100 Favorite Dishes: Baked Rice With Pork Chop at Hong Kong Cafe
Without context, this dish could be from almost anywhere.
No. 25: Baked rice with pork chop at Hong Kong Cafe
Rice, tomato sauce, a breaded pork chop and a broiled layer of generic orange cheese: Maybe it's a casserole mom threw together on the weekend from what she had on hand in the kitchen, or something in a Midwestern diner that a regular customer came up with and they just call something like "Hank's hot dish." But at Hong Kong Cafe, a three-month-old eatery on Dartmouth Avenue in the southeastern-most corner of Denver, it represents a style of food that some might mistake for American Chinese, but that actually originates in Hong Kong tea cafes in the teeming island city where European influences and American ingredients collided with Chinese cafe culture to produce dishes that are comfortingly familiar despite having roots on the opposite side of the globe.
The little lavender cafe serves a broad range of traditional noodle soups with a variety of meats, from beef brisket to shredded pork with pickled tuber mustard (the fat stem of Chinese mustard plants) to pork feet, as well as favorites rarely seen outside of Hong Kong, like fish cutlet with sweet corn sauce. But a few dishes read almost like Hawaiian plate-lunch specials: think Spam-and-egg sandwiches or instant noodles with sausage and egg. But the baked casseroles come closest to bridging cultures with a goofy charm and an undeniable heartiness.
The rice that serves as the base of the dish is the most Chinese of all the ingredients, with shreds of scrambled eggs and a certain umami that most likely comes from nothing more than wok hei — the flavor that a searing-hot, well-seasoned wok imparts. A sliced boneless pork chop rests on the rice, juicy and tender and jacketed in a golden-brown crust. On top of that is the simplest tomato sauce imaginable, cooked just long enough to enhance the sweetness and soften the onion, the only visible seasoning. Holding it all together is a layer of what should probably just be called "food-service cheese" — the same stuff, neither American nor cheddar, that shows up on enchiladas or bowls of green chile in Mexican joints. The dish is baked long enough to give the cheese a nice crust and to make the entire concoction piping hot with each bite.
It's odd, oddly familiar, plain and plainly delicious. And it's completely configurable, with four different sauces (curry, spicy black pepper and white cream are also available) and choices of chicken or meat sauce as proteins. Get it with an iced milk tea for a bracing dose of strong-brewed black tea tempered by sweetened evaporated milk.
We're counting down the best dishes in the city in advance of Westword's Dish event on September 20 in Sculpture Park at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, where many of our Best of Denver winners — along with other favorites — will congregate to serve up small plates. If there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section, or shoot us an e-mail at email@example.com.
Hungry for more? All the dishes in our countdown are linked below.
No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta
No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant
No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class
No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch
No. 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa
No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's
No.94: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle
No. 93: Kettle Chips from Amerigo Delicatus
No. 92: Pork Belly Confit at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar
No. 91: Tacos Campechanos from La Calle Taqueria
No. 90: Biscuits from Denver Biscuit Co.
No. 89: Clams and Chorizo at Gozo
No. 88: Aburi Sushi at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den
No. 87: Kimchi and Sausage Torta at City, O' City
No. 86: Mar y Tierra Molcajete at Paxia
No. 85: Crispy Pork Spare Ribs at Table Top
No. 84: Chips and Dip at Euclid Hall
No. 83: Chile Relleno Burrito at El Taco de Mexico
No. 82: Scallop Crudo at Stoic & Genuine
No. 81: Ceylon Curry Dosa at Khazana
No. 80: The Lambada Torta at La Torteria
No. 79: Pork Bulgogi at Dae Gee
No. 78: the Pulled Pork Pig Pen Sandwich at Boney's
No. 77: IPA Mac & Cheese at Hops & Pie
No. 76: Chiles en Nogada at Chili Verde
No. 75: Udon Noodle Bowl at Bones
No. 74: Cinnamon Rolls at the Duffeyroll Cafe
No. 73: Smoked Turkey Croque-Madame at Acorn
No. 72: Pickled Lake Michigan Perch at Trillium
No. 71: Oysters at Jax Fish House Glendale
No. 70: Venezuelan Tostadas at Empanada Express Grill
No. 69: Tahini Cauliflower from Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
No. 68: The Ham and Cheese Tartita from Maria Empanada
No. 67: Ronnie's Favorite from Rosenberg's Bagels and Deli
No. 66: Shoo-fly Pie from the Long i Pie Shop
No. 65: Czech Potato Pancakes at Sobo 151
No. 64: Fried Chicken at the Post Brewing Co.
No. 63: Braised Brisket Sandwich at Masterpiece Delicatessen
No. 62: The Scotch Egg from Argyll Whisky Beer
No. 61: Butternut Squash Ravioli at DiFranco's
No. 60: Sesame Balls at Vinh Xuong Bakery
No. 59: Curry Puffs at Suvipa Thai Food
No. 58: Diavola Pizza at Pizzeria Locale
No. 57: Chorizo Breakfast Stew at DJ's 9th Avenue Cafe
No. 56: The Rare Beast Sandwich at Salt & Grinder
No. 55: 48-Hour Short Ribs at Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
No. 54: Marrow Bone Brulee at Mercantile Dining & Provision
No. 53: Prawns and Pork Belly at Blackbelly Market
No. 52: Belgian Waffles from Waffle Up
No. 51: Nashville Hot Chicken at Lou's Food Bar
No. 50: Breakfast Burrito from Chickee's Lil Kitchen
No. 49: Monkfish and Romanesco at TAG
No. 48: Cabeza Tacos at Taqueria El Trompito
No. 47: Pupusas Revueltas at Pupuseria San Salvador
No. 46: Sesame Pockets at Golden Plate II
No. 45: Tuna Mousse at Cart-Driver
No. 44: Tavern Tots at the Highland Tavern
No. 43: Carne Asada Fries at North County
No. 42: Pho at Wonderbowl
No. 41: Shredded Bison at Tocabe
No. 40: Nachos al Pastor from Tony Guacamole
No. 39: Prosciutto Pop Tart from Bakin' Bakery
No. 38: Ham and Egg Congee at Onefold
No. 37: Lao Sausage at the Asian Cajun
No. 36: Pan Bagnat at Fuel Cafe
No. 35: Meatloaf Sandwich at City Bakery Cafe
No. 34: Okonomiyaki at Kobe An
No. 33: Farrotto Piccolo at Basta
No. 32: Fried Gizzards at Catfish King
No. 31: My Wife's Doughnuts at Osaka Ramen
No. 30: Foie Gras Bonbons at Milk & Honey Bar Kitchen
No. 29: Gnocchi Maison au Canard Fume at Z Cuisine
No. 28: Mysore Thali at Masalaa
No. 27: The Papa Bear at Cub's Q Barbeque
No. 26: Xiaolongbao at Shanghai Kitchen
Hong Kong Cafe opened three months ago in southeast Denver and is doing brisk business.
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