Pho is the ultimate do-it-yourself Asian cuisine. It's peasant food, lacking any pretension, based on frugality and the whole-food ethos that demands the use of any possibly edible bit of everything. Pho broth is slow-cooked, simmered and reduced simple stock kicked up with onions boiled until translucent, green onion stalks and spices. There's always salt but never pepper; sometimes star anise and cinnamon, often lemongrass and soy. Every minute the broth sits on the stove changes its character in small ways. Every minute it sits before you, cooling as you eat, changes it. But there's one thing you can be sure of at Pho 2000: No matter when you arrive, you'll find the best pho in town.
Just because a Chinese restaurant isn't authentic doesn't mean it can't be authentically good. Little Olive does Chinese food American style, but it does it right. Shrimp and crab dumplings, Mongolian beef, orange chicken, Peking duck, Thai curries and Vietnamese soft-shell crab come together on an Asian menu that has something to please every palate. Yes, it still serves the basics -- the sweet-and-sour this and kung pao that we all remember from our childhoods -- but with a commitment to making this mutt cuisine better, fresher and healthier than any other place in town. Little Olive shows us that even as our tastes mature, so do the best restaurants.
At Indigo, chef Ian Kleinman has put together a globe-trotting, multiple-fusion board of fare, but his most outstanding creation -- the one thing we can't help but order anytime we find ourselves seated in Indigo's blue-on-blue dining room -- is the lobster spring rolls. This Asian-inspired appetizer combines fat chunks of perfectly cooked lobster and juicy shrimp with a rough green-onion brunoise and nutty candied garlic, then wraps the mix in crisp, maple-glazed phyllo tubes the size and length of a good Macanudo and tops them with a melting scoop of risotto gently flavored with citrus. It's a dish that shouldn't work -- that doesn't work on paper -- and it's a credit to the skill of Kleinman and his crew that something so odd, so derivative and with so many divergent influences works so brilliantly on the plate and on the palate.
Eating in China is not like eating in the United States, and eating Chinese food in the United States is not like eating at Ocean City. As a matter of fact, it's nothing like eating at Ocean City -- as evidenced by the fact that on any given night, there are few round-eyed customers included in the throngs of regulars who crowd this slightly dingy but wholly authentic Chinese restaurant. The menu is packed with solid, everyday Chinese fare freshly made by a kitchen that's kept honest by crowds who would know the difference if it wasn't, and it's dotted here and there with the exotic and the special. The food is usually served family style, with many small plates of many different things making the rounds of all the crowded tables in the big, neon-lit dining room. Sauces thickened with pig's blood, seafood porridge, abalone and sea-turtle soup -- these are not flavors made for everyone, but if you have an adventurous palate, Ocean City is a must-stop on your culinary journey.
When we need to retune our tastebuds, when we crave bright, dominant flavors unmuddied by excess, we go to Thai Basil II. Here we can sample the simple pleasures of Asian cuisines -- hot curries, sweet lime, peppery-sweet basil, vegetables cooked fast and served fresh without all the taste leached out of them. Thai is a cuisine best tasted in the juxtaposition between one flavor and its neighbor, and the best trick in Thai Basil's repertoire is the cooks' ability to keep flavors distinct while still making each plate taste like a full, wedded whole. The curries are the best example of this skill, with sweet and heat and sour and bitter ingredients all coming together into seamless aggregates of their parts.
Just because a Chinese restaurant isn't authentic doesn't mean it can't be authentically good. Little Olive does Chinese food American style, but it does it right. Shrimp and crab dumplings, Mongolian beef, orange chicken, Peking duck, Thai curries and Vietnamese soft-shell crab come together on an Asian menu that has something to please every palate. Yes, it still serves the basics -- the sweet-and-sour this and kung pao that we all remember from our childhoods -- but with a commitment to making this mutt cuisine better, fresher and healthier than any other place in town. Little Olive shows us that even as our tastes mature, so do the best restaurants.
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.
When we need to retune our tastebuds, when we crave bright, dominant flavors unmuddied by excess, we go to Thai Basil II. Here we can sample the simple pleasures of Asian cuisines -- hot curries, sweet lime, peppery-sweet basil, vegetables cooked fast and served fresh without all the taste leached out of them. Thai is a cuisine best tasted in the juxtaposition between one flavor and its neighbor, and the best trick in Thai Basil's repertoire is the cooks' ability to keep flavors distinct while still making each plate taste like a full, wedded whole. The curries are the best example of this skill, with sweet and heat and sour and bitter ingredients all coming together into seamless aggregates of their parts.

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

Ko-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.
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.

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