Combination banh mi from New Saigon Bakery & Deli.
Linnea Covington
Combination banh mi from New Saigon Bakery & Deli.

Some Vietnamese restaurants offer phonebook-sized menus with every possible combo of protein, noodle, rice and sauce, while others are specialists. New Saigon Bakery, an offshoot of longtime favorite New Saigon, draws in the crowds with super-sized banh mi on house-baked French baguettes. Salty-sweet barbecued pork, luscious pâté and generous stacks of deli meats make for stellar sandwiches, but once you've eaten your way through the banh mi roster, there's plenty more to explore. Try the tightly wrapped spring rolls, fresh salads topped with grilled meats, refreshing beverages (our favorite is the pressed sugar-cane juice) and pandan waffles. And if you haven't had dessert here, you haven't experienced the bakery at its best. Multi-layered crepe cakes come in flavors like mocha and matcha green tea, both just the right sweetness. At this bakery, there's always a line and seldom an empty seat...with good reason.

Readers' Choice: New Saigon

Bangkok Thai Food
Courtesy Bangkok Thai Food Facebook page

You can test a restaurant by its simplest dishes to see how the kitchen respects ingredients. Bangkok Thai Food excels with well-executed satay, pungent larb and papaya salad zingy with tamarind. Or you can look for deep dives into a country's culinary landscape. Here, too, Bangkok Thai comes through with Isaan-style lemongrass sausage and lovely khow soi from the northern city of Chiang Mai. After exploring, though, you might want to return to old standbys, which is when this family-run restaurant delivers both comfort and pleasure with pad Thai, fried rice and colorful curries, among many other Thai favorites. Lakewood is lucky to have Bangkok — a bright, lively and welcoming slice of Thailand's finest offerings.

Readers' Choice: Taste of Thailand

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
Maureen Witten

Some Ethiopian restaurants in Denver are intimate and cozy — great for getting to know a cuisine without distraction. Then there's the Nile, which is so raucous on weekends, you almost feel like you stumbled into a family wedding. But with big sampler platters that arrive as a mosaic of colorful stews atop spongy injera bread (the deep color is a sign that Ethiopian teff flour is the main ingredient), you can explore the vegetarian choices made with lentils or soft-cooked vegetables while still getting your fill of beef, lamb and chicken dishes like spicy, buttery kitfo (similar to tartare); complex, brick-red doro wot complete with hard-boiled eggs; and fiery lamb awaze, with tender cubes of meat in chili-like sauce. The Nile is a celebration of Ethiopia you won't want to miss.

Readers' Choice: Axum Restaurant

Syrian food is served on Fridays at Comal.
Mark Antonation
Syrian food is served on Fridays at Comal.

Wait, Comal is a Mexican restaurant, right? It is — every day but Friday, when Syrian women from the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods take over the kitchen and serve the creamiest hummus and the most pillowy housemade pita in town, along with other hard-to-find dishes such as stuffed artichoke hearts, bulgur salad and roast chicken with basmati rice. Many of the main offerings change weekly, so there's always something new and wondrous to sample. If you can't make it down for Friday lunch, Comal also has a new space at Zeppelin Station (3501 Wazee Street), where the same great Syrian cuisine will be served every Saturday through Monday into June.

Readers' Choice: Jerusalem Restaurant

Zamzam Halal International Market

There's no place to sit and eat at Zamzam, an international market specializing in Iraqi and other Middle Eastern foods, but you can build a great meal with enormous, chewy rounds of fresh-baked Iraqi flatbread, sold in four-packs still warm from the oven, and a pan of chicken or lamb-and-beef kebabs (call ahead to ensure there's an order waiting for you). Add some pickled wild cucumbers from the pickle bar and you've got a picnic that will serve several friends.

