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 riots. To this day, the city’s devoid of a Chinese-immigrant enclave. Which doesn’t mean restaurants devoted to the distinct regional traditions that define Chinese cuisine don’t exist — in fact, they’re everywhere. Here are 17 must-tries.Read More
Denver’s 17 Essential Chinese Restaurants
Skip the sesame chicken in favor of the regional specialties served up across the Mile High City
1. Flower Pepper
The sour-and-spicy sweet potato noodles, stewed pork belly over rice, and mouthwatering chicken salad have all earned this spare, snug Boulder storefront a legit following. But there’s lots more to explore on a menu that spans China’s provincial map from the northeast to the southwest.
2. Zoe Ma Ma
This tiny, nearly 10-year-old counter joint just off the Pearl Street Mall was the brainchild of Edwin Zoe and his mother 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 and at the slightly more spacious Union Station outpost, the braised beef-noodle soup and the pillowy potstickers filled with pork, shrimp, and a “top-secret” blend of aromatics continue to get top billing.
Also Featured in:
3. Hop Alley
Named for Denver’s onetime Chinatown, Tommy Lee’s RiNo mainstay is the complete package: edgy vibe; gutsy, 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 Sherry to funky punches in porrons and teapots. Staples include steamed eggplant and bone-marrow fried rice; seasonal sensations come in the form of jumbo shrimp toast crowned by a tangle of frisée in orange vinaigrette or chicken-liver pâté with five-spice milk bread, miso mustard, and housemade crabapple-maple vinegar.
4. Q House
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 topping his voluptuously salty sliced brisket with a zingy salad of Asian pear and watermelon radish, reimagining lo mein with confit duck leg, or deftly frying up smelts to dip in a piquant ginger sauce. Partner Jen Mattioni 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).
Also Featured in:
5. Fortune Wok to Table
An open secret in Cherry Creek, this utter treasure offers two completely different but equally memorable dining experiences. Downstairs, slurp up rich yet vibrant Shanghainese-style noodle dishes or chow down on what may be the city’s best dumplings — steamed or pan-fried, stuffed with beef, pork, or abundant crisp veggies. Upstairs, score reservations and settle in for a small but sumptuous array of seasonal plates from chef-owner CJ Shyr such as hot-and-sour soup with shrimp and crab, pork belly braised with bok choy in a red bean–studded brown sauce, and sliced duck in cucumber shells with a side pour of black-rice hei mijiu—just one of several types of premium rice wines on offer here, supplemented by a surprisingly fine grape wine list.
6. Super Star Asian Cuisine
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. Salted prawns in the shell, whole duck and lobster, clams in black-bean sauce, garlicky pea shoots — it’s all here and it’s all textbook.
7. Happy Cafe
This relative newcomer to Federal Boulevard offers a menu that invites diners to go for the gusto, Hong Kong–style. Chicken steamed with tortoise in lotus leaf? Salmon head–tofu soup? Spare ribs chopped on the bone and sauced with pickled plums? Yes, yes, yes — and if some guilty pleasures are in order too, both the doughnut-like fried steamed buns and the “deep-fried milk,” reminiscent of Twinkies, double as dreamy dessert.
8. Lao Wang Noodle House
Though best-known for xiao long bao, it’s really the crispy brown-bottomed potstickers this earn this hole-in-the-wall on Federal Boulevard an enduring spot on the roster, along with the five-spiced tofu jerky and wontons in peanut sauce. That said, there are no guarantees here: business hours, available menu items, and adequate service are subject to the whims of the mom-and-pop owners. It’s all part of the charm.
9. Hong Kong Barbecue
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, wok-tossed lettuce with pickled tofu and jalapeño, and minced-beef congee with egg.
10. Star Kitchen
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 and coconut buns. Off the extensive regular menu, try country-style rice noodles in XO sauce and the hot pot of eggplant with beef rib in black-pepper sauce.
11. Yum Yum Spice
Don’t bother with the American menu — dry hot pot is the only way to go at this DU dark horse. Pick a protein (maybe lamb one day, honeycomb tripe the next) along with any number of optional items including fish balls, rice cakes, sliced potato, and enoki mushrooms. The sizzle of the Sichuan peppercorns in the wok will linger long after the meal is over.
12. Szechuan Tasty House
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 chile oil, and ultra-refreshing, creamy-salty chilled tofu with preserved egg is all anyone with an appetite for adventure can ask for.
13. China Jade
As reliably as ever, this Aurora strip-mall stalwart serves up Sichuan and other regional specialties with soul to rival their spice. Mapo tofu, Shanghai-style smoked fish, twice-cooked pork, hand-ripped cabbage with garlic and chiles, and rice-noodle soup thick with meat and pickled veggies count among the crowd favorites — but a glance around neighboring tables provides clues to many others. This is as good a place as any to order by looking around and pointing.
14. Hong Kong Cafe
If some of the dishes at this bustling little hangout on Aurora’s border look awfully 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 pork-chop buns to instant noodles with Spam and eggs to fish in creamed corn sauce to delectable peanut-butter French toast, the menu’s a warm and welcoming entrée into the wider world of comfort food.
15. Mr. Hao Grill
Denver, CO 80231
This strip-mall getaway at the edge of Aurora serves up a wealth of intrigue in the form of street snacks and other goodies virtually unheard of in these parts (scalded-aorta and chicken-gristle skewers, anyone?). Highlights include the spiced steamed buns, garlic oysters, and lamb–pita bread soup washed down with baijiu, a sorghum spirit that’s admittedly an acquired taste — but once acquired, it’s sneakily craveworthy.
16. Blue Ocean (aka Little Chengdu)
Toothy, knife-shaved and hand-pulled noodles drizzled in chile 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. Bubbling hot pots brimming with chiles and scallions are reason number two, and the meat-stuffed flatbread called roujiamo is reason number three. No doubt there are more, but three make for a darn good start.
17. Sunflower Asian Cafe
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 the likes of tea-smoked eel, sprightly jellyfish salad with the springy texture of noodles, braised pork meatballs so big they come one per order, juicy and ultra-tender Nanjing salt duck, Sichuan-style dry-fried green beans, and even ginger-date-papaya soup for dessert. Choose wisely. Then practice patience — the kindly folks who run the place move as fast as they can.