Han Kang sits in a strip mall next to a piano lounge. It's cool, quiet and, if not exactly dignified, then certainly muffled with smiling, soft-footed servers working the room and a giant TV kept to a murmur. The noisiest thing about the place is the food -- everything bubbling and sloshing -- and the splashy mural of an impressionistic Denver skyline that runs the length of one wall. The other three are usually papered with dozens of sheets of colored construction paper carefully filled with blocky Korean writing describing the daily specials and those menu items not available to outsiders. But every dish here is completely Korean. There's non-threatening bulgogi, soy-sweet and sugary beef piled on top of caramelized onions with a strong dose of sesame oil. Bi bim bop -- as much fun to eat as it is to say -- and bi bim nengmyun, vermicelli noodles with sliced rib-eye, slivered radish and green squash. For the more daring eaters, there's fried squid, deadly-hot chile dishes and, of course, kimchi -- the ultimate test of any foodie's will.
Sherpa's owner, Pemba Sherpa, comes with heavy-duty street cred: The guy actually is a Sherpa, with more than twenty ascents over 20,000 feet to his credit. He grew up in Nepal, in the shadow of Everest, eating the kind of food he now serves in a restaurant that's decorated with artifacts of his previous life -- the snowshoes, gunny bags and ice axes of his former career -- and photos of him today, still climbing. In addition to unique interpretations of standard Indian fare, Sherpa's kitchen cooks up fantastic mountain-man cuisine: heavy, thick stews, spicy momo and fried paneer pokara. The service is friendly, with staffers (many of whom are Sherpas, too) intimately acquainted with the food they serve. And in keeping with the restaurant's motto, the Adventurers Bar in the front of this two-story converted Victorian is the perfect place "to relive the glories of past adventures and plan new ones."

Best Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Chinese and Japanese in One Place

