Best Oysters 2016 | Stoic & Genuine | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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
Courtesy of Nocturne

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.

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
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

West Alameda Avenue near South Federal Boulevard is the Promised Land for seekers of dim sum. Among the many options, King's Land stands out for variety, quality and efficiency. The cavernous space can easily hold 300 people, so even a busy Saturday service runs smoothly, with plenty of food for all on the train of carts emerging from the kitchen and winding between tables. Beyond the standard har gao, shumai and pork buns — all of which are impeccable — top choices include sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves, savory taro-root croquettes and unctuous chicken feet in black-bean sauce. Go with a big group so you can experience a wide range of flavors and styles, and give in to wave after wave of food. And if something you were looking for doesn't make its way to your table, all you have to do is ask.

Readers' choice: Star Kitchen

Nearly thirty years of serving a vast selection of dishes from a phone book-sized menu can take its toll on a restaurant, so in 2014, husband-and-wife owners Thai Nguyen and Ha Pham sold their beloved Vietnamese eatery, with plans to enjoy retirement. But they missed the daily bustle of the South Federal spot so much that they bought the place back last year and gave both the dining room and the menu an overhaul. Their renewed vigor can be tasted in Pham's cooking, in old favorites like the build-your-own rice-paper platters mounded with grilled pork, beef, shrimp and fresh, verdant greens, and in newer dishes on the specials chalkboard for fans of traditional Vietnamese cooking. Renewed attention to service was also a part of the reboot, meaning dinner comes with professional courtesy, patience and attentiveness worthy of the stellar food. An old favorite is back again and better than ever.

Readers' choice: New Saigon
Katie Knoch

Ramen has never been more popular in Denver than it was last year, with restaurateur Jeff Osaka's two tidy noodle taverns — one in RiNo and one in Cherry Creek — leading the charge. No matter which of the two you visit, you'll be greeted by rich, steaming bowls loaded with springy noodles (courtesy of the illustrious Sun Noodle Company) in a variety of traditional styles. Choose from two lighter chicken broths, a meatless version based on Thai green curry, or something a little more porky, like the milky tonkotsu, loaded with so much meaty depth that it's almost like a liquid pork chop. And while ramen is the ringleader here, small plates of sesame green beans, okonomiyaki French fries and mochi doughnuts might stop your slurping long enough for you to sample the non-noodle noshes.

Readers' choice: Uncle
Mark Antonation

Pho joints have mushroomed up across the metro area with a frequency that even the Starbucks corporate crew would find dizzying. But more doesn't necessarily mean better, as many kitchens take shortcuts that result in bland, boring broth. That's not the case at the venerable Pho Duy, which found bigger digs last year next door to its original strip-mall spot. The time and effort required to produce a rich, complex broth are evident in the finished product, and the steady stream of noodle slurpers means that herbs and other accoutrements are always fresh. Whether you choose beefy add-ins like brisket, flank and rare steak or an equally well-rounded meatless, spicy broth bobbing with veggies, one spoonful is enough to convince you that Pho Duy still ladles up the best — pho real.

Readers' choice: Pho 95
Mark Antonation

Everything sizzles, bubbles and pops at this well-appointed Aurora eatery that got its start in 1962 in the So Gong Dong neighborhood of Seoul. Rice is delivered in searing-hot stone bowls, with a crunchy crust perfect for mixing into miniature cauldrons of soups so hot they continue to boil for minutes after the server drops off your order. Soft-tofu soups are the house specialty — from the original 1962 recipe bobbing with oysters and clams to more modern creations thick with everything from beef to fat dumplings to sliced Spam. If grilled meats are more your thing, cast-iron platters shaped like cows come mounded with marinated beef or pork, still cooking as they arrive. And Tofu House's array of banchan appetizers can't be beat, with kimchi, pickled vegetables and salty fish snacks that up the bold and powerful flavors of every dish.

Readers' choice: Dae Gee
Mark Antonation

Two things stand out on Taste of Thailand's culinary résumé: Owners Noy and Rick Farrell maintain a vegetable garden to augment their menu with seasonal produce, and they regularly travel to Noy's home town in Thailand — along with other regions of the country — to scout recipes and bring back ingredients. The results show in bright, fresh bursts of flavor and a well-rounded roster of curries, noodle dishes and rice plates that range from classics like tom yum goong and massaman curry to newer dishes and weekend specials, such as yum mamuang (a spicy shrimp and mango dish served with sticky rice) and khao soi (a northern Thai chicken curry topped with crispy noodles). A move to South Broadway after more than twenty years in a tiny Englewood spot means more space for a new generation of fans of Thai food to find out what makes Taste of Thailand so special.

Readers' choice: Thai Monkey Club

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