Meta Asian Kitchen, a new food stall that serves shareable versions of Asian dishes ranging from bao buns and fried calamari to Hong Kong streetcakes, officially opened for business at LoHi’s Avanti Food & Beverage food hall yesterday.
The new stall is the brainchild of Kenneth and Doris Wan, a couple that recently relocated to Denver from the New York area, where they launched the first iteration of Meta Asian Kitchen as a pop-up operation that would show up at various markets.
Prior to starting Meta, Kenneth, whose parents owned a Chinese restaurant in Massachusetts while he was growing up, worked in the kitchens of several well-known Asian restaurants around New York.
But when it came time to take Meta beyond pop-ups, the couple found themselves looking west to Denver, where Kenneth’s sister also lives. They say they were drawn to what they describe as the Mile High City’s increasingly-progressive restaurant culture and thriving food hall scene but also the chance to introduce Denverites to Asian cooking that goes beyond the cuisine’s most common dishes while remaining accessible.
“The one thing I noticed about Chinese food in general in Denver is I feel like there is a big gap and a lot of people only know General Tso’s chicken, sesame chicken, beef and broccoli, and that common take-out stuff,” Kenneth said. “We definitely felt like there was an opportunity for our kind of food served in this kind of format and setting.”
When Kenneth and Dorris talk about “their kind of food,” they are referring to a mashup of Asian dishes and cuisines that are rooted in a mix of family recipes, street food traditions, and contemporary Asian food trends.
The braised pork belly used in Meta’s pork bao bun (one of three bao buns on the menu) is made using a recipe from Kenneth’s mother. The Steak N’ Rice, a marinated sliced steak with a teriyaki flavor served on a bed of rice that can be topped with a fried egg, is Kennth’s take on a dish he discovered a vendor selling at a Brooklyn’s Industry City complex.
For dessert, there is the Hong Kong street cake, a bubble wrap-like pastry which Kenneth describes as “halfway between a waffle and a pancake” that is a popular item among street vendors in Hong Kong and New York. There are also a few more standard items, including dumplings and fried chicken wings.
Beyond its menu and approach to Asian cooking, Meta will also bring something else new to Avanti: a weekend late night menu. That menu, which Meta will begin serving at 10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays when many of Avanti’s other stalls are closing, will be focused on saltier and snackier options like fried calamari and saltier pancakes.
However, Kennth says the late night menu could also eventually become a platform to do “cool, funky stuff” such as chicken gizzards on a skewer. The stall could continue serving from the late night menu until midnight or 1 a.m. on weekends.
The Wans are planning to stay at Avanti for two years before hopefully opening a standalone Meta restaurant. But while that is where the plans end for many Avanti restaurateurs, Kenneth says he has a much loftier goal.
“For my ultimate endgame I would love to be a direct competitor to Panda Express,” he said. “When you think about there is McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s but Panda Express doesn’t really have a competitor. So why not aim for the fences?”