Best Of :: Food & Drink
Xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, originated in Shanghai but became so much a part of Taiwan's cuisine that the most famous version in the world is made at a Taipei-based restaurant chain called Din Tai Fung. Dumpling connoisseurs on both sides of the Pacific spend plenty of time debating what makes a great soup dumpling, analyzing everything from the number of tiny folds that artfully close the dough over the contents to the best source of gelatin for the broth. But there's no debating the best soup dumplings in Denver: They're served at a tiny Taiwanese joint on Federal, Lao Wang Noodle House, where doughy rice wrappers encapsulating peppery pork meatballs and pungent broth are served ten to a steamer. Mouth-wateringly succulent, they're best consumed by biting the wrapper and sipping the soup out before consuming the rest. Shoving the entire dumpling in your mouth guarantees you'll scald your tongue.
"Medium" isn't a server's suggestion at US Thai Cafe when a new guest innocently asks for Thai hot -- it's an order. Because US Thai's "medium" is what most places peg as "hot," a sweat-inducing smattering of fiery red chiles mixed through any dish on the menu, used with just enough restraint to allow an eater to actually taste the rest of the flavors in the excellent food. But for those thrill-seekers who crave insane levels of heat, the kitchen will punch up everything from the green papaya salad to the curry with angry-looking peppers that are probably hot enough for some sort of eating contest, guaranteed to blister your esophagus and make your adrenaline flow.
Late-night munchies often call for a hit of greasy Mexican food, and that's when it's time to cruise over to one of the two drive-thru Tacos Rapidos outposts. Under their red roofs, these kitchens turn out fat burritos full of creamy beans, melted orange cheddar, juicy carnitas and French fries (yes, French fries); tacos exploding with tongue, pork and beef; breakfast burritos stuffed with eggs and sausage (and available all day); French fries smothered with carne asada, guacamole and sour cream. Each dish hits the sweet spot of whatever you might be craving — which makes it particularly noteworthy that both Tacos Rapidos sling their gut-busting food 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A dinner at Flagstaff House is exemplary, and service doesn't flag after the meal is done. Even the most basic form of the restaurant's after-dinner coffee program is advanced: The eatery brews a proprietary house blend, made from six different African and Asian beans. More serious caffeine hounds can order from the French-press menu, which includes single-origin roasts from Ethiopia and Kona. The same focus is applied to espresso: every shot pulled, whether for consumption straight or as a foam-topped latte or cappuccino, comes from a blend of seven kinds of espresso beans. No matter what you order, your coffee hits the table accompanied by a massive, artfully arranged tray of accoutrements, which include pastel-hued chocolate mints, various sugars in multiple colors and house-made whipped cream. With such a mélange of sweets, dessert begins to look entirely optional.
The Denver Tea Room is tucked into a front room of a nineteenth-century Colfax mansion that now houses a bed-and-breakfast, and it's the perfect setting for lazy, weekend English-style tea service as well as book clubs, which meet in the room at night for heady intellectual discussion over hot drinks and cookies. During the holidays, the tea room (no relation to the legendary downtown spot of the same name) also serves an elaborate high tea on linen-clothed tables — or in a cozy, private parlor. Never-empty teacups supplement a multi-course affair that includes shepherd's pie, a tea tray of scones and finger sandwiches, and sweet spice cakes. You can while away several hours with this ritual, sinking back into a velvety couch in the sunroom for a long conversation.
In just a few short years, Jonesy's EatBar has become one of Denver's favorite haunts for American grub, seducing diners all over the city with its sassy board of classics: incredible fries, duck-confit posole, shrimp and crawfish grits, sliders lobbed with lamb. And in true, easy American fashion, these dishes are best consumed at the bar, where you'll enjoy the quick (and quick-witted) drink-slingers who are generous with straight-up shots and equally adept at pouring cleverly fashioned cocktails that are all too easy to absorb.