopped eating four-legged animals more than 40 years ago and went “full vegan” — no animal products including dairy, eggs, and honey — in 2013. At the time, vegan options in our fair city were hard to come by. Going out to eat usually involved overpaying for a salad, because I’d have to request it without the meat, cheese and egg, and restaurant owners did not discount the price accordingly. On the road, I had even fewer choices, especially for breakfast. To get a vegan English muffin at a fast-food restaurant, I had to order an egg muffin sandwich — hold the egg, meat, cheese, and butter — and then pay full price for the dry muffin. I seldom went out to eat, and when I did, it was usually north for Watercourse Foods or Native Foods in Denver, or a stuffed pizza at Beau Jo’s in Evergreen.

Grocery stores, at the time, were doing just a little better. King Sooper’s, Safeway, Whole Foods, Natural Grocers and Sprouts were beginning to expand their vegan offerings beyond the dreaded Gardenburger — a meatless frozen patty that had been a staple in every vegan’s freezer for decades. Brands like Gardein, Daiya and Follow Your Heart were finally showing up in grocer’s freezers and refrigerator cases.

A lot has changed in eight years. Today, I can head to almost any grocery store and find a variety of products by those brands and new ones like Impossible, Just and Beyond. Even more exciting are the restaurants that have recognized their customers want more plant-based choices. Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of places and bothered a lot of servers with my questions: “Do you have any vegan items? Can you veganize any of the non-vegan entrees? What kind of oil do you cook your fries in?” And now I finally know where to eat around town. If you’re vegan and looking for some new places to dine out, or you aren’t vegan, but looking for some plant-based meals to replace the usual fare, check out these restaurants.

I live on the Northwest side, so these places get most of my business:

  • Trinity Brewing: Their vegan items are clearly labeled on the menu, and I usually get a vegan burger because they do them so well. Aching to try the Red Bean Chili and the New York-style Cheesecake. I’ve heard good things.
  • EIM Thai: They will veganize just about anything on the menu. I like the Tom Kha Soup made with tofu. If I go with a friend, we both order soup and split a side of rice to add. Coupled with the Noodles Wrap (hold the fish sauce) and a side of peanut sauce for dipping, you’ll come away very satisfied.
  • Heart of Jerusalem Cafe: I get the Veggie Plate, but you can veganize other items. Just let them know “no meat, no eggs, no dairy and no honey.”
  • Red Leg Brewing Co.: Not a restaurant, but my favorite food truck, The Green Machine Grill, visits this place regularly. Don’t miss the Prickly Pear Sandwich. I can’t describe it, but I can’t stop thinking about it either.

I don’t spend much time on the Northeast side, but when I do, I have a couple of favorites:

  • Santana’s Vegan Grill: All vegan, all the time. My favorite is usually whatever I ate there last, but I’m especially partial to their Chicken Parmesan Sandwich. Oh, and they have the best fries in town. Seriously, no one else comes close to Santana’s Seasoned Fries.
  • Mod Pizza: Pizza and salad. Specify vegan dressing for the salad and vegan cheese and sausage for the pizza, along with a good selection of veggies.

Old Colorado City is home to one of my favorite restaurants:

  • Monse’s Taste of El Salvador Pupuseria: Their entire breakfast menu can be veganized. I usually order the Salvadoran Breakfast or the Salvadoran Potato Skillet. For lunch or dinner, I opt for the Pupusa Colorado stuffed with one of five vegan combo options and topped with a vegan meat substitute (they offer four choices) or the Chile Relleno made with vegan meat and cheese. Their chips and guac and fried plantains are pretty awesome, too.

Whenever I find myself downtown, I have several choices:

  • Poor Richard’s: They have finally re-opened! This place has hand-tossed pizza that you can order with vegan cheese plus your favorite veggies, or vegan burgers made with your choice of patty. I usually get a salad and a slice of pizza, or a Mexi-Cali burger with a black bean patty and vegan cheese. So yummy.
  • Panino’s: Get the Veggie, hold the cheese, and add refried beans. Potato chips on the side. These are so filling that I usually split one with a friend and pay for a second side.
  • José Muldoon’s: The Happy Vegan Tacos are my favorite. They come with lettuce wraps, but I order hard taco shells to stuff them into. You can also get vegan fajitas and enchiladas here, and both are very good. Add chips, salsa, guac and a margarita. It’s a great time to be vegan!

We may never get a Watercourse Foods, a Native Foods, or even a Beau Jo’s in Colorado Springs, but we’re definitely showing massive signs of improvement, and I appreciate not having to travel out of town to get a great vegan meal. I hope that you give these places a try, and if Jenny hasn’t already discovered them, that she tries them too. And I look forward to more Colorado Springs restaurants expanding their menus with vegan options in the coming year.

Susan Joy Paul is an author, editor, and freelance writer. She has lived on Colorado Springs’ northwest side for more than 20 years. Contact Susan at woodmennotes@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

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