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   Paige Newman | VegTravel in Colorado

Vegan in the Wild West
By Paige Newman

November 14, 2000

My relatives were concerned about my recent decision to move to the Southwest. "It's cowboy country. Everyone has ranches. What are you going to eat?" Finding a place that felt like home was of utmost importance to me, even if it meant giving up the ease of living in cities like San Francisco or Seattle, where I was surrounded with vegetarian restaurants, and veganism was more common.

The beauty of the red rock mountains and numerous rivers, friendly people of varying cultures, and endless sunny days made me choose Durango, Colorado as the town where I would settle. When I first visited Durango I was discouraged by menus touting elk medallions, frog legs and smoked kangaroo loin. However, once I started poking around and calling restaurants, I was pleased to find a variety of places a vegan could eat.

One of the first places I seek out in any new area is a health food store. Luckily, in the small town of Durango, there is more than one! Nature's Oasis (970-247-1988) at 1123 Camino del Rio, is the biggest natural foods store, bearing a deli with vegan choices. The nori rolls, filled with avocado, carrot and brown rice have a wasabi kick to them, as does the Kung Pao tofu, both great for picnic lunches. Several salads are available at the deli, such as the signature beet salad. The store has a nice selection of organic produce and plenty of typical veggie snacks, from frozen entrees to bulk grains and such.


A smaller health food store with a new deli is Durango Natural Foods (970-247-8129), at 575 E. 8th Avenue. They regularly feature vegan items like tempeh tandoori, sandwiches and soups. I was happy to hear what the deli offers is "almost always all vegan."

At 1021 Main Avenue sits a little store called A Health Forest (970-385-4659), with energy bars, vitamins, drinks and personal care items. The employees are knowledgeable and full of tips for tourists wanting to know about the town.

Another place to get food for-the-road is northeast of downtown at the corner of County Road 250 and Florida Road. Old Town Bake Shop (now called Bread and located at 42 County Rd 250, 247-5100) creates crusty and delicious kalamata olive bread, baguettes, and other selections. Or you might try Johnny McGuire's Deli (970-259-8816) Johnny McGuire's Deli is at 601 E. Second Ave. Much to my liking, I discovered the filling "4:20 Vegan" sub sandwich, packed with avocado, hummus, and veggies-and they even deliver for free!

Right next door to A Health Forest, at 1019 Main Avenue, is The Buzz House (970-385-5831), with tasty and inexpensive fare. Local art is cheery as is the owner, who prepares tofu veggie scramble with a bagel and fresh fruit, or tofu burritos with rice, beans and salsa - on both of these dishes you can request no cheese, which is easy because this cafe speaks vegan. An extra thrill: this delightful small eatery makes vegan muffins.

To my surprise, I also found a yummy tofu scramble, accompanied by fried potatoes and a bagel, at the hopping Carver's Restaurant and Brewery (970-259-2545). Located at 1022 Main Avenue, Carver's serves eggplant caponata, salads, a portabello sandwich, and other vegetarian dishes that can be made vegan on request. They have live music in the patio, and are one of the venues hosting the local bluegrass festival each spring.

Another bustling place is Mai Thai (970-247-8272), a tiny, casual restaurant at 1050 Main Avenue. Not only is the price right but the food is great, whether it be the roasted vegetable stir-fry with garlic sauce, or either the yellow or panang curries, both of which come with no fish sauce. There are few tables, so be prepared to take your food with you if stopping by at a popular time. I suggest calling ahead for the hours, since I have often found a "closed" sign hanging on the door.

Looking for a true taste of Durango culture, where healthy-looking people chain their mountain bikes and dogs outside while they sip lattes? Head to Steaming Bean Coffee (970-385-7901) at 915 Main Avenue, my favorite place to get a chai (they have several types to choose from) with soymilk. At this charming cafe, vegan soups are frequently advertised on the sandwich board outside, except for during the hot summer days. Don't miss Hummingbird Herbals (970-259-8965), a pleasantly aromatic store selling tinctures, bath salts, bulk teas and more. Hummingbird Herbals is located at 230 E. College Dr.

The Durango Farmer's Market ( sells herbal products too, along with fresh, mostly organic produce and flowers for loved ones. The market typically runs every Saturday morning between mid-June and mid-October, depending on the weather. You can find the friendly farm folk on 8th Street between the train tracks and Camino del Rio.

Those desiring a sampling of New Mexican cuisine might like Gazpacho (970-259-9494), at 431 E. 2nd Avenue. Unusual for Durango, the menu includes a vegetarian section. To ensure an entree is vegan, simply request no cheese. My favorite dish is the chalupas, crispy corn tortillas with guacamole, refried beans, lettuce and tomato. Note the green chile, often made with pork, is vegan.

Cyprus Café (970-385-6884), at 725 E. Second Avenue, has a lovely, more formal ambiance, including an outside patio. While at first glance I saw nothing vegan available, I'd heard Cyprus Café had vegetarian food on their Mediterranean menu, so I asked what they could whip up for me. I was impressed with the falafel, served with grilled pita and olive oil, hummus and baba ganoush, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes--some of the freshest I had tasted in Durango. I made sure they omitted the yogurt cucumber relish called tzajiki. I also shared an assorted olives appetizer (we had fun attempting to stab olives, soaking in olive oil, with a fork).

A Durango veteran, one of the few vegetarians I have encountered here, told me the best restaurant in town was 937 Main (their address on Main Avenue). Known for their eclectic American cuisine, this restaurant also goes by the name Ken and Sue's Place (970-259-2616). Staff told me the menu catered to vegetarians more than vegans, but they could create something special. I went for the angel hair pasta, delicious in both flavor and presentation, with sweet oven-dried cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic and basil. The sounds of a water fountain in the back patio and stylish wooden tables added to the tranquil atmosphere.

Another great spot is Grandma Chung's, which recently reopened at 100 Jenkins Ranch Rd. #H, Skyridge Village, 259-0600

I learned every Tuesday is vegetarian night at Bayou Doc's (970-259-6486) at 701 E. 2nd Avenue, where Cajun Creole food can be found. Sample offerings include an artichoke pasta with white wine sauce, and red beans and rice. Since they offer rich foods for all eating preferences, if you are a vegan be sure to specify you want no butter in your dinner.

If you are willing to be patient, realizing you may need to ask more questions of wait staff who may not be familiar with veganism, the Wild West can work for people eating a meatless diet. Maybe an all-veggie restaurant will grace Durango soon, as health consciousness and responsibility to the environment and animals increase. If you are traveling through more of Colorado than just Durango, and want information on dining options, you could contact the Vegetarian Society of Colorado at 303-777-4828. Their e-mail is, and the website is

Paige Newman has been a vegetarian for 26 years, the last seven of which she has been vegan. She has written articles for and other veggie publications.


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