Ko-Mart

M-Mart
Looking for jackfruit juice? Ko-Mart's got it. Whole dried pink shrimp? Smoked anchovy? Pork neck? Octopus tentacles? No problem. The front of this all-in-one market is dominated by a series of concessions selling everything from ready-made sushi and boba "bubble" tea (fruit teas filled with tiny tapioca balls) to bone-marrow soup, housewares and videos. Lining the market shelves are a hundred kinds of rice, a zillion types of mushrooms, and more brands of soy sauce than you can shake a smoked squid at. Ko-Mart also has one of the freshest, most diverse and most beautiful displays of fresh produce in the city, with what seems like an army of employees constantly stacking and restacking the melons, Korean peaches, lemongrass, ginger root, Chinese cabbage and mountain potatoes. Ko-mart stocks stacks of ramen, cans of white soda that taste like the stuff left at the bottom of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, freaky bags of rice candy decorated with cartoon giraffes and big-headed children, boxes of Pocky and Ting-Ting Jahe ginger candies. The only thing it's missing are durian fruit and candy cigarettes. Other than that, Ko-Mart is a non-stop ride on the Orient express.
India's Restaurant
Courtesy India's Restaurant Facebook
Although there's no such thing as bad Indian food in Denver, India's clearly serves the best. Try a few benchmark dishes, and you'll agree. First, the saag paneer: If an Indian kitchen can't cook good saag paneer, then you must run, not walk, away, because this dish is the standard by which all others are measured. India's is a divine blend of creamy spinach and stiff, almost squeaky house-made paneer cheese layered with a complex but subtle mix of spices. Next, there's curry. At India's, it's like a dream -- soft-edged and smooth, alternately bright with exotic taste or barely a whisper of flavor carried on the back of butter and cream. Finally, there's India's boti masala, in which perfectly tender chunks of lamb bathe in a smoky, earthy tomato cream sauce touched with a dozen subtle, grounded spices. India's version is so good, it's like falling in love. And you will, with India's.
When most Americans think of Russian food -- if they do at all -- they picture one of two things. They envision frozen gray latitudes, turnips and beet roots, with giant cauldrons of borscht -- that most recognizable of old Soviet cuisine -- steaming and bright, bloody purple in the pot. Or, going in the other direction, they imagine silver bowls brimming with iced caviar served with tiny gold spoons, roasting game and fresh fish, water crackers crusted with rock salt and absolute czarist luxury. Both perceptions are partially right, but both are also totally wrong. Russian food at its best and most basic -- the way it's served at Astoria -- is like the American food we ate in the '50s, full of fatty meat and potatoes swimming in butter; thick, hot soups; pickles; fried chicken and sour cream. In Astoria, a bunker-like restaurant tucked into the Russian Plaza, they're cooking pure comfort food: solyanka, potato salad, caviar and blini, stroganoff, roast chicken and lamb chops. And, as with most comfort food, while it might be very, very bad for you, it makes you feel very good inside.
Here in America, our national drink of choice is cheap beer. But in Russia, the winner -- hands down -- is vodka, served clear and cold. To get the good stuff straight from the source, exile yourself to Red Square Euro Bistro, a restaurant that serves up hearty portions of stroganoff and goulash, and also pours Russian, German and Lithuanian beer. But the real star here is the Russian vodka menu, featuring over eighty options, including more than a dozen tasty fruit- and spice-infused Siberian vodkas. Grab a spot at the bar, start downing your selections, and you'll soon find plenty of fellow travelers. Comrade!
Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant and Bar
Courtesy Sherpa's Adventure Restaurant & Bar Facebook
Sherpa's owner, Pemba Sherpa, comes with heavy-duty street cred: The guy actually is a Sherpa, with more than twenty ascents over 20,000 feet to his credit. He grew up in Nepal, in the shadow of Everest, eating the kind of food he now serves in a restaurant that's decorated with artifacts of his previous life -- the snowshoes, gunny bags and ice axes of his former career -- and photos of him today, still climbing. In addition to unique interpretations of standard Indian fare, Sherpa's kitchen cooks up fantastic mountain-man cuisine: heavy, thick stews, spicy momo and fried paneer pokara. The service is friendly, with staffers (many of whom are Sherpas, too) intimately acquainted with the food they serve. And in keeping with the restaurant's motto, the Adventurers Bar in the front of this two-story converted Victorian is the perfect place "to relive the glories of past adventures and plan new ones."
With Luca d'Italia, chef/owner Frank Bonanno has done what most transplanted East Coasters would have thought impossible: He's brought good Italian food to the Rocky Mountain region. No, not just good. Great Italian food. Wonderful, vital, superlative Italian food that's absolutely without equal on the Denver scene. Luca's menu is designed for gluttonous abandon, arranged for wild flights of pairing and sharing, set up in an attempt to make people eat the way the Italians do -- with several courses of small plates leading up to the entrees. The portions are small, the plating simple, the combinations divine. And on plate after plate -- from warm artichoke hearts to gnocchi in a crab-and-lobster gravy to the truffled rabbit parts that nearly killed us -- the unparalleled skill of this kitchen and the dedication of its chef shows through with startling, wonderful clarity.
When most Americans think of Russian food -- if they do at all -- they picture one of two things. They envision frozen gray latitudes, turnips and beet roots, with giant cauldrons of borscht -- that most recognizable of old Soviet cuisine -- steaming and bright, bloody purple in the pot. Or, going in the other direction, they imagine silver bowls brimming with iced caviar served with tiny gold spoons, roasting game and fresh fish, water crackers crusted with rock salt and absolute czarist luxury. Both perceptions are partially right, but both are also totally wrong. Russian food at its best and most basic -- the way it's served at Astoria -- is like the American food we ate in the '50s, full of fatty meat and potatoes swimming in butter; thick, hot soups; pickles; fried chicken and sour cream. In Astoria, a bunker-like restaurant tucked into the Russian Plaza, they're cooking pure comfort food: solyanka, potato salad, caviar and blini, stroganoff, roast chicken and lamb chops. And, as with most comfort food, while it might be very, very bad for you, it makes you feel very good inside.
This has been a weird year for the French-restaurant community. It began with all that Freedom Fries nonsense, followed by a wildly unsuccessful attempted boycott of all things French by a bunch of jingoistic ideologues. And then, in the midst of that, Denver and Boulder saw a sudden, inexplicable resurgence in French dining with several bistros, cafes and brasseries opening one right after another. Best among them -- best among both old and new -- is Brasserie Rouge, whose owners went to obsessive lengths to create a spot that, in their dedication to an atom-by-atom reconstruction of an honest French brasserie, is more real than the real thing. This restaurant faithfully mimics the best aspects of the brasserie in both its kitchen and dining room. From the butcher's paper tablecloths to the servers with French-as-a-second-language accents to the real duck confit, excellent bouillabaisse and true charcuterie coming from the galley, Rouge deserves a prize not just for being the best French restaurant in town, but for bringing a little bit of the City of Lights to our own Queen City of the Plains.

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