So, my family and I are pretty casual about how we approach this whole “Thanksgiving” thing. Don’t get me wrong — my mom loves to cook, and is amazing at whipping up our family’s annual Christmas dinner, but Thanksgiving just isn’t her thing. That being said, we still appreciate getting the family together and pigging out on awesome food each year; we just prefer to do it at the comfort of a restaurant. Enter: Govinda's Garden Cafe.

Govinda's boasts an all-you-can-eat vegan buffet, specializing in Ayurvedic vegan cooking. Usually, my folks wouldn’t go for this kind of a place, but this year was my turn to decide where we’d be having our annual Thanksgiving feast! Govinda’s Garden Cafe is a small, hippie-dippy restaurant nestled in downtown Denver. A Hare Krishna temple is its next-door-neighbor, and as soon as you walk in, you can sense the spiritual vibes of the place. It’s decked out in rich colors, and sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses are scattered around the room. You can tell it was once a house, but that gives it quite a homey, warm vibe. Due to the dinner rush, we had to wait a few minutes before being seated, even though we had previously made reservations. However, I took the time to look at the fascinating paintings, scriptures, and other art decor surrounding me.
beer, pizza, tea, cake, coffee
Lauren Hughes

We were seated by the lovely owner, Nandini. Nandini is a tiny little bundle of joy. She kept telling us how “blessed” she was to have us share our Thanksgiving with her, and I think her welcoming presence warmed my skeptical parents up a bit. We were seated at small tables, close to the other guests. It seemed that Govinda’s Garden Cafe isn’t usually as packed as it was that Thanksgiving day, meaning tables and guests had to be shuffled around a bit to accommodate the influx of customers. Nandini apologized for the business of the restaurant, took our drink orders, and explained how the buffet line worked.

We got all our utensils and plates and went down the buffet line. It was full of colorful, aromatic dishes and my little vegan heart was singing with joy. I filled up my plate with mashed potatoes and gravy, ginger-glazed sweet potatoes, cornbread, green bean almandine, a cranberry-lentil loaf, ginger carrot soup, tofu “turkey” with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

As a vegan foodie, I was excited to pig out and had already planned to get at least one or two more plates’ worth of food. However, after my first plate, I felt stuffed to the brim. It was filling, but didn’t make me feel heavy. My parents agreed — they felt satisfied, but not lethargic. It was a nice change from how they’d usually feel after stuffing themselves with caloric meat and dairy products!

Highlights of the meal included the green bean almandine, a savory, oily dish that included green beans and almond slivers, cooked to perfection. My mother and I aren’t really sweet potato fans, but the zingy ginger glaze smothering the slightly crispy potatoes was absolutely divine. We also indulged in a warm ginger carrot soup, as well as more traditional dishes, like mashed potatoes and gravy, and cranberry sauce. I’m a huge mashed potato fan, and I was worried about eating them since Ayurvedic cooking doesn’t traditionally use garlic, which is a key ingredient in mashed potatoes. No worries, though— I loved the potatoes and gravy enough to go for seconds.

The apple-lentil loaf, a dish full of healthy nuts, lentils, spices, and apple and reminiscent of meatloaf, was awesome with a generous helping of the sweet, but slightly tart cranberry sauce smeared on top. It was very filling, and both the texture of the lentils and nuts and the taste of the spices kept me interested the entire time I was eating it.

My omnivore parents and brother weren’t super stoked about the tofu “turkey,” but I can imagine it’s hard for meat-eaters to be cool with fake meat products of any kind. It was more like soft tofu covered with a “crust” of vegan stuffing, including breadcrumbs and veggies. I appreciated the take on the traditional Thanksgiving meat, but personally, I’m not a huge fan of meat substitutes, so the “turkey” wasn’t my fave either.

I definitely would argue that vegans know how to cook vegetables and fruits in the tastiest way possible. This dinner was proof of that, as the green beans, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce were the best I have ever had, even when I was indulging in omnivore Thanksgivings.

Lauren Hughes

Govinda’s Garden Cafe is located at 1400 Cherry St. in Denver, Colorado and is open Wednesday through Thursday for both lunch and dinner. Check out its website for its times, as they vary throughout the week. Prices range from $10-14 for the unlimited salad bar and buffet, depending on the time of day. Revolving entrees include spinach lasagna, eggplant parmesan, veggie quiche, shepherd's pie, spanakopita, BBQ tofu, enchiladas and veggies croquettes. At any rate, you’ll be “blessed” with all-you-can-eat healthy, home-cooked, Ayurvedic vegan food. Thanks for the awesome Thanksgiving, Govinda’s Garden Cafe! Myself and my meat-eating family are stoked to come back soon.