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Potstickers with two dipping sauces Ruth Tobias

19 Must-Try Chinese Restaurants in Denver

Skip the sesame chicken in favor of the regional specialties and modern translations served up across the Mile High City

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Back in the late 19th century, Denver’s Chinatown — known as Hop Alley and located in what’s now LoDo — was just beginning to flourish when it was decimated by racism-fueled riots; to this day, the city is missing a Chinese-immigrant enclave. But that doesn’t mean restaurants devoted to the distinct regional traditions that define Chinese cuisine don’t exist — in fact, they’re located everywhere. Here are 19 essentials, ordered geographically from north to south.

Note that this map doesn’t include food trucks, so a special shoutout goes to Yuan Wonton. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. Please be aware of changing local rules, and check individual restaurant websites for any additional restrictions such as mask requirements. Find a local vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Flower Pepper

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The sour-and-spicy sweet potato noodles, stewed pork belly over rice, and boiled dumplings stuffed with leek and egg or chicken and shiitakes have all earned this spare, snug Boulder storefront a legit following. But there’s more to explore on a menu that spans China’s provincial map from the northeast to the southwest. 

Ruth Tobias

Zoe Ma Ma

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This tiny, 11-year-old counter joint just off the Pearl Street Mall was the brainchild of Edwin Zoe and his Taiwan-born mother Anna, who brings decades of experience as both a home and a restaurant cook to her collection of dumplings, stews, rice plates, and more. Here, the za jiang mian, braised beef noodle soup, and potstickers — a “secret family recipe” — continue to get top billing; a slightly different menu is on offer at the Union Station outpost.

Potstickers with two dipping sauces Ruth Tobias

HuaKee BBQ

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The strip-mall digs may be humble, but the array of roasted meats on display at this Cantonese-style barbecue joint is splendid: While roast duck and roast pork are its main claims to fame, the spare ribs, soy sauce chicken wings, and house special fried rice all deserve a takeout spin.

Takeout roast pork and duck chins over rice with Chinese broccoli
Takeout roast pork and duck chins from HuaKee BBQ.
Ruth Tobias

Hop Alley

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Named for Denver’s onetime Chinatown, Tommy Lee’s RiNo mainstay is the complete package: edgy vibe; kinetic cuisine; truly provocative beverage program. The kitchen plays up bold flavor contrasts — cooling against tongue-lashing, mellow against pungent, bright against luscious — without ever losing its balance, while the bar dares to pair them with everything from bubbly and rosé to craft cider and funky punches. Staples include chilled tofu in sesame bang bang sauce and bone-marrow fried rice; seasonal sensations come in the form of roasted kabocha with crispy tofu over squash-coconut puree and duck salt–sprinkled, braised short rib with Chinese broccoli.

Peking duck wrapped in pancake
Hop Alley’s Beijing duck roll
Hop Alley

Meta Asian Kitchen

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Short on selections but long on fun, the menu at this Avanti stall centers on street food both classic and creative. That means not only rice plates and noodle bowls but bao stuffed with pickled shiitakes drizzled in Thai basil ranch; Sichuan-spiced mozzarella sticks; and, for brunch, steak and eggs wrapped in scallion pancakes.

Bao and stuffed scallion pancake
A spread at Meta Asian Kitchen.
Ruth Tobias

Q House

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The first challenger to the throne of contemporary Chinese cuisine on which Hop Alley has been sitting since it opened is a formidable one. In fact, it won Eater’s Restaurant of the Year Award in 2018, and not for nothing: The menu packs a heck of a punch for its size, whether chef-partner Chris Lin is slathering spare ribs in barbecue sauce, chopped peanuts, and fried garlic; reimagining lo mein with confit duck leg; or deftly tossing fingerlings and Chinese cauliflower in black bean vinaigrette. The bar crew pairs it all with light, sprightly cocktails featuring lychee, lemongrass, aloe juice, and the like as well as aptly chosen craft beers and wines (think aromatic whites like riesling and gewürztraminer). 

Chicken wings with tomatillo-ginger sauce
Crispy chicken wings with tomatillo-ginger sauce at Q House.
Ruth Tobias

Fortune Wok to Table

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An open secret in Cherry Creek, this little treasure chest is filled to the brim with regulars slurping up vibrant Shanghainese-style noodles (get them with shrimp or duck) or chowing down on fried rice and what may be the city’s best dumplings, steamed or pan-fried and stuffed with beef, pork, or abundant crisp veggies. There’s not much else on the downstairs menu — but it’s more than enough. (Upstairs, chef-owner CJ Shyr books private nine-course dinners featuring dishes such as hot-and-sour soup with shrimp and crab or pork belly braised with bok choy in a red bean–studded brown sauce — a worthy splurge for six or more people.) 