Blue Ocean Asian Cuisine (Little Chengdu)
Mark Antonation

Little Chengdu's English sign reads "Blue Ocean," a generic name befitting the generic American-Chinese menu that the restaurant offers its non-Chinese patrons by default. But don't settle: Ask for the Chinese menu, which has been translated into English. Here you'll access a raft of regional Chinese specialties, including two main highlights. The first is an all-you-can-eat hot-pot experience; order your soup spicy or not (we prefer spicy), and eat your fill of shaved beef, meatballs, mushrooms and greens, cooked fondue-style and then swiped through a dipping sauce you assemble from the condiment bar (our perfect mix includes sesame oil, sesame paste and garlic). The second is the list of hand-pulled and Shaanxi-style knife-shaved noodles, which get pooled with chili oil or dropped into heady Lanzhou-style beef soup. You'll need to go at night if you want to catch the noodle-stretcher in action.

Readers' Choice: Hop Alley

Super Star Asian Cuisine
Cassandra Kotnik

Of all the dim sum parlors that dot this part of town, the most consistently excellent is Super Star Asian, a bare-bones cavern whose back wall is lined with seafood tanks. Cart-pushers traverse the dining room, which is full even on weekdays, offering such standards as barbecued-pork buns and shu mai, shrimp har gow and chicken feet. Selections are most plentiful on the weekend, but if you don't see what you want from the extensive list of dumplings and snacks, you can ask for it. We always make sure to get the turnip cakes, crisp-edged and sided with plummy hoisin, and custard tarts, our favorite dessert. Nighttime at Super Star gives way to feasts: XO crab or lobster, cod in black-bean sauce, pork belly with preserved cabbage, and roasted duck, which should be ordered in advance.

Readers' Choice: Star Kitchen

Peter's Chinese Cafe

We can't say we exactly miss the American-Chinese takeout dishes that defined this country's perception of Chinese cooking for at least a generation — it's hard to go back to mu shu when you've had real Beijing duck, and wonton soup is much less interesting than fiery Sichuan dumplings (or chao shou). That said, we do occasionally feel nostalgic for the egg drop soup, sesame chicken and General Tsos of a different era. When we get that feeling, we head to Peter's, which has been serving the metro area well-executed versions of American-Chinese classics since the '80s. Highlights here include the shatter-crisp sesame chicken, sticky with caramelization, and the thick-set, burnished scallion pancake, served with a savory ginger-soy dipping sauce. Go at lunch, and your meal comes with fried rice and a delicate egg roll, sided with sweet-and-sour sauce and hot mustard.

Shin Myung Gwan
Laura Shunk

Barbecue is the focal point at Shin Myung Gwan: Tabletop grills cook up short ribs, bulgogi, pork neck and cow's tongue. Combo sets let you sample a variety of those offerings; as a bonus, they come with a stone bowl of spicy kimchi stew, a veggie pancake and a free bottle of beer. Spend some time perusing the hot pots that adorn most tables; we're fans of the octopus and bulgogi, built on a light, clear and deeply savory broth seasoned with green onions. You also won't want to miss the peppery and slightly sweet stir-fried rice cake, which you might also know as tteok-bokki. The version here, supplemented by thin slices of fish cake, is spicier than other renditions in the neighborhood, and it comes floating with a brick of ramen noodles, which melts into the broth as it bubbles.

Readers' Choice: Dae Gee Korean BBQ

Defining Biju's Little Curry Shop as fast-casual Indian almost does it a disservice. Sure, it operates on a fast-casual counter model, with diners ordering their coconut curry, vindaloo or Masala beef, and then directing the addition of chutneys, yogurt and extra spice to taste. And yes, it's an easily replicated model, proven by its expansion into a second outlet. But to focus on the fast-casual aspect underplays the Indian cuisine itself — and that's what really makes Biju's unique. Founder Biju Thomas built his restaurant on the flavors of southern India, incorporating recipes from his native Kerala, relying on fresh ingredients and highlighting the lighter preparations. The dishes you find at Biju's, which do not shy away from heat or nuance, are hard to find elsewhere in the Mile High. That alone should entice you, whether you're looking for a quick lunch-counter meal or not. What you find at Biju's, though, will make you want to return again and again...or simply stay.

Readers' Choice: Little India

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