BEST SUSHI 2006 | Sushi Den | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Sushi Den
Forget everything else on the menu at Sushi Den. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but if you're walking into a place that has not just the best sushi in Denver but some of the best sushi outside of Japan, why would you want to eat anything else? What sets Sushi Den apart is simple: It's the fish. But actually, it's not so simple -- the way Sushi Den gets that amazing fish is incredibly complicated and took owner Toshi Kizaki years to work out to his satisfaction. You see, much of the fish served here comes straight from the fish markets of Japan, where Toshi's brother goes every day to buy supplies that then are loaded on a plane, flown to Los Angeles, flown to Denver, picked up by Toshi and put on that night's menu. Which means the fish on your plate were swimming in the ocean less than 36 hours before. That kind of sourcing and shipping is expensive, time-consuming -- and totally worth it when you want the best.
The Zen garden at Domo is the ideal spot to sit and consider how lucky you are to live in Denver. Seriously, here you are, smack in the middle of a city smack in the middle of a nation half a world away from the peace and calm of the region that invented this cuisine, eating teriyaki and tonkatsu and miso soup and flying-fish roe and the best, most authentic expression of Japanese country cooking in maybe a thousand miles. It's not enough that Denver has some of the best sushi restaurants in the country. It's not enough that we have a profusion of Japanese restaurants and Japanese fusion restaurants. No, we also have a place that focuses quite specifically on the family-style food of rural, northern Japan and serves it in a Zen garden attached to a Japanese cultural center that's open to the public six days a week. Lucky? That doesn't begin to describe life in Denver.
Kim Ba
Kim Ba is one of Denver's oldest Vietnamese restaurants, a shirttail relative of more famous spots on South Federal, and has held down this near-invisible space in a ghost-town strip mall for nearly twenty years. In that time, owner Ba Forde has perfected her menu into a cornucopia of ultra-traditional flavors, reflecting in proper ratio the variety of ethnic influences that have nibbled away at the edges of Vietnamese cuisine for centuries. The green-lip mussels come in a Thai coconut curry sauce. The thit heo kho tieu -- pork cooked in a spicy black-pepper sauce -- is reminiscent of any number of Asian pork barbecue sandwiches. Bo xao dam is beef sauteed in a wine-and-vinegar sauce: a little French, a little Chinese. The vit xao xa ot, duck sauteed with lemongrass, is more French than anything, even in the way it's cut. But then, the French are the only cooks who've managed to mix comfortably with Vietnamese tradition, or to have any real effect on the country's cuisine. A delicious effect, as evidenced by Kim Ba's excellent Vietnamese food.
Using as her inspiration the imperial cuisine of Hue and the family dinners that her mother still cooks on weekends, Mary Nguyen opened Parallel Seventeen just in time to prove that the small-plates fad did not begin and end with the Spanish. Here she's arranged a menu that offers the best of Vietnamese cuisine, designed with a modernist's touch. The banh mi sandwich served whole at lunch is deconstructed at dinner into a dreamy charcuterie plate of pork pate and mousse and smoky char siu. The pho is powerful and fiercely traditional, while the gaufrettes showcase French influences. The space this food is served in displays Nguyen's contemporary sensibilities: It's comfortable, casual, traditional and nouvelle all at the same time, just like her cooking.
Traditional cuisines are often damaged by the profusion of assimilated knockoffs that surround them. It's sometimes easier for an ethnic restaurant to just go with the flow, dumb down its food and reap the inevitable rewards as timid diners flock in for the sweet curries, the bland rice and the gummy sesame-everything. But give credit to Pim Fitt, owner of Yummy Yummy Tasty Thai, for avoiding that route and instead sticking with Thai cuisine that's as authentic as you can get without a plane ticket and a passport. From deep-fried spinach leaves, unusual soups and blazing hot Thai curries to the gentler pleasures of rice cakes, coconut ice cream and icy bottles of Singha beer, Fitt serves nothing in her tiny, cozy dining room that isn't exactly the way she knows it should be after half a life spent in Thailand -- and the other half spent teaching the rest of us what the first half tasted like.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, King's Land really shines. During the crush of service for weekend dim sum, this gigantic space that can easily seat 300 people sometimes packs in 400. And all the while, the carts never stop moving, the people never stop pointing, and the food never stops coming until you surrender and beg for the check. For the uninitiated, a meal here can be an overpowering experience -- but be brave and you'll quickly get into the swing of things. (Or just order off the regular menu, which offers commendable versions of classic Chinese dishes.) Dim sum offerings range from the simplest pork buns to more complicated congee porridges to authentic meat and seafood dishes from parts of animals not often eaten outside of truly ethnic restaurants. But your courage will be rewarded with a restaurant experience unlike any other in town -- and we bet you'll be back the next weekend for more.
JJ Chinese isn't much to look at, but all the scenery you need is right on your plate. This little storefront cooks mostly for the Chinese immigrant community looking for a taste of what it considers comfort food, but it also offers ample pleasures for the daring gastronaut willing to sample chicken feet and sea cucumbers right alongside the regulars. Service can be quick and friendly or achingly slow, depending on how crowded the place is -- but the food is always worth the wait. The seafood dishes are particularly good, prepared and presented with a pride that's rare in even the most authentic of Chinese restaurants.
If you're going to Americanize a cuisine, you might as well go all the way. At P.F. Chang's, the portions are American-huge, the flavors American-intense, the drinks American-expensive and the business model American-kinked to put maximum butts into maximum seats and turn the dining room as quickly as possible. And yet a meal here can be very good -- and it will be just as good the next time you make the same order, because P.F. Chang's prides itself on consistency. Although the food is no more authentic than the faux-Asian architecture in the giant dining rooms, no one who craves Americanized Chinese food is looking for authenticity anyhow.
How could we not love a place that fills an entire parking lot with the smoky scent of its tandoor ovens? When the front doors are open and the wind is just right, you can smell Star of India from an acre away. And inside, it's like being wrapped in a blanket of spice: You settle into one of the booths along the wall and lose yourself in a world of foreign perfumes. But a first bite of the food here could rudely bring you back to your senses, because some dishes are hot. Not everyday Southwestern hot, but seriously, punishingly, brutally hot. The Goan vindaloo, for example, makes us wonder how the British survived their colonial adventures without simply exploding. The secret is to ask for exactly the meal you want, at exactly the level of spice you want. And if you succeed in that, Star of India will provide one of the most transporting culinary experiences you'll ever have in a strip mall.
Sometimes even ardent carnivores need a break, and when the urge for veggies strikes, we head to Masalaa. Here, vegetarian is not the cuisine of denial that it is in so many other places, but rather one that celebrates all the goodness inherent in the vegetable kingdom. Indian food is generally greenery-friendly, but Masalaa raises the bar with its delicious curries, traditional dosa and complicated sauces. Granted, there are some dishes that would be greatly improved by the addition of bacon, but the same can be said for just about any restaurant. Masalaa doesn't just serve vegetarian food, but great food that happens to be made of vegetables. And that makes all the difference.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of