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Colorado: home of the National Western Stock Show, a $5.3 billion livestock industry, and…a thriving community of plant-based innovators? Despite our carnivorous culture, the Centennial State is seeing a boom in meatless meats, as well as vegan cheeses, milks, snacks, and treats. Between these newer products and locally grown staples like Dove Creek beans and cultivated gourmet mushrooms, we can confidently say that there’s never been a better time to be a plant-based eater in the Mile High City.
We tasted scores of products to find 18 local, animal-free alternatives that are tasty enough to appeal to vegan and omnivorous Coloradans alike.
The Backstory: Made by Planterra—a subsidiary of Greeley-based JBS USA, a meat-processing company—Ozo’s marinated soy-and-wheat chicken cutlets (choose between garlic and herb or sea salt and pepper) have a firm texture that shreds easily.
How To Use: Swap the surprisingly savory slabs for grilled chicken breast.
Find It: King Soopers, Safeway, and ozofoods.com
The Backstory: When Arkansas-born chef Ryan Gill went vegan, one thing she desperately missed was chicken wings. So, in 2020, she created her own crispy, deep-fried version made with a hearty garbanzo bean and fava flour blend.
How To Use: Bake or air fry the breaded beauties and then douse them in Pescky Kitchen’s smoky, garlicky take on Buffalo sauce.
Find It: Choice Market and pesckykitchen.com
The Backstory: Unripe jackfruit has a mild flavor and juicy texture that make it a popular vegan meat swap. This Boulder-based company uses the high-fiber tree fruit as the basis for its line of meat-free meatballs, sausages, nuggets, and crumbles.
How To Use: Try the tender, fennel-tinged meatballs atop spaghetti or tucked into a toasty sub.
Find It: Whole Foods, Target, Sprouts, Safeway, and jackandannies.com
The Backstory: Hold the Beef’s vegan loafs, burgers, and hot dogs are made by Denver’s Frontière Natural Meats as a sustainable alternative to its traditional offerings. The soy-and-wheat-based meatloaf replicates the firm mouthfeel and earthy flavor of beef so convincingly that it could fool even a die-hard carnivore.
How To Use: Repurpose leftovers from Sunday’s meatloaf dinner in sandwiches for lunch on Monday.
Find It: Restaurants across the state and holdthebeefplease.com
The Backstory: Blends of finely chopped cauliflower, mushroom, carrot, quinoa, and sundried tomato, Crummies crumbles (unseasoned or taco-flavored) aren’t meant to replicate meat, but they are a flavorful replacement nestled in tortillas or stuffed inside owner Stephanie Baudhuin’s vegan tamales.
How To Use: Sauté and deploy anywhere you would use ground beef.
Find It: Farmers’ markets in Loveland, downtown Lakewood, and Milliken and at coloradocrummies.com
The Backstory: In just four days, Meati Foods’ indoor fermentation process produces enough mycelium (fungi) roots to equal the protein found in an entire cow. The three-year-old Boulder startup is growing quickly, too, with a new Thornton facility on the way. Meati’s innovative whole steak browns and chews like the real thing, but we’re partial to the crispy chicken cutlets.
How To Use: Air fry the slightly malty cutlets and place between bread for a satisfying fried “chicken” sandwich.
Find It: All Birdcall locations, select Sprouts stores, and meati.com
The Backstory: Co-founders Ryan and Lindsey Cunningham have seen explosive success since starting RollinGreens as a plant-based food truck in 2011, appearing on Shark Tank and inking a deal with Robert Herjavec for their millet tater tots in 2020. Their newest offering—shelf-stable packets of plant-based meat crumbles—are made with simple ingredients (pea protein and seasonings) and are perfect for backpacking and camping as they don’t require refrigeration and cook in around 10 minutes.
How To Use: Rehydrate the ground taco flavor (a blend of pea protein and pinto bean flakes) and tuck between tortillas.
Find It: King Soopers, Walmart, or rollingreens.com
The Backstory: This Fort Collins-based outfit ferments black beans, chickpeas, and French lentils and inoculates them with spores to produce soy-free artisan tempeh. The resulting cakes are a lot more delicious than that process suggests, with complex flavors and a pleasantly dense texture.
How To Use: With tempeh this tasty, we like it simply sliced and fried to golden, nutty perfection.
Find It: Sun Market, Leever’s Locavore, Lucky’s Market, the City Park Farmers Market and Larimer County Farmers’ market, and littlehouseoftempeh.com
Colorado Sun Tofu
The Backstory: Founder Henry Han uses organic, non-GMO soybeans and a traditional method for Colorado Sun Tofu’s medium and firm cakes. Think you don’t like tofu? If there were ever a version to win over skeptics, Han’s incredibly fresh, silky tofu is it.
How To Use: Try freezing and thawing before you cook for a chewier, more flavor-absorbent tofu. Follow this method for a crispy, crowd-pleasing preparation.
