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Eating vegan and vegetarian in Colorado Springs

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I moved to Colorado Springs just over a year ago and, as a vegan, was on a mission: Find the food and find the community. Turns out, doing both was much easier than I would have imagined.

Let's start with the food. You don't actually have to shop at a specialty store for vegetarian food because vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts and seeds can be found at any local grocer. King Soopers (multiple locations, kingsoopers.com) and Safeway (multiple locations, safeway.com) generate decent organic produce selections as well as tofu, miso, tempeh and vegetarian "convenience foods" such as veggie burgers, vegan cheese, wheat-based sausages, vegan butter and more. King Soopers, part of the Kroger family, even carries a store-brand organic line, Simple Truth, that includes vegan meat alternatives in the freezer section.

Whole Foods Market (7635 N. Academy Blvd., 3180 New Center Point, wholefoodsmarket.com), Sprouts Farmers Market (1730 Dublin Blvd., sprouts.com), and Natural Grocers (1825 S. Nevada Ave., 7690 N. Academy Blvd., naturalgrocers.com) are more specialized and offer some of those harder-to-find items such as non-dairy sour cream and cream cheese, vegetarian roasts, vegan bacon and lunchmeat, vegan desserts and even nutritional yeast.

An extra-special shopping experience can be had at Mountain Mama (1625 W. Uintah St., mountainmamanaturalfoods.com), a small, independent health-food mart that offers many vegan staples, as well as bulk items, vitamins, and a deli that makes some of the best vegan potato salad I've ever had. Whole Foods and Mountain Mama also occasionally offer vegan cooking classes.

Rating restaurants

Finding vegetarian and vegan food at restaurants is equally important; I was pleasantly surprised by the number of establishments that accommodate the vegetarian diner.

Though this city has yet to open an entirely vegetarian restaurant, Nourish Organic Juice (303 E. Pikes Peak Ave., nourishorganicjuice.com) and Ola Juice Bar (27 E. Kiowa St., olajuicebar.com) do offer (in addition to great juices) simple plant-based meals to eat in or carry out. Ola serves up make-your-own-bowls of rice, beans and veggies with nut sauces. Nourish offers two to three vegan soups each day, as well as salads, and you do not want to miss their kale chips.

Seeds Community Café (109 E. Pikes Peak Ave., seedscommunitycafe.com), a nonprofit pay-what-you-can restaurant located downtown, offers several vegetarian and vegan options each day. (The Tempeh Sloppy Joes are a favorite.)

Adam's Mountain Café in Manitou Springs (934 Manitou Ave., #102, adamsmountain.com) has a variety of vegan and vegetarian options on the permanent menu, including my hands-down favorite vegan dish in the entire city: Senegalese vegetables over udon noodles with sesame-crusted tofu. Be aware that after taking a beating in last year's flooding off the Waldo Canyon burn scar, Adam's is planning on moving east to 26 Manitou Ave. sometime this spring.

Other veg-options abound, too. McCabe's Tavern (520 S. Tejon St., mccabestavern.com), Rasta Pasta (405 N. Tejon St., rastapastacs.com), Poor Richard's Restaurant (324½ N. Tejon St., poorrichardsdowntown.com), Nosh (121 S. Tejon St., nosh121.com), Silver Pond Chinese Restaurant (5670 N. Academy Blvd., bestsilverpondchinese.com), The Blue Star (1645 S. Tejon St., thebluestar.net), and Trinity Brewing Company (1466 W. Garden of the Gods Road, trinitybrew.com) offer tofu or vegan meat alternatives on the menu. TAPAteria (2607 W. Colorado Ave., tapateria.com), Uchenna (2501 W. Colorado Ave., uchennaalive.com), Taste of Jerusalem (15 E. Bijou St., tasteofjerusalemcafe.com), Jake and Telly's Greek Taverna (2616 W. Colorado Ave., jakeandtellys.com), and many more offer veg-friendly items; in fact, a local group keeps a running list of veg-friendly restaurants at tiny.cc/4d1zcx.

Finding friends

And that brings us to the second common question for the newcomer: Where are the vegans? Good news. They're everywhere.

There are two very active MeetUp groups in town. The Colorado Springs Vegan and Vegetarian Group (meetup.com/ColoradoSpringsVeg) has more than 600 members and offers social events, classes, workshops, and special events such as the quarterly Vegan Pop-Up Market. The Vegan Society of Colorado Springs (meetup.com/CS-Vegan-Society) also has hundreds of members and offers community classes; events include the Plant-Strong Seminar.

The CC Plant Strong group at Colorado College brings in speakers ranging from vegan ultra-marathoner Rich Roll to Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Bauer; the events are open to both students and the broader community. There are also two animal-rights Meetup groups: Colorado Springs Animal Action Network (meetup.com/csAnimalActionNetwork) and Pikes Peak Animal Rights Team (meetup.com/PikesPeakAnimalRights).

Finally, if you're looking for vegetarian or vegan services — from cooking schools to holistic health care to wellness coaching — or for businesses owned and operated by vegans and vegetarians, turn to The Colorado Springs VEG Business Directory (coloradospringsvegbusinessdirectory.com).

And welcome to Colorado Springs, veg-heads!

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