Sushi Den
Sushi Den
The worst fights we've ever seen at Sushi Den haven't been over the last piece of o-toro, but over the last seat at the sushi bar on a Friday night. And that's odd, because we'd punch a nun if she was standing between us and some of the brilliant, beautiful, achingly fresh fish brought in by the convoluted and murderously expensive delivery system that Toshi, Sushi Den's owner, has been laboring for twenty years to perfect. As a result of those Herculean efforts, you can be eating fish on South Pearl Street on Saturday night that was sold Saturday morning on the floor of the Nagahama market in Kukuoka, Japan, and was swimming in the ocean on Friday. There aren't many other restaurants where you can do that -- none in Denver, and few in the country. As a result, this is the only place in town where we'll lay out the greenbacks for real o-toro, where we'll wait an hour or more for surf clam and eel, where we'll fight off that nun for the bright-orange uni presented in a simple slip of black seaweed.
Sushi Sasa
Linnea Covington
At Sushi Sasa, a meal isn't just about the food, it's about the whole experience of dining. With its white-on-white decor, attentive servers, jewel-box space (with an overflow bar and lounge downstairs) and a menu that stretches the idea of nouvelle Japanese beyond just the over-played tricks of torch-seared salmon skin and sushi-with-sauce, dinner here is a true adventure. And with a chef as skilled as Wayne Conwell running the show, it's an adventure that will always leave you wanting more.
Finding a McDonald's in downtown Tokyo is easy; finding a real ramen noodle house in the United States is much more challenging. So how lucky are we to have Oshima Ramen, a link in a chain of ramen noodle shops that is to Japan what Mickey D's is to this country? Very lucky. As a matter of fact, we're the luckiest people in the whole USA, because the Oshima Ramen in Tiffany Plaza is the only Oshima Ramen in America. Still, one is enough for us. If you're looking for a true taste of Tokyo -- pork bone, chicken and bonito stock, fresh noodles rolled daily, blonde soy shoyu and a coffee-dark and cloudy miso broth used to create everything from a simple Original Ramen to a veggie, to a tofu and bamboo-shoot ramen, to a seafood ramen, to a double-up super original Oshima Ramen with chaisu, boiled egg and corn -- then you're really in luck here.
Domo
Not only is Domo Denver's best Japanese restaurant, it's one of the best and most interesting restaurants that Denver has ever produced. Part restaurant, part Zen garden, part Aikido dojo, part Japanese cultural center, Domo is all Japanese -- fiercely original, fiercely regional and fiercely independent. Everything here -- from the tree-stump seats and northern Japanese peasant cuisine to the premium sake list and funny hats given to those seated outside in the garden on sunny days -- is transporting. And though Domo might be one of the very few restaurants where you can actually say that the cuisine has been elevated beyond the level of craft and into the realm of true art, it is also the last place where anyone on staff would say that anything done in this kitchen was anything but craft -- anything but dinner, well-made in imitation of a style that's been around for as long as the stones and which will outlive every one of us.
Kim Ba Vietnamese Cuisine
Kim Ba
Denver is heaven for fans of Vietnamese food. We've got the good stuff and the bad stuff, the authentic and the fake. We've got more pho restaurants than you can shake a stick at, and dozens of good noodle-bowl joints. But when we're really craving all that Vietnamese cooking can be, we head for Kim Ba. Not only is this one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in the area, but it's the best at anything off the grill (which is one-third of all Vietnamese cuisine) or over noodles (which is the second third, the last being pho -- which can be found at plenty of other spots). For the appetizer combo alone -- a massive collection of grilled meats and noodles and greens and little fried things that we can't even pronounce -- Kim Ba would take the prize, but this menu goes on for several pages after that, and every dish is a winner.
Can Tho Pho
If you're from Vietnam, this is comfort food. If you're not, it's a fantastic education in the less common flavors of Southeast Asia. Gelatinized duck's blood, fishscale mint, sawgrass and other, even less recognizable ingredients are pretty much par for the course at Ha Noi Pho, but you'll be amazed at how quickly a brave heart, a strong stomach and an adventurous palate can be made to feel right at home. Although service can be a bit standoffish, once you get the owners, cooks or servers talking, the place becomes as friendly as any other neighborhood joint -- whether in Denver or Hanoi.
Parallel Seventeen
At Parallel 17, executive chef and owner Mary Nguyen has resurrected a branch of Vietnamese cuisine that had been largely ignored for years. Her menu is composed primarily of Vietnamese small plates, a style once prized by the royal family in Hue and practiced by generations of Vietnamese home cooks for every family celebration -- but she's given each of these classical preparations a nouvelle twist, with beautiful presentations and interesting flavors firmly grounded in history. And while it might sometimes be difficult to notice the food, what with all the mobs of beautiful people and 17th Avenue hipsterati crowded into this small space, the food is definitely worth your attention.
Pho Saigon
Pho Saigon's space -- a box with some tables -- is forgettable, and the menu a seemingly simple board of Southeast Asian classics. But what sets Pho Saigon apart is the cosmopolitan sense of otherness that comes from cramming in a mixed-demographic crowd and feeding them, in rapid-fire succession, foods that twenty years ago half the people eating here would have never heard of, and the other half would never have imagined eating in a little strip mall in Centennial. At Pho Saigon -- as in Saigon itself -- it's food that brings people together, food that gives them reason to pause in the middle of the day and enjoy something extraordinary. Pho is the big seller here (seventeen kinds, from a simple meatball version to the rare shrimp pho), but the menu stretches well beyond that to cover all the comforts of Vietnamese street food.
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The "American Chinese" restaurant is just about extinct, now that everyone is eating stir-fry noodles and lettuce wraps and even Grandma has the occasional yen for gingered pork dumplings. But melting-pot Chinese food has its place, too, and that place is Chopsticks, a restaurant that serves authentic fare as well as simple sweet-and-sour dishes and protein/noodle combinations. For the adventurous, there's cold jellyfish salad, flaming pig intestine, "three cup sauce frog with basil" and Chinese hot pots cooked remarkably well. But there's also excellent lo mein and barbecued pork, for those who like to keep company with gastronauts but would rather limit their own adventuring to a wok on the mild side.
Super Star Asian Cuisine
Cassandra Kotnik
If we could go to only one restaurant for the rest of our lives, Super Star would rank high on the list. Although there are probably better restaurants in Denver, sitting in that blank, almost anonymous space (just a restaurant-shaped hole in Alameda Square, next to the place that offers herbal medicine, phone cards and tax advice, just down from the other place with the $1.99 Mexican lunch combos), we can't quite remember their names. Though Super Star offers a regular lunch and dinner menu full of excellent and very authentic Chinese dishes (everything from sea cucumber and shark fin soup to French-influenced beef in wine sauce and congee porridges), the real draw here is the daily dim sum, paraded past on wheeled carts. If you've never been before, just walk in, wait your turn, take a table and then start pointing. A meal here is the next best thing to breakfast, lunch and dinner in Hong Kong.

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