Find It: Leever’s Locavore
The Backstory: Sure, you can pick up a can of lard-free refried beans at any old grocery store these days. But none are as creamy and flavorful as these vegan pinto beans, which are slow cooked from scratch and bolstered with onions, garlic, and coconut oil.
How To Use: Microwave the spicy green chile version right in the BPA-free container and dollop in tortillas for a fast, delicious dinner.
Find It: Ruby’s Market, Natural Grocers, Lucky’s Market, the South Pearl Street Farmers’ Market, and holyfrijoledenver.com.
The Backstory: Malina Farias’ artisan “cheeses” are made with a tofu base and flavored with umami-heavy ingredients like miso, mushroom, and nutritional yeast. Surprisingly, they crumble, slice, and melt like their dairy counterparts—and many of her flavors are nut free, a rarity in the plant-based cheese world.
How To Use: Crumble the salty olive feta onto a salad or combine the Colorado blue and sharp cheddar for a melty grilled cheese.
Find It: Leever’s Locavore, Choice Market, select Lucky’s Market locations, and peacefulrebelvegancheese.com
The Backstory: Founded by a professional chef and a CEO in 2011, this independent Colorado brand’s line of ultra-creamy dips and dressings are 100-percent plant based.
How To Use: Spiked with (gluten-free) beer and roasted New Mexico green chiles, the cashew-based chile con queso is a corn chip’s best friend. And pizza dipped in the green chile ranch dressing is also a slam-dunk.
Find It: King Soopers, Whole Foods, or letthyfood.com
The Backstory: Vegan, gluten-free, organic oat milk made in Boulder and delivered in reusable glass bottles? Yep, Oatis is the modern, granola-fied version of the classic milk delivery man. This thick, velvety beverage beats the grocery store oat milk options, and if you live in Boulder, Denver, and the surrounding ‘burbs, you can even set up a subscription for regular home deliveries.
How To Use: Use the original version anywhere you’d use regular milk and the chocolate version in a protein shake or frothed for coffee.
Find It: Ruby’s Market, Nude Foods Market, and oatislove.com
The Backstory: Filipino-American Kris Cariño started Hella Herbivore as a YouTube channel to share vegan recipes in 2017, pivoting to a Denver pop-up serving plant-based Southeast Asian cuisine in 2018. Since the pandemic hit, however, he has been focusing on his line of flavor-bomb vegan chile oils. We’re a fan of all three flavors—garlic crisp, classic chile oil, and Szechuan oil—and firm believers that there’s little that wouldn’t be improved from a drizzle of these delicious condiments.
How To Use: With eggs, noodles, and atop avocado toast. The toasty chile oil also makes a surprisingly good topper for vanilla ice cream.
Find It: Leever’s Locavore, the City Park Farmers Market, and hellaherbivore.com
The Backstory: With their line of relishes, sauces, and condiments, Yai’s Thai co-founders Leland Copenhagen and Sarah Hughes set out to make Thai cooking easy and healthy for everyone—including vegans. Since their success at the South Pearl Street Farmers Market, the product line has exploded to encompass everything from peanut-free Thai almond sauce to coconut-lime marinade. (Note: Be sure to check the product labels as a couple of the curry sauces and the pad thai sauce contain fish sauce.)
How To Use: Keep a few jars of the Thai coconut yellow curry sauce (whose creamy body is balanced by bright notes of galangal and makrut lime leaf) on hand for fast, easy dinners.
Find It: Whole Foods, Leever’s Locavore, yaisthai.com
The Backstory: Yeasted, pearl-sugar-flecked Belgian liège waffles are a real treat. While this brand (founded by Boulder cyclist Will Dugan in 2018) crafts them without the eggs and butter, they are studded with white chunks of high-quality couplet pearl sugar imported from Belgium. The packaging facilitates on-the-go consumption, making these waffles a delicious way to fuel a long bike ride or trail run.
How To Use: Warm in the toaster and spread with (plant-based) butter and syrup, or tuck in your pack for adventures.
Find It: vafels.com
The Backstory: Everyone screams for ice cream, and at Sweet Action, so to can those averse to eggs and dairy. There are always at least two soy- and coconut-based vegan selections on the menu with whimsical, hand-crafted flavors like vegan coffee and doughnuts, caramel carrot cake, and raspberry brownie. Bonus: Sweet Action’s production runs on wind energy.
How To Use: Enjoy atop a vegan sugar cone.
Find It: Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Leever’s Locavore, and Sweet Action scoop shops
The Backstory: Vegan and gluten-free desserts aren’t always synonymous with delicious — but that’s not the case with Sammmies. Handcrafted in Longmont, these treats feature soft, chewy almond flour cookie dough encasing creamy “nice cream” (dairy-free ice cream). These easy-eating ice cream sandwiches come in indulgent flavors like peanut butter chocochunk, “fudgie” batter raspberry, and, our favorite, salty sweet cookie dough.
How To Use: Just unwrap and eat.
Find It: Whole Foods, Leever’s Locavore, Choice Market, sammmies.com