Fried beef dumplings with dipping sauce
Fortune’s fried beef dumplings
Ruth Tobias

Super Star Asian Cuisine

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Sure, it’s been a Denver dim-sum staple since time immemorial, delivering turnip cakes, blood curd, cheung fun, lotus leaf–wrapped sticky rice, and so on with the best of them. But Super Star’s well worth a stop for a Cantonese feast off the regular menu too. Salt-and-pepper squid, clams stir-fried with ginger and scallion, spare ribs in black bean sauce, garlicky pea shoots — it’s all here. 

Ruth Tobias

Noodles Express

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Don’t be fooled by the fast food franchise–like name and exterior — this family-run find excels at homestyle Sichuan fare. In addition to staples like dan dan noodles, ma po tofu, and Chongqing chicken, best bets include the fluffy pan-fried omelet filled with saucy pork, the tangy sour taste potatoes, and the pungent, numbing spicy boiled fish.

Sichuan-style boiled fish in a bowl
Spicy boiled fish at Noodles Express.
Ruth Tobias

Happy Cafe

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Never mind this South Federal outlet’s online takeout and delivery menu; the list of specials that ensure it lives up to its name is offered in the dining room only. Salt-and-pepper capelin? Deep-fried garlic spare ribs? Taishan cauliflower with preserved pork? Soups like “berries terrapin with chicken” and “fish glue sea conch sea coconut”? Bring it all on — and if some guilty pleasures are in order too, both the Chinese buns and the “fried milk,” reminiscent of Twinkies, double as dreamy dessert. 

Stewed beef in sour soup
Stewed beef in sour soup at Happy Cafe.
Ruth Tobias

Hong Kong Barbecue

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Even if the name weren’t a giveaway, the glossy-skinned whole birds and pig parts on display at this old Federal Boulevard faithful would tell first-timers all they need to know about the kitchen’s expertise in Cantonese roast meats. But stopping there would be a mistake: The long menu’s dotted with delights of all kinds, among them crunchy salt-and-pepper duck chins, water spinach with pickled tofu and jalapeño, and congee with pork and preserved egg. (Note that the restaurant is currently offering takeout only.)

Ruth Tobias

Star Kitchen

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Coming here for dim sum is like walking into a kaleidoscope of humanity — carts spin, servers blur past, the din echoes, and hands and mouths make quick work of flavors and textures galore. Every visit is different, of course, but none is complete without at least one order each of the leek, taro, and glutinous-rice dumplings as well as the char siu, pan-fried rice crêpe in XO sauce, and coconut buns. At dinnertime, try any fish dish and the hot pot of eggplant with beef rib in black-pepper sauce. 

Baked pork buns with other dim sum in the background Ruth Tobias

Yum Yum Spice

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Don’t bother with the standard Chinese-American menu — dry hot pot is the only way to go at this DU dark horse. Pick a protein (maybe lamb one day, chicken hearts the next) along with any number of optional items including fish balls, rice cakes, tofu skin, and enoki mushrooms to grace the tabletop wok; the sizzle of the Sichuan peppercorns will linger long after the meal is over. 

Dry hot pot with lamb
Dry pot with lamb, tofu skin, bamboo shoots, and more at Yum Yum Spice.
Ruth Tobias

Szechuan Tasty House

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There’s no atmosphere to speak of here (unless “shabby” counts) — but there’s no need for it either. A big group of friends with plenty of time to dig into a slew of Sichuan, Shanghainese, and other homestyle standards like crispy shredded pig ears, cumin lamb, fabulous fish in hot chili oil, and ultra-refreshing, creamy-salty chilled tofu with preserved egg is all anyone with an appetite for adventure can ask for. 

Ruth Tobias

Shanghai Kitchen

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Shanghai is a coastal municipality, so seafood is a must at this suburban destination — especially fish, smoked as an appetizer or fried with pine nuts. Dumplings are another winning bet, be they soup-filled xiao long bao or silky wontons in chili oil.

Dynasty fish with pine nuts
Dynasty fish with pine nuts at Shanghai Kitchen.
Ruth Tobias

Blue Ocean (aka Little Chengdu)

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Toothy, knife-shaved and hand-pulled noodles drizzled in chili oil or submerged in soup with sliced five-spice beef are reason number one to seek out this DTC hideaway behind a sign that confusingly reads Blue Ocean; rich, savory lamb dishes are number two. There are plenty more, from wontons to the sandwich-like roujiamo, but these make for a good start.  

