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If you’re looking for delicious, plant-based cuisine that’s not centered around health or diet culture, look no further than Denver’s newest queer-owned, female-led restaurant, the Easy Vegan. The fare, served at pop-ups around the city, is exactly what the name implies. The Easy Vegan features unfussy, vegetable-forward specialties—think: creamy honey nut ramen, loaded baked potatoes, and ooey gooey cosmic brownies—that will satisfy your cravings for familiar dishes, drinks, and desserts.
Co-founders and partners Alexi Mandolini and Taylor Herbert started their business plan in late 2019, with a goal to open as a food truck in spring 2021. With Mandolini’s 15 years of professional cooking experience in Chicago and Herbert’s surplus of bar and restaurant management expertise at the now-shuttered LGBTQ+ restaurant and drag bar M Uptown, the couple knew their dream of opening Denver’s newest vegan hotspot was well within reach.
“We wanted to bring something different to Denver,” Mandolini says. “We too often feel like we are compromising our dining out experience by eating plant-based. The options can be slim, boring, or feel like an afterthought.”
In August 2020, the female entrepreneurs officially launched the Easy Vegan—much sooner than expected, due to the pandemic. After both losing their jobs in the hospitality industry, they decided there was no better time to deliver a vegan dining experience to Denverites who were tired of cooking at home. Herbert, a bartender at Asbury Provisions at the time, thought the Denver University area gastropub would be perfect for hosting Easy Vegan pop-up dinners. Before they knew it, Mandolini and Herbert were running a full bar, restaurant floor, and kitchen at Asbury by themselves for a limited capacity of about 25 guests at a time. For the first six months of business, the Easy Vegan was a twice weekly pop-up with a new menu every week.
Now foodies can still find the supper-club-style dinners popping up around the Denver area year-round (check Instagram and Facebook for times and locations), and enjoy a weekly rotating, seasonal prix fixe menu. A sit-down dining experience typically includes at least five vegetable-forward, chef-driven courses (including a fruity intermezzo dish between courses), and a full bar with featured cocktail pairings. The dinners sell out every time, so Mandolini and Herbert recommend booking a table as soon as the menu drops.
The menus at the duo’s pop-up restaurants are a good preview of what they plan to bring to their permanent restaurant, which is set to open next year in Capitol Hill, South Broadway, or Uptown. The couple’s hope for the Easy Vegan is that it delivers a culinary experience that is interactive, whimsical, and unpretentious.
“Our goal is to reimagine vegetables beyond the constraints of health fads and diet culture and craft beautiful, delicious, and exciting food where you don’t feel like you’re missing something without a meat protein, or even a meat substitute at the center of your plate,” Herbert says. Guests can expect sustainably sourced vegetables from local farmers, as well as from Mandolini and Herbert’s own 300-square-foot garden. Be sure to keep an eye out for the creamy honey nut ramen—a newer menu item that they will serve throughout the winter months—as well as various savory dishes like potato pierogis with wild mushroom gravy, carrot osso bucco, and kohlrabi and leek soup (new dishes are revealed almost daily on Instagram).
Next summer, you’ll also find the Easy Vegan tent at some of Denver’s farmers’ markets in City Park and on South Pearl Street.
“There are a lot of awesome vendors who are doing handhelds and meat substitutions really well, so we wanted to do something different,” Herbert says. “Our loaded potatoes quickly became a crowd favorite. Who the heck doesn’t love a potato?”
Mandolini and Herbert always encourage guests to try whatever loaded potato is on the menu, including the elote and pierogi varieties, as well as the umami-forward loaded Japanese sweet potato topped with truffled taro chips, fried onions, black sesame seeds, and cilantro. And diners can satisfy sugar cravings with Easy Vegan’s signature cosmic brownie or oatmeal cream pie, both made with dairy-free ingredients.
Mandolini and Herbert expect to open the Easy Vegan’s permanent restaurant in mid-2022, but in the meantime, check out a pop-up dinner to whet your appetite.
“We don’t just want to be a great vegan restaurant in Denver, we want to be a great restaurant,” Mandolini says. “Period.”