The tiny, almost unbelievably cute Moongate Asian Grill restaurant offers a culinary exploration of Asian foods. Even a package tour of the Pacific wouldn't let you try this many cuisines -- and Moongate saves you not just the time and expense, but also the malaria shots required for such a venture. Where else can you have chicken satay and panang curry, Vietnamese egg rolls and rice bowls, tempura and udon, broccoli beef and kung pao chicken -- all under one roof? More important, where will they all taste so good?
Let's face it: Americanized Chinese is, well, Americanized Chinese. But when it's done well -- and Imperial Chinese does it very well -- it's still good food. Imperial ups the ante by recommending wines to pair with the dishes, by not hiding its meats under thick batter and molasses-sweet candy glazes, and with dining-room decor that's an elegant improvement over the usual stark strip-mall walls hung with giant backlit photos of what your kung pao might look like. You won't take any big risks here -- but you really didn't expect any, did you?


Imperial Chinese Restaurant
Let's face it: Americanized Chinese is, well, Americanized Chinese. But when it's done well -- and Imperial Chinese does it very well -- it's still good food. Imperial ups the ante by recommending wines to pair with the dishes, by not hiding its meats under thick batter and molasses-sweet candy glazes, and with dining-room decor that's an elegant improvement over the usual stark strip-mall walls hung with giant backlit photos of what your kung pao might look like. You won't take any big risks here -- but you really didn't expect any, did you?
Crack open one of the elegant, foil-wrapped cookies at Little Shanghai Cafe, and what message do you find? "Confucius say you'll keep coming back to Little Shanghai, a Denver institution for almost three decades." Oops, wrong cookie: Little Shanghai would never do anything that blatant. Instead, it keeps its customers coming back by serving quality Chinese dishes, both Americanized and authentic; offering daily specials and incredibly friendly service; and ending each meal with the town's best fortune cookies -- complete with a bonus slick of white-chocolate icing on the outside that gives added emphasis to the sweet message waiting inside.


Crack open one of the elegant, foil-wrapped cookies at Little Shanghai Cafe, and what message do you find? "Confucius say you'll keep coming back to Little Shanghai, a Denver institution for almost three decades." Oops, wrong cookie: Little Shanghai would never do anything that blatant. Instead, it keeps its customers coming back by serving quality Chinese dishes, both Americanized and authentic; offering daily specials and incredibly friendly service; and ending each meal with the town's best fortune cookies -- complete with a bonus slick of white-chocolate icing on the outside that gives added emphasis to the sweet message waiting inside.
Family-style pig's-ear salad, sauces thickened with pork blood, whole baked tilapia swimming in dark, sweet soy reduction -- if you want to eat real Chinese food, your best bet is the green menu at Ocean City. If you follow the kitchen crews from other Chinese restaurants come closing time, they'll invariably head to the parking lot of Ocean City, an unassuming spot at the corner of South Federal and Mississippi. Here crabs and lobsters are pulled from the murky live tank by the door, cheap eats are offered in reduced-size portions after 9 p.m., and while neon-lit dry-erase boards list the day's specials in Cantonese and Mandarin, have no fear: The green menu is translated into English for culinary risk-takers sick to death of the bland, candy-coated crap being passed off as Chinese food out in the 'burbs.
Family-style pig's-ear salad, sauces thickened with pork blood, whole baked tilapia swimming in dark, sweet soy reduction -- if you want to eat real Chinese food, your best bet is the green menu at Ocean City. If you follow the kitchen crews from other Chinese restaurants come closing time, they'll invariably head to the parking lot of Ocean City, an unassuming spot at the corner of South Federal and Mississippi. Here crabs and lobsters are pulled from the murky live tank by the door, cheap eats are offered in reduced-size portions after 9 p.m., and while neon-lit dry-erase boards list the day's specials in Cantonese and Mandarin, have no fear: The green menu is translated into English for culinary risk-takers sick to death of the bland, candy-coated crap being passed off as Chinese food out in the 'burbs.

Best New Use of an Old Chinese Restaurant

Luca D'Italia

Once upon a time (actually, just a couple of months ago), the space at 711 Grant Street was home to China Hill -- a small Chinese restaurant known in the neighborhood for its reasonable prices and flaming pu-pu platters. But now, thanks to a little good luck and a lot of hard work by Frank Bonanno and Doug Fleischmann, what was once a humble Asian hangout has been transformed into the much-anticipated Luca D'Italia. In these funky, colorful digs, customers are treated to rustic Italian family fare served in multiple courses from antipasti straight through to dessert, with everything from the pasta to the salami to the mozzarella made in-house and from scratch. What is it they say is the secret to opening a successful restaurant? Location, location, location. Well, Luca has the best location the partners could hope for -- not only is it in a great restaurant neighborhood and in a space that's been proven successful, but it's also so close to the partners' first restaurant, the wonderful Mizuna, that they can almost be in two places at once.


Best New Use of an Old Chinese Restaurant

Luca D'Italia

Luca
Scott Lentz
Once upon a time (actually, just a couple of months ago), the space at 711 Grant Street was home to China Hill -- a small Chinese restaurant known in the neighborhood for its reasonable prices and flaming pu-pu platters. But now, thanks to a little good luck and a lot of hard work by Frank Bonanno and Doug Fleischmann, what was once a humble Asian hangout has been transformed into the much-anticipated Luca D'Italia. In these funky, colorful digs, customers are treated to rustic Italian family fare served in multiple courses from antipasti straight through to dessert, with everything from the pasta to the salami to the mozzarella made in-house and from scratch. What is it they say is the secret to opening a successful restaurant? Location, location, location. Well, Luca has the best location the partners could hope for -- not only is it in a great restaurant neighborhood and in a space that's been proven successful, but it's also so close to the partners' first restaurant, the wonderful Mizuna, that they can almost be in two places at once.

Best Korean in the Last Place You'd Expect

DiDi Deli

While the humble DiDi Deli serves unexpectedly good chicken salad sandwiches and cheeseburgers, its Korean menu really steals the show. The Korean barbecue, for example, is nutty in flavor, tender and a little sweet. Bi bim bop -- a useful yardstick for measuring Korean food -- is a traditional dish of mild barbecued beef, fresh bean sprouts, lettuce, mushrooms, shredded cucumber, sliced zucchini, stewed greens and a fried egg, all kept separate but piled on a big mound of white rice, served with go choo jong, a thick, heavy, red-pepper paste you can use to your liking; DiDi's version is impeccable, with an ideal blend of textures, tastes and temperatures.


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