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.
East China
There are few pleasures in life more satisfying than laying out a huge spread of Chinese takeout on the coffee table and settling in for a late-night Barney Miller marathon on cable. Maybe it's the notion of eating straight from those waxy cardboard cartons. Maybe it's the freedom of gorging yourself on cheap, greasy sweet-and-sour chicken and eating dumplings with your fingers. Maybe it's Abe Vigoda. But no matter what makes Chinese takeout such a joy (or compulsion, depending on your personality), it's important to have a good place on speed dial for those nights when the urge becomes overpowering. And for us, that place is East China, which has a big menu, low prices and understanding hours.
At many Korean restaurants, the food seems like an endless repetition of grilled beef, rice, onions and the occasional egg. But at Han Kang, that's just where the food begins. The best dishes on this menu are those that are nearly unpronounceable -- deeply flavored soups, spicy seafoods, mounds of bright vegetables and proteins tossed together in endless combinations. And then there's the procession of sides that comes with every meal, the most recognizable of which is kimchee (identifiable by smell at ten paces when done correctly). But at Han Kang, every side is delicious and functional as salad, garnish, flavor enhancer and appetizer all at once. This kitchen will give you a new appreciation for Korean food.
US Thai Cafe
Mark Antonation
US Thai is so delicious, so friendly, so addictive that we had to make a half-dozen visits over the course of a couple of weeks just to make absolutely sure that the restaurant was as good as we thought it was. And it was, every single time. This is authentic Thai food done in a simple, street-food style that forgoes all tricks and complications in favor of straightforward presentations of the hallmark curries and rice dishes that define Thai cuisine. The Penang and masaman curries are so habit-forming that they ought to be listed as narcotic; the dumplings, spring rolls and egg rolls are brilliant; and even something as simple as the Thai iced coffee has us dreaming about the next time we'll be able to get out to Edgewater for another fix.
Royal Peacock
For decades, Royal Peacock's Shanti Awatramani has been serving some of the best Indian food in the United States. Before that, he worked in some of the best Indian restaurants, hotels and resorts in Bombay. He grew up in the hotel-and-restaurant business (as did his niece, Laxmi Lalchandani, who often runs the floor at the Peacock these days), and everything he learned he brought with him to Boulder, where he opened the Royal Peacock. The menu has been largely unchanged from the first day -- basic biryani, murgh chaat, samosa and rogan josh -- but there's no reason to change it, because everything is fabulous. There's no gimmickry here, no flash, no bizarre fusions served in sleek dining rooms. Royal Peacock simply offers the most honest, delicious dishes passed down through generations of a restaurant family known halfway around the world for being the best at what they do.
Little India
Westword
At this point, Indian buffets are almost ubiquitous. Which is handy, because that means you never have to go very far in Denver for an inexpensive hit of saag paneer or tandoori chicken. But with the profusion of options, it's also more and more difficult to tell the good from the bad. There's an easy solution for that: Just head for the best midday feast in town, the buffet at the original Little India. Don't let the full parking lot worry you. Or the line at the door. Or the line at the buffet. No matter how long you have to wait, once you've loaded your plate with rich, deeply flavored saag, biryani, chickpea salad and chicken tandoori from the frequently refilled chafing dishes, you'll know you've come to the right place.
Jewel Of India Restaurant
Courtesy Jewel of India Facebook
Anyone can invent some freaky, prawn-and-jackfruit Asian fusion plate with chrysanthemum flowers and pierogi. Some people might even think it inspired. But for us, true talent lies in the ability to cook the favorite plate of your great-great-great-grandfather and make it just the way he liked it more than a century ago. If that ancestor liked Mughlai cuisine -- the food of raiders and interlopers, siege rations brought into India by Muslim invaders -- then he'd appreciate Jewel of India. And so would anyone else ever taken aback -- stunned, stricken momentarily dumb -- by the depth of richness and layered flavor of an Indian entree. The culinary world has the Mughals to thank for that; we're just thankful that Jewel of India keeps the tradition alive.
Masalaa
Creamed spinach can be great, but the best friend that creamed spinach ever had was a steak. Make that the best American friend that creamed spinach ever had was a steak, because there are plenty of ethnic restaurants where vegetarianism is not about the denial of pleasure (read: meat), but the glorification of vegetables. And at Masalaa, you'll be so busy eating creamed spinach with twenty different spices and squeaky cubes of cheese -- better known as saag paneer -- that you won't give a thought to the missing pork chops or porterhouse. There's just too much on this menu to enjoy. The gigantic food-as-art dosa are meals in themselves, the innumerable chickpea creations are excellent, and every creamy, rich and stunningly complex sauce is a masterwork.

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