Best Conversion to a Ramen Bar 2021 | Chimera Ramen | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Courtesy of Chimera Ramen

Edwin Zoe founded Chimera in Boulder with the intention of showcasing his favorite dishes from all around Asia, but he and his culinary team became too good at one thing: ramen. So he converted the restaurant to a ramen-only shop (with a few tantalizing appetizers) to give customers exactly what they wanted. Zoe makes ramen noodles from scratch every day (his is one of only two metro ramen shops doing that), and the kitchen simmers broths all day to extract the most flavor from pork and chicken bones and kombu, the Japanese seaweed that adds depth to the soups. If you're not sure which bowl to start with, Chimera Ramen's lobster ramen is worth every penny.

Best Non-Ramen Dishes at a Ramen Bar

Osaka Ramen

Mark Antonation

Chef Jeff Osaka was doing fine dining long before he decided to return to his childhood roots with Osaka Ramen. Diners who visited Twelve from 2008 to 2014, or its spinoff, 12@Madison, from 2016 to 2020, know all about Osaka's attention to detail and wise use of ingredients. Those attributes also hold true for the various ramen bowls served at this subterranean eatery, but don't skip the roster of small plates, from the chilled green beans to the curried potato croquettes to the agedashi tofu. And if you're looking for great, secret fried chicken, you'll find it in little plates of karaage, crunchy on the outside and subtly flavored with citrus and soy.

Michael Emery Hecker

The Ginger Pig has the soul of a Chinese restaurant, owing to founder Natascha Hess's time spent living in China and her love of her host family's home cooking. But her eatery also encompasses ideas from Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and Japan, so it's best to mix and match. The Bangkok balls are little fried rice spheres with a touch of red curry; the happy hour Korean rice dog one-ups the standard corn dog with a crunchy-chewy rice-and-cornflake coating; and the hot and sour shredded potatoes offer a taste of Chinese tradition. More of that can be found in the Sichuan-style eggplant and Auntie Zhang's Chinese noodles, but keep your eye on the menu for new dishes that are always worth a go.

Danielle Lirette

In a year when the comforting and familiar felt like the best bet, Dae Gee was there with its Colorado-grown group of Korean eateries that have fed so many customers since the first one opened in Westminster in 2010. Bubbling soups and stews in hot stone bowls, sizzling meats coated in spicy marinades, and endless little bowls of banchan to add tangy, salty and funky punch to each meal gave us what we needed. Dae Gee's kimchi felt like the unofficial food of 2020, its spice and crunch simultaneously health-giving and fun. It made us warm and happy in kimchi pancakes and kimchi jjigae (a pork, tofu and noodle stew), and as a side with nearly everything else. At Dae Gee, we pigged out when we needed to most.

120 W. Olive St., Fort Collins
Mark Antonation

Noy and Rick Farrell care about you, and the proof is their Flu Shot Soup, a comforting Thai chicken soup fragrant with fresh herbs and packed with nutritious veggies. While the soup is only available in Colorado's chillier months, the rest of the menu at Taste of Thailand is built to warm your heart and soul, too. Seasonal ingredients, many from the Farrells' home garden, brighten many items, and the dishes of Noy's hometown in northern Thailand share space with favorites from the country's other regions. Whether you pick the rich and spicy khao soi or the lighter yum mamuang, a lively shrimp and mango dish served with sticky rice, know that you're choosing well.

Mark Antonation

Vietnam isn't a big country, but its cuisine spans a wide range of styles and influences. Consequently, the menu at Savory Vietnam is big, offering dozens of soups, salads, noodle and rice dishes, stir-fries, hot pots and chef's specials. Start with a mounded platter of finger food and fresh herbs that you wrap in rice paper to create your own rolls, then move on to traditional noodle soups like bun bo Hue, bun rieu or hu tieu nam vang. Order family style to sample vegetarian dishes and meats done using many cooking techniques. There are even separate sections just for quail and escargot. And each dish comes from the kitchen vibrant with color, aroma and flavor — like a tour of a busy street market.

Courtesy of Now Pho

The difference between good pho and great pho can be as simple as a hint of too much star anise in the broth, a slice of brisket that's just a little too chewy or a slight lack of beefy flavor. Now Pho strikes a balance of flavors in its pho broth, which has a mild beef flavor and just a hint of sweetness, and also displays a restrained hand with the spices. The noodles are always fresh, as are the herbs and bean sprouts, and the well-prepared meats add texture to the pho. Beyond those basics, Now Pho offers oxtail, marrow bones and lobster as options. And for a richer, more complex experience, there are Pho Two Bowls, which puts the broth in an oven-hot stone bowl so that it simmers and concentrates without overcooking the noodles, which come in a separate bowl. That's the pho we want right now.

The Madras Cafe

In Denver, Southern India's cuisine doesn't get as much attention as the typical vindaloo, tikka masala and array of colorful curries found in most Indian restaurants. But at the Madras Cafe, they're the star. Big dosa, rolled into tubes like oversized crepes, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, are a good starting point, drizzled in ghee or stuffed with potato masala. Vadai, or savory doughnuts, come plain with dipping sauces or smothered in rasam or sambar, two spicy sauces. The entrees themselves are arranged in North and South Indian sections, so you can stick to one region or go on a journey across the country. As you make your way through Kerala mushroom curry, fried okra with peanuts from Andhra Pradesh, or curry made with tiny pea eggplant from Tamil Nadu, you may notice that there's not a bite of meat to be found anywhere at the Madras Cafe. But you won't miss it.

Mark Antonation

Outside of a thriving Ethiopian scene and a few good Moroccan restaurants, Denver doesn't have much in the way of African cuisine. Fortunately, African Grill & Bar owners Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo dish up tempting food from Ghana as well as other parts of central, south and east Africa — all made without flour, sugar or dairy. You'll find jollof rice, fufu, chakalaka, goat curry and many other specialties, and if you're new to all that, the Osei-Fordwuo family (kids included) are happy to guide your choices. After one or two visits, you'll feel like family, too.

Lori Midson

The thatched covers over the tables, the smell of coffee and spices in the air, the warm greetings whether you're in for a meal at Megenagna or stopping for groceries at the attached market — those are what keep customers coming back to this Aurora Ethiopian eatery. The beef is always at its freshest (the raw kitfo is one of the best items on the menu), and the injera fresh, spongy and earthy from the flavor of dark (almost purple) teff flour. Going meatless is easy here, too, since the stewed lentils, chickpeas and greens and other vegetable dishes are every bit as spice-laden as the meat. Sharing is almost an obligation, so don't go alone.

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