Ruth Tobias

Chen’s Kitchen

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This cozy little strip-mall find focuses on the staple dishes of Taiwan, each more soothing than the last. Bento boxes featuring braised or crispy pork over rice come with fried tofu, eggs scrambled with tomato, and veggies in garlic sauce, while the beef noodle soup and gua bao with fried chicken are spot-on.

Hong Kong Station 港味小厨

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If some of the dishes at this bustling little hangout in Centennial look Westernized, rest assured that those elements of fusion developed organically in the cha chaan tengs (sometimes compared to diners) of the international crossroads that is Hong Kong. From baked pork chops with spaghetti to fish in creamed corn sauce to peanut-butter French toast, the menu’s a warm and welcoming entrée into the wider world of comfort food — one that also offers plenty of more traditional, equally delightful Cantonese fare as well, including shrimp toast and clay pot dishes.

Hong Kong–style French toast with peanut butter
Hong Kong–style French toast with peanut butter at Hong Kong Station.
Ruth Tobias

Sunflower Asian Cafe

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Like several of the places on this list, this gem in the suburban rough offers two different menus. One’s got orange chicken, lo mein, and beef with broccoli; the other boasts tea-smoked eel, a jellyfish salad with the springy texture of noodles, braised pork meatballs so big they come one per order, ultra-tender Nanjing salt duck, and Sichuan-style dry-fried green beans. Choose wisely and then practice patience — the kind folks who run the place move as fast as they can.  

Ruth Tobias

Flower Pepper

Ruth Tobias

The sour-and-spicy sweet potato noodles, stewed pork belly over rice, and boiled dumplings stuffed with leek and egg or chicken and shiitakes have all earned this spare, snug Boulder storefront a legit following. But there’s more to explore on a menu that spans China’s provincial map from the northeast to the southwest. 

Ruth Tobias

Zoe Ma Ma

Potstickers with two dipping sauces Ruth Tobias

This tiny, 11-year-old counter joint just off the Pearl Street Mall was the brainchild of Edwin Zoe and his Taiwan-born mother Anna, who brings decades of experience as both a home and a restaurant cook to her collection of dumplings, stews, rice plates, and more. Here, the za jiang mian, braised beef noodle soup, and potstickers — a “secret family recipe” — continue to get top billing; a slightly different menu is on offer at the Union Station outpost.

Potstickers with two dipping sauces Ruth Tobias

HuaKee BBQ

Takeout roast pork and duck chins over rice with Chinese broccoli
Takeout roast pork and duck chins from HuaKee BBQ.
Ruth Tobias

The strip-mall digs may be humble, but the array of roasted meats on display at this Cantonese-style barbecue joint is splendid: While roast duck and roast pork are its main claims to fame, the spare ribs, soy sauce chicken wings, and house special fried rice all deserve a takeout spin.

Takeout roast pork and duck chins over rice with Chinese broccoli
Takeout roast pork and duck chins from HuaKee BBQ.
Ruth Tobias

Hop Alley

Peking duck wrapped in pancake
Hop Alley’s Beijing duck roll
Hop Alley

Named for Denver’s onetime Chinatown, Tommy Lee’s RiNo mainstay is the complete package: edgy vibe; kinetic cuisine; truly provocative beverage program. The kitchen plays up bold flavor contrasts — cooling against tongue-lashing, mellow against pungent, bright against luscious — without ever losing its balance, while the bar dares to pair them with everything from bubbly and rosé to craft cider and funky punches. Staples include chilled tofu in sesame bang bang sauce and bone-marrow fried rice; seasonal sensations come in the form of roasted kabocha with crispy tofu over squash-coconut puree and duck salt–sprinkled, braised short rib with Chinese broccoli.

Peking duck wrapped in pancake
Hop Alley’s Beijing duck roll
Hop Alley

Meta Asian Kitchen

Bao and stuffed scallion pancake
A spread at Meta Asian Kitchen.
Ruth Tobias

Short on selections but long on fun, the menu at this Avanti stall centers on street food both classic and creative. That means not only rice plates and noodle bowls but bao stuffed with pickled shiitakes drizzled in Thai basil ranch; Sichuan-spiced mozzarella sticks; and, for brunch, steak and eggs wrapped in scallion pancakes.

Bao and stuffed scallion pancake
A spread at Meta Asian Kitchen.
Ruth Tobias

Q House

Chicken wings with tomatillo-ginger sauce
Crispy chicken wings with tomatillo-ginger sauce at Q House.
Ruth Tobias

The first challenger to the throne of contemporary Chinese cuisine on which Hop Alley has been sitting since it opened is a formidable one. In fact, it won Eater’s Restaurant of the Year Award in 2018, and not for nothing: The menu packs a heck of a punch for its size, whether chef-partner Chris Lin is slathering spare ribs in barbecue sauce, chopped peanuts, and fried garlic; reimagining lo mein with confit duck leg; or deftly tossing fingerlings and Chinese cauliflower in black bean vinaigrette. The bar crew pairs it all with light, sprightly cocktails featuring lychee, lemongrass, aloe juice, and the like as well as aptly chosen craft beers and wines (think aromatic whites like riesling and gewürztraminer). 

Chicken wings with tomatillo-ginger sauce
Crispy chicken wings with tomatillo-ginger sauce at Q House.
Ruth Tobias

Fortune Wok to Table

Fried beef dumplings with dipping sauce
Fortune’s fried beef dumplings
Ruth Tobias

An open secret in Cherry Creek, this little treasure chest is filled to the brim with regulars slurping up vibrant Shanghainese-style noodles (get them with shrimp or duck) or chowing down on fried rice and what may be the city’s best dumplings, steamed or pan-fried and stuffed with beef, pork, or abundant crisp veggies. There’s not much else on the downstairs menu — but it’s more than enough. (Upstairs, chef-owner CJ Shyr books private nine-course dinners featuring dishes such as hot-and-sour soup with shrimp and crab or pork belly braised with bok choy in a red bean–studded brown sauce — a worthy splurge for six or more people.) 

Fried beef dumplings with dipping sauce
Fortune’s fried beef dumplings
Ruth Tobias

Super Star Asian Cuisine

Ruth Tobias

Sure, it’s been a Denver dim-sum staple since time immemorial, delivering turnip cakes, blood curd, cheung fun, lotus leaf–wrapped sticky rice, and so on with the best of them. But Super Star’s well worth a stop for a Cantonese feast off the regular menu too. Salt-and-pepper squid, clams stir-fried with ginger and scallion, spare ribs in black bean sauce, garlicky pea shoots — it’s all here. 

Ruth Tobias

Noodles Express

Sichuan-style boiled fish in a bowl
Spicy boiled fish at Noodles Express.
Ruth Tobias

Don’t be fooled by the fast food franchise–like name and exterior — this family-run find excels at homestyle Sichuan fare. In addition to staples like dan dan noodles, ma po tofu, and Chongqing chicken, best bets include the fluffy pan-fried omelet filled with saucy pork, the tangy sour taste potatoes, and the pungent, numbing spicy boiled fish.

Sichuan-style boiled fish in a bowl
Spicy boiled fish at Noodles Express.
Ruth Tobias

Happy Cafe

Stewed beef in sour soup
Stewed beef in sour soup at Happy Cafe.
Ruth Tobias

Never mind this South Federal outlet’s online takeout and delivery menu; the list of specials that ensure it lives up to its name is offered in the dining room only. Salt-and-pepper capelin? Deep-fried garlic spare ribs? Taishan cauliflower with preserved pork? Soups like “berries terrapin with chicken” and “fish glue sea conch sea coconut”? Bring it all on — and if some guilty pleasures are in order too, both the Chinese buns and the “fried milk,” reminiscent of Twinkies, double as dreamy dessert. 

Stewed beef in sour soup
Stewed beef in sour soup at Happy Cafe.
Ruth Tobias

Hong Kong Barbecue

Ruth Tobias

Even if the name weren’t a giveaway, the glossy-skinned whole birds and pig parts on display at this old Federal Boulevard faithful would tell first-timers all they need to know about the kitchen’s expertise in Cantonese roast meats. But stopping there would be a mistake: The long menu’s dotted with delights of all kinds, among them crunchy salt-and-pepper duck chins, water spinach with pickled tofu and jalapeño, and congee with pork and preserved egg. (Note that the restaurant is currently offering takeout only.)

Ruth Tobias

Star Kitchen

Baked pork buns with other dim sum in the background Ruth Tobias

Coming here for dim sum is like walking into a kaleidoscope of humanity — carts spin, servers blur past, the din echoes, and hands and mouths make quick work of flavors and textures galore. Every visit is different, of course, but none is complete without at least one order each of the leek, taro, and glutinous-rice dumplings as well as the char siu, pan-fried rice crêpe in XO sauce, and coconut buns. At dinnertime, try any fish dish and the hot pot of eggplant with beef rib in black-pepper sauce.