By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
I love ethnic restaurants that open in the abandoned shells of chain restaurants or, better yet, fast-food restaurants, and I love them even more when they keep the impedimentia and knickknacks of those former operations and end up serving their bulgogi beside napkin dispensers still embossed with a big, humped M or their noodles along the rail that once separated a Taco Bell's counter from its dining room. I love chefs who used to be something else (helicopter pilots or air-traffic controllers or journalists or rocket scientists), but fell into cooking the way that some people fall into drugs or prostitution — because they'd tried it once and liked it so much that, before they knew it, it'd become a de facto lifestyle choice. I love the crews that, like metal filings drawn to a magnet, found each other and themselves in the heat and noise and weirdness of a busy kitchen, in the riot of the dinner rush or the calm after closing. I love menus that come off as accidental, innocent fusions — the Indian restaurant that serves spaghetti or the pizza joint with samosa appetizers — and the kitchens that muddle up their techniques, cooking my steak in a wok or my barbecue in a gimmicked convection oven.
I love restaurants that don't bother with signs, or have signs that they don't bother translating into English. I love restaurants called "Korean BBQ" or "Noodles" or "The one with the weird picture of the dancing pork bun." And I love restaurants whose names make no sense at all — which have, through transfer of ownership or change in neighborhood or a slow, Brownian motion of cooks and managers and special requests and inattention, drifted from the place they once were into something altogether different, organic and strange.
I love Peking Tokyo Restaurant for many reasons: for its weird, misleading name (a holdover from previous owners); for its strange, hidden location on the blind side of a twisting strip mall in Lakewood, bracketed on either side by abandoned storefronts, its front door facing out across a busy parking lot toward the kind of neighborhood bar you have to be born into to like at all; for its smiling, multicultural and highly opinionated staff; for the counter crammed with menus and phone books and four stacked desk calendars and a cash register, and the shelf above it with its Buddhas and statues of Chinese emperors, small sculptures of Asian origin, one of those Love Is... statuettes, a screaming eagle. There's a completely innocent thread of postmodernism that runs like a narrow cord through the center of the restaurant's body, an animating spirit of mutt genetics and melting-pot synthesis that is acknowledged but never spoken of. It's an embodiment, a distillation of the immigrant experience — confusing and alien and mixed up and joyous, borderless and quiet and strange.
3355 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
Denver, CO 80227
Region: Southwest Denver Suburbs
And fragrant. Peking Tokyo smells better than almost any other restaurant in town. It has the greatest tea of any of the myriad Asian restaurants that dot the suburbs, served for free, lingered over by the wise, the tired, the lazy. And it has, perhaps, the longest menu I've seen (requiring, in the takeout version, an extra insert that focuses only on Thai food) and certainly one of the most curious, grown across a span of years, accumulating cuisines like a ship does barnacles, with a muddle of styles — Szechuan and Mandarin and Amerasian and Vietnamese and Thai and Cantonese, but also spaghetti and cheesecake and curry and teriyaki plates. Except for the teriyaki, there is no Japanese food at Peking Tokyo. And while Chinese food dominates the menu, it hardly represents the northern cuisine of historic Peking: There's no Peking duck, no pickled vegetables, none of the myriad dumplings a geographic fusspot might expect. The place might as well be called Bombay Decatur or Vientiane Toronto and serve gravy fries, Kentucky hot brown, pelmeni and corn dogs.
The traditional and the modern, the classic, the American classic and the nouvelle are all included on this menu in a merry jumble. There are wontons and steamed dumplings, crimped by hand, stuffed with pork and green onion, tasting slightly of cardboard; Chinese barbecued ribs that'll turn your fingers red for a day; lo mein and egg foo young and orange beef and Singapore noodles with yellow curry and bo luc lac (beef in black-pepper sauce over salad) and actual salad in a dozen permutations that all taste exactly the same but are pushed by the staff because they are light and healthy and, laughingly, "nice for growing," whatever that means. There are a dozen curries that, from those I've tasted, seem stuck, stranded somewhere between the bright, sharp punch of a Southeast Asian curry and the slow, smooth burn of those on the subcontinent: so bizarre, so good. There are fifty Vietnamese dishes, everything from pork roll and cua lot (which seems to be eaten by every Asian customer in the place — a fine recommendation, in my book) to delicious mi tom cua (shrimp, crab and pork with egg noodles), pho and goi ga —Vietnamese chicken salad, which I was talked into by a waitress one night when, for just an instant, I seemed unsure of what else to order.