Best Veggie Burger
Meta Burger

Denver's plant-based culinary scene has exploded in recent years, offering everything from sophisticated dining to hands-on street food. Meta Burger's two locations fulfill the fast-food urge — minus the meat, dairy and eggs. The classic Meta Burger is hard to beat, with its all-American combo of house sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles and vegan cheese, but other burgers offer a creative assortment of toppings, including bacon-onion jam, grilled pineapple, shaved Brussels sprouts and giardiniera. And what would a great burger be without fries and a shake? We'll gladly skip the beef for Meta's waffle fries and frozen treats.

Best Chinese Restaurant
Danielle Lirette

Restaurateur Tommy Lee uses traditional Chinese dishes from several distinct regions as the foundation for food that soars above the ordinary. The gai lan may look like the Chinese broccoli you'd order from a dim sum cart, but it's boosted with chickeny flavor thanks to the addition of schmaltz and Chook chicken salt. The cumin lamb buns come stuffed with a lamb burger patty instead of typical minced or shredded meat, and the chilled tofu with smashed cucumbers combines two appetizers most often served separately. Customer favorites like the marrow fried rice, Beijing duck rolls and the la zi ji (fried chicken bristling with whole toasted chiles) have found a permanent home on the menu, but there's always something new with each season to add to the sense of wonder and discovery.

Best Dumplings
Mark Antonation

Dumplings aren't the only thing that Uncle Zoe's makes, but they're what attracts the attention, especially when a server walks by with a steaming bamboo basket and drops it off at someone else's table, revealing the plump, glistening contents within. Familiar wonton dumplings in bright red chili oil, sought-after soup dumplings with hand-pleated tops, crisp-bottomed pork buns and pan-fried pot stickers all beckon. But the rarest of the bunch is what's listed on the menu as "meatloaf pies" (also known as rou bing), little finger-friendly snacks somewhere between a pan-fried dumpling and a fully-enclosed sandwich. As good as all the dumplings are, don't fill up all at once; go back and try one or two at a time so you can explore the rest of the menu, too.

12203 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora
303-755-8518
Best Takeout Dumplings
Mike Mallory

Mason's Dumplings and its older sibling, Luscious Dumplings, have won awards for the best dumplings and best Chinese food in their hometown of Los Angeles, so when Mason's decided to open an Aurora outpost, dumpling fans were understandably excited. The shop was all set to open in mid-March 2020 when the pandemic hit, so the kitchen switched to takeout only and has been sending dumplings, noodles and other eats out the door ever since. Plans are in the works to finally open the dining room in the coming weeks, but for now you can still get pan-fried, steamed or boiled dumplings to go.

Best Korean Dumplings
Mark Antonation

Tiny Seoul ManDoo opened last summer on Havana Street with only two menu items: familiar fried or steamed mandu dumplings (similar to Japanese gyoza or Chinese potstickers) and bigger wang mandu (called giant dumplings on the menu) that immediately impress with their immense size (bigger than the palm of your hand) and snow-white steamed wrapper. Of course, all the dumplings come with a choice of several meat- and veggie-based fillings. Order a combo pack so you can try a few.

Best Mobile Dumplings
Penelope Wong

Penelope Wong's wontons, soup dumplings and other creations could be the star of any dim sum restaurant or high-end Chinese menu, but instead she serves them out of a food truck at breweries, pop-ups and special events. The truck has been a huge hit since launching in 2019, so much so that long lines formed during the first few months of business, even on chilly winter nights, and pre-orders sold out regularly during the pickup-only days of the pandemic. The truck's success isn't just a social media phenomenon; Wong's food is grounded in the dishes she grew up with, and her love and passion can be tasted in every bite.

instagram.com/yuanwonton
ChoLon Modern Asian

Chef Michelle Xiao was one of the best dumpling makers in New York City before ChoLon chef/owner Lon Symensma coaxed her into moving to Denver to work her magic at his restaurants. While dumplings are only a small part of the menu at the pan-Asian restaurant, you'll see a steaming basket of the signature French onion soup dumplings at nearly every table in the dining room. The delicate pleats and dough so thin you can almost see the dumplings' contents through it are evidence of an artisan working behind the scenes to make your dinner experience special.

Best Poke
Laura Shunk

A poke war broke out in Denver in the latter part of the last decade, with every nook of every strip mall in town seemingly hiding a raw-fish bar. Most of them didn't seem particularly Hawaiian, though, especially when compared