Uncle
Mark Manger

One doesn't normally think of Asian food and Southern cuisine as being compatible, but at Uncle, chef Tommy Lee has created the perfect pairing of the two cultures with its Fried Green Tomato Bao Bun. It's a classic cornmeal-crusted green tomato stuffed into a fluffy, sweet Chinese bao bun, then spruced up with miso-infused mayonnaise, Thai basil and tangy pimento. Chances are that neither a Southern grandmother nor a Chinese lao lao would approve of the creation, but for those looking to add a little culinary adventure to their plate, this appetizer is a winner. Lee has also offered Louisiana-style ramen, composed of gumbo broth, crawfish, smoked andouille, okra, pasilla chiles and spicy sour cream, at the restaurant. It's all a reflection of the Chinese-American chef's continued interest in marrying tastes for the ultimate sensation. Pair these two dishes together, and you have the ultimate in Asian-Southern fusion.

Zengo

Zengo chef/owner Richard Sandoval knows his Mexican food, given that he owns more than thirty establishments across the country. So it stands to reason that he's earned the right to start playing with the cuisine, as he does with his Latin-Asian eatery in LoDo. One dish that showcases this experimentation well is the bulgogi ribeye tacos, a set of corn tortillas stuffed with cucumber kimchi, sesame and, of course, bulgogi — Korean-style marinated meat. When ingredients are paired this way, it's easy to see the similarities between Mexican and Korean cooking. Both use a lot of spice and heat, they tend to feature beef and pork, and each highlights a specific chile-based sauce. Next time you go, be sure to try these delicate and hearty bites, as well as Sandoval's other fusiony delights.

The Asian Cajun

If you were asked to seamlessly blend East and West, Asian and Cajun would probably not be the first combination to come to mind, but it's exactly that element of surprise that makes this oddball fusion cuisine so great. Really two restaurants in one offering year-round seafood boils, Korean plates, Cajun favorites and hybrid creations, Asian Cajun makes your biggest obstacle narrowing down the choices (hint: bring friends).

Vinh Xuong Bakery
Linnea Covington

It's hard to find a good lunch special that's a true bang for your buck, but Vinh Xuong Bakery manages to leave customers with a full belly and a still-full wallet. For just $4.50, expert banh mi artists will slice a full loaf of French bread in half and fill it with pickled vegetables and your choice of grilled pork, barbecued pork, chicken, ham, pork meatball or a combination thereof, all to make the perfect Vietnamese sandwich. On weekends and special occasions, duck, tofu and brisket make the menu, too. Vietnamese iced coffee pairs perfectly with the banh mi; the sweet concoction is only $3 for a regular size, or it can be super-sized for $5 for people looking for an instant energy boost. Stretch your dollar and your appetite at Vinh Xuong, located in the northwest corner of Alameda Square Shopping Center.

Sushi Den
Sushi Den

Year after year, Sushi Den owners Yasu and Toshi Kizaki not only rise to the challenge of serving the freshest fish in town, but they also continue to innovate to exceed customers' already high expectations. That means serving in-season seafood from coastal and international waters, whether it's scallops shipped live from Boston, the best wild salmon from Alaska and Scotland, or glistening specimens still pristine from the cold waters off Japan. Beyond the simplicity of carefully sliced sushi and sashimi, there are also smart creations and reimaginings, like a wild yellowtail roll topped with black truffle, or kara-age (Japanese fried chicken) made with monkfish instead of the standard poultry. Each visit to the South Pearl shrine of sushi reaffirms that the Kizaki brothers still know how to put the Den in Denver.

Readers' choice: Sushi Den
Bar Dough
Danielle Lirette

Like bone marrow and foie gras, octopus divides people into two camps: those who hate it, and those who can't get enough. Regardless of which category you're in, run, don't walk, to Bar Dough, where Max MacKissock's Sicilian-inspired preparation will have everyone singing this cephalopod's praises. True, you might never get over the look of those creepy arms, but trust us, you'll still love the octopus itself, which arrives tender, not rubbery, with a hint of char from mesquite and a cheery dose of lemon. Accented with charred eggplant, caponata and a pistachio-celery salad that does wonders for the plate's overall texture, the dish is a natural lead-in to whatever follows, be it braised lamb shank or pizza.

Stoic & Genuine
Danielle Lirette

A fresh, ice-cold oyster served with nothing but its own liquor is a wondrous treat, somehow both elegant and primitive from the moment you tip the shell to your lips. Union Station's bivalve boutique teems with life and energy like a tropical reef, even if the star of the platter comes from chillier waters to the north. Sample the house specials: the bright and briny Stoic from Long Island, or the lush Genuine from Totten Inlet, Washington — each raised especially for the restaurant. Other varieties come and go like the tides, but they're all impeccably presented. Even an oyster can be dressed up for a night out, as the kitchen proves with fancy toppings, from frozen Aperol or lychee-sake granitas to a classic champagne mignonette.

Readers' choice: Jax Fish House
Nocturne
Jon Solomon

Oysters don't really need anything, but when a good one shows up adorned with just the right flavors, it can be a beautiful thing. The oyster dish at Nocturne, the new jazz and supper club in RiNo, hits just the right notes. Its light cornmeal coating melds nicely with the accompanying slightly sweet and dense sorghum cake, which in turn balances out the savory elements in a drizzle of parsley purée, a tangy remoulade and a sweet-tart smoked-tomato jam. The better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts dish is currently being offered as part of the "Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five" tasting menu at this creative and vibrant spot, but Nocturne will let you order it separately. Either way, it's a shell of a good idea.

Ototo

It almost seems unfair, after successes with Sushi Den and Izakaya Den on South Pearl Street, that the Kizaki brothers could score another hit with the resurrected Ototo, which returned last year after a three-year hiatus and a conceptual update that impresses with its traditional, well-defined menu of small plates and robatoyaki — skewers grilled over oak and mesquite coals. Start with simple grilled vegetables and move on to skewered chicken wings, wagyu beef or short ribs. For the more adventurous, there's whole grilled squid, a choice of chicken hearts or duck gizzards, and ichayaboshi — semi-dried fish that receives a flavorful char from the white-hot coals. Raw-bar selections show the expected masterful Den touch, and a list of rare sakes provides a perfect sip for each bite. This Platt Park corner stop has become a launch point for a journey into Japanese cuisine.

Readers' choice: Domo
Super Star Asian Cuisine
Cassandra Kotnik

Super Star is a beacon in west Denver for those seeking a weekend dim sum banquet, and the endless parade of rattling carts stacked with dumplings, pastries and other nibbles certainly won't disappoint. While the kitchen shines with shumai and turns out tempting turnip cakes during daytime hours, a visit during dinner proves that its ability to impress doesn't end when the carts stop circling. Instead, things just get better. You can't go wrong with anything from the sea, including what might be the city's most complete list of abalone preparations, as well as the live-tank specials and a beautiful lobster in XO sauce. Bubbling clay pots filled with complex stews and family dinners featuring whole Peking duck and steamed fish — among many other traditional preparations — mean that you can share a quiet dinner for two or head over with the whole clan for a blow-out celebration. Ask for the Chinese menu for even more options; the staff is happy to translate.

Readers' choice: Star Kitchen

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