Say you're new to all this raw-fish nonsense. You're curious about the fuss, but you don't know your ebi from your uni. For you nigiri neophytes, we suggest making a lunch date at Hapa Sushi. While fish aficionados may scoff at Hapa's jumped-up, fusiony, oh-so-flashy fare, this hip Cherry Creek hot spot has two very important things going for it. First, the menu is comprehensively descriptive; no matter what you order, you'll know exactly what you're getting, and you won't accidentally find yourself with a plate full of sea urchin genitalia when what you wanted was shrimp and rice balls. Second, Hapa has a plethora of offerings that come baked, seared, fried and disguised with great names like the Spider Roll and the Multiple Orgasm, so no one will suspect you're scared to eat it raw.
Sushi Den
Sushi Den
Any way you slice it, Sushi Den is a top sushi spot. It's been a trendy destination for nearly twenty years, always loud, always crowded. Why? Because the house believes in importing everything it can straight from the warm, bloody center of the sushi universe: the fish markets of Japan. Oddly enough, this does not mean that you, the customer, will be getting the freshest of products, but you will be getting the best. Deeply purple tuna, iridescent toro banded with fat, excellent eel and beautiful shake pump up the menu here. Sure, the more exotic offerings are pricey, but like the man says: You get what you pay for.
The only bad Vietnamese food is no Vietnamese food, but the best Vietnamese food being done in Denver is coming out of the kitchen at New Saigon. With hundreds of choices on the menu, dozens of sauces, a friendly and accommodating staff, and plenty of talent in the galley, anyone with a taste for the cuisine of the mysterious East is sure to find something to like at this perennial favorite. And while you're enjoying your spring rolls, nuoc cham and blazing hot curries, you're also getting a lesson in authentic Vietnamese cuisine, because New Saigon cooks Vietnamese food the same way it's been cooked in old Saigon for the past hundred years.
Domo
Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to have restaurants in Denver that foodies will travel hundreds of miles to visit. Domo is one of those restaurants. It serves "country food," Japanese farmhouse cuisine, which translates as simple, elegant sushi presentations in hand bowls, yellowtail steaks, salted salmon donburi and a flight of exotic side dishes made fresh every day. Chef and owner Gaku Homma also has a traditional Japanese garden on site that's one of the most peaceful places we've seen, as well as an aikido dojo, and a museum and cultural center. Domo arigato.
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.
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.
New Saigon
Mark Manger
The only bad Vietnamese food is no Vietnamese food, but the best Vietnamese food being done in Denver is coming out of the kitchen at New Saigon. With hundreds of choices on the menu, dozens of sauces, a friendly and accommodating staff, and plenty of talent in the galley, anyone with a taste for the cuisine of the mysterious East is sure to find something to like at this perennial favorite. And while you're enjoying your spring rolls, nuoc cham and blazing hot curries, you're also getting a lesson in authentic Vietnamese cuisine, because New Saigon cooks Vietnamese food the same way it's been cooked in old Saigon for the past hundred years.
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.
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.

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