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Basanta “Bobby” Lamsal is responsible for a couple of the metro area’s most well known Indian restaurants, including Mehak India’s Aroma, a cozy yet upscale eatery in Cherry Creek, and fast-casual chain Zaika Indian Express, which has locations in Denver, Littleton, Broomfield, Colorado Springs, and Castle Rock. But this past December, Lamsal unveiled a brand new concept with Total Vegan Indian Restaurant, which offers a full menu of delicious bites completely free of animal products.
Total Vegan sits in an unassuming strip mall in Highlands Ranch, a location which, although not his first choice, Lamsal is now grateful for. “I actually started [with] looking at Boulder because I know there’s a big population of people who eat vegan there,” Lamsal says. “But when I saw our current location, it just seemed like it fit. Plus, it’s a small location, so rent is affordable and it gives us room to expand in the future.”
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The menu consists of a selection of mouthwatering appetizers like mango-moong salad, a mixture of green lentils and chickpeas drizzled with a mango dressing, as well as staples like gobi manchurian, battered and fried cauliflower florets tossed in a soy-tomato sauce. The real stand out is the entrée menu, which features vegan preparations of a variety of Indian American classics like tikka masala, vindaloo, korma, and saag. With chicken and paneer (a mild, milky cheese) out of the picture, restaurant-goers can pick two vegan proteins—any duo of tofu, mushrooms, potatoes, cauliflower, okra, eggplant, sweet potatoes, or mixed veggies—to customize their perfect curry.
Lamsal was inspired to start Total Vegan after prices for meat and dairy skyrocketed during the pandemic. That’s when he realized that, even in the regular menus at Mehak and Zaika, many of his dishes already come prepared without animal-based ingredients. “I really wanted to start a restaurant where people who follow strict vegan diets would feel comfortable knowing that there’s never any chance of cross-contamination,” Lamsal says.
Veganizing the standard Indian restaurant menu wasn’t without hurdles. Lamsal says that finding adequate alternatives to dairy ingredients, which are traditional to certain curries, posed an interesting challenge. For example, instead of cow’s milk, he uses coconut cream to bring a smooth consistency to his entrees; and the comforting chais are made with almond milk. For dishes in which dairy provides structural integrity, Total Vegan offers equally appetizing substitute items that satisfy the same cravings. Instead of naan, try tawa roti, a whole-wheat flatbread, or poori, a fried unleavened bread that’s crispy yet fluffy. Some common Indian desserts like gulab jamun (balls of fried dough soaked in a floral syrup) also rely on milk, so opt for Total Vegan’s laddu, two pieces of a similarly spherical confection made with chickpea flour.
As for Lamsal’s favorite meal at Total Vegan, he recommends the kala chana, a dish starring Indian-grown black chickpeas. According to him, it’s a food that’s easy to mess up if not cooked properly, as it requires extensive time in a pressure cooker to yield soft, flavorful chickpeas. Regardless, it’s one of the restaurant’s most popular orders.
Eventually, Lamsal plans to hand the reins of Total Vegan over to his son as well as the restaurant’s executive chef. “The day they want it, it’s theirs,” Lamsal says. “I’ll still be attached to it and help when needed, but I won’t be involved with day-to-day operations.”
For now, Lamsal hopes to operate the restaurant for at least a couple more years. Luckily, he’s found that many of his customers aren’t even on a vegan diet, but simply just curious passersby that become regulars.
“One of my business partners at another restaurant questioned why I would want to start a restaurant that cuts out… that large percentage of the population that doesn’t eat vegan food,” Lamsal says. “But you know what, you never know until you actually open the doors. It’s too early to tell if it will succeed, but I’m confident people will like it.”
9563 S. University Blvd., Suite A, Highlands Ranch
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