Hop Alley
Danielle Lirette

No new restaurant captured the zeitgeist of Denver's dining scene quite like Hop Alley, the second eatery from Tommy Lee, whose noodle bar Uncle was no less of a hit when it opened in 2012. How did Lee repeat the success of his first go-around? With a slate of rare, regional Chinese dishes — many borrowed from his childhood visits to Hong Kong — tied to tradition by wood-fire cooking and amplified by the funky flavors of vegetables fermented and pickled in-house. The name Hop Alley honors Denver's original Chinatown, but the cuisine wanders far from standard Chinese-American fare, with cumin-tinged lamb sandwiches called rou jia mo from Shaanxi province; tongue-buzzing spices from Sichuan; and alternating cooling and warming elements to keep the palate stimulated — from jiggly chilled tofu to earthy char-siu pork belly with braised mustard greens. The eatery's instant success when it opened at the end of 2015 was proof that Denver diners are ready to be challenged, titillated and rewarded with a whole new world of gustatory experience. And Hop Alley also pushed the boundaries of Denver's dining scene into fresh new territory, taking fine dining further north than it had ever gone before in the booming River North neighborhood.

Readers' choice: Avanti Food & Beverage

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