A guide to mindful dining

Waylon Lewis tells you where to go and what to order

Elephant Journal’s Waylon Lewis at Cafe Aion in Boulder. Credit: Rhianna Truex

Waylon Lewis may be the most famous vegan in a city famous for its natural foods. Through Elephant Journal, his independent Boulder-based media platform, Lewis connects with thousands of people around the world interested in living a mindful life.  

On his Walk the Talk podcast and in social media posts, he has never been shy about espousing the benefits of a meatless existence: He just doesn’t want to discuss it every single time he goes out for a sandwich. 

“There are lots of jokes about vegans I think are funny. One is: ‘How do you know if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.’” Lewis says. “I actually don’t want to talk about being vegan. I want to be a customer. I want to hang out with my friends. I want to have fun, order some good stuff and tip well.”

The problem, in Lewis’ eyes, is that few local restaurants are truly welcoming to vegans. 

“At a lot of Boulder restaurants, there may not be a clear vegan option, let alone two or three that you can order without ever saying the word ‘vegan,’” Lewis says. “The only time I talk about it is asking if I can substitute this for that. Sometimes it doesn’t feel right if the chef has to take the guts out of this beautiful dish and substitute avocado.” 

A vegan since 2007, Lewis says not eating animals is really only one aspect that matters in mindful dining. He also tries to frequent spots that utilize local farms or limit plastic use.

“I think of the dining question as a Venn diagram where delicious, healthy and ethical intersect,” Lewis says. “I don’t like healthy if it doesn’t taste great.” 

Lewis often gets asked for advice on navigating the dining landscape. It can be vexing to identify restaurants that fill the prescription. Yelp and Google offer tons of dining categories for Boulder, but “mindful” isn’t one of them.

“You have to balance deeply caring about everything with being willing to be a little brokenhearted about the state of the world,” he says, “and then doing your best.” 

Boulder vegan dining guide

The following list of restaurants includes Lewis’ favorites as well as suggestions crowd-sourced from the Elephant Journal community. The quoted comments are from Lewis.

Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant
1710 Pearl St.

“I go to Leaf so much because they have 30 options in different cuisines and their own farm. I never get bored. They mess up and put dairy in stuff sometimes, like all non-vegan restaurants do.”

A mushroom entrée at Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant.
Courtesy: Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant

3101 Pearl Parkway

“Lots of vegan,healthy, yummy choices.”

1509 Arapahoe Ave.

“They have a good all-vegan menu, but it’s all packaged to-go incontainers that can’t be composted on the Front Range.” 

Skratch Labs Cafe
1600 Pearl St. Unit 110

“Amazing, affordable, healthy bowls. Great hot sauce.”

Tiffin’s Indian Cafe
2416 Arapahoe Ave.

“Wide selection of vegan South Indian dishes.” 

Jaipur Indian Restaurant
1214 Walnut St.

“Jaipur has one entirely vegan menu, but I never order from it because the buffet is three-fourths vegan anyway.”

Tsing Tao
607 S. Broadway Suite A

Vegan buffet Mondays and Thursdays

Jill’s Restaurant
900 Walnut St.

Monthly vegan lunch buffet

Just BE Kitchen
2500 30th St. #101

A new restaurant focused on gluten-free and allergy-free dishes. 

Flower Child offers bowls, wraps, salads, grains, veggies, fruits and more. Courtesy: Flower Child

Meta Burger
1905 29th St. #1174

Vegetarian and vegan burgers and shakes

Flower Child
2580 Arapahoe Ave. #110

“It’s a chain restaurant, but there are some good, healthy options.” 

January Coffee
1886 30th St. Suite B

Westword just named its vegan breakfast burrito the best in the Denver area. 

Nok’s Donuts
400 W. South Boulder Road #2300, Lafayette

Scratch-made vegan and gluten-free doughnuts available made using steamed sweet potatoes with vegan chocolate icing. 

Other recommended eateries offering a variety of vegan choices include Sherpa’s Restaurant, Cafe Aion, T/aco, China Gourmet, Centro Mexican Kitchen, Illegal Pete’s, Gelato Boy and the Corner Cafe on the Hill. 

Medi-burger, served at Coors Field during Rockies’ games.
Credit: Aramark

Local Food News: Plant-based Rockies eats

Coors Field is launching another effort to distract vegan Rockies fans from the team’s dismal play with the Better-Off Burgers stand. Game day choices include plant-based Chorizo Burgers, Medi Burgers and dairy-free strawberry tahini milkshakes. 

Culinary Calendar: An Earth Day Feast 

Denver’s Town Hall Collaborative hosts Vegan Night from 5-9 p.m. on April 11, presented by VegFest Colorado with six vegan food stands and trucks. 

Jill’s Restaurant at the St Julien Hotel hosts an Earth Day vegan communal dinner on April 22. 

Words to Chew On: Death in the Kitchen

“To cook, you must kill. You make ghosts. You cook to make ghosts. Spirits that live on in every ingredient. Can you taste them?” 

— From The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais

John Lehndorff talks about food, cooking, local dining, farming and issues weekly on Radio Nibbles. Podcasts: kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles 


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