Hear me out.
We all know what happens at the end of one year and the beginning of another: regrets and possibilities collide. And that goes for food, too.
A fresh start to the new year often includes cleaning up the diet, but that isn’t always easy for those who love to dine out or get quick food on the go. Enter Downtown’s newest healthy haven: Salad or Bust.
Once a food truck … er, food school bus, that is … Salad or Bust parked that little yellow coach for good and opened up a permanent home in the Ivywild School earlier this year. It’s a small counter that dishes up mostly salads, soups and sandwiches. Owners Bob and Stephanie Curtis had the vision to open a second, larger location someday, and much to their surprise, fate offered that opportunity sooner than expected when Pita Pit on Bijou Street suddenly announced their closing. In a matter of weeks, the second Salad or Bust location opened, and for many folks it’s been a welcome, affordable addition to the Downtown dining scene.
Salads are still the name of the game, as well as soups and sandwiches, but the stand-out in this wide-open space — designed to encourage a community vibe with a large communal table and local art on the walls — is the range of hearty “Buddha bowls” featuring loads of veggies plus grains and protein. Bonus: Those bowls start off purely vegan, with animal-based and additional plant-based protein additions available upon request.
Let’s start with the restaurant’s namesake: salads. Ten meal-sized salads boast ingredients ranging from the expected raw leafy greens to the more surprising fruit-filled savory salads starring figs, apples and blueberries. The Asian salad might seem a bit basic at first glance, but when simple ingredients are put together intentionally it’s often a very good thing, and this salad’s a winner. Crisp romaine lettuce and purple crunchy cabbage are the base for bell peppers, expertly roasted chickpeas (not too dry, not overcooked) that beat any crouton any day, and garnishing almond slivers. Can’t you just hear that crunch? It all comes together when tossed in the savory sesame dressing.
Sandwiches are still a thing at the new location, too, and I can’t quit the Hippy Love hoagie. Denver’s Harvest Moon Baking Company rolls are slathered with thick hummus (puréed chickpeas) layered with provolone cheese (vegan or non-vegan option) and loaded with lettuce, olives, peppers, onion and Greek dressing. Soft, chewy bread, crisp raw veggies and creamy hummus and cheese make this a sandwich that will fill you up nicely.
The bowls, a fair $13 before additions ($1.50 to $3), are what draw me in, though. The simple formula is to first pick a base (tri-color quinoa or black pearl medley rice — warm or cold), then a style of bowl, and finally decide if you want additional protein and/or cheese. The bowls range culturally and culinarily: Hawaiian, Sweet Potato Chickpea, Mediterranean, Asian, Beet and Mexican — which is what I go for with the Fajita Bowl. Leafy greens and cabbage served over warm quinoa and topped with veggies, mashed avocado, tomato salsa and black bean and corn salsa proves visually stunning and a real protein bomb. The texture variety feels a bit lacking, though, so on a second visit I switch things up just a bit, opting for the black pearl and white rice base and added tofu. That tofu is some of the best-prepared in town. Lightly fried, you get a meaty bite that’s not greasy. And that’s just the texture I’m looking for to complement the chewy rice and fresh beans and veggies.
Additional items on the menu include local Cos’Bucha kombucha, small plates for sharing, including dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and hummus with veggies, and a comfort snack not to be missed: Frito pie! Vegan chili and cheese with lettuce, onion and jalapeños are all served over Fritos… in the bag. Do it.
While Salad or Bust’s Downtown location came together faster than the speed of light, their longevity seems destined. Sure, many of us love to dine out decadently. But we also love a hearty and nourishing meal. You’ll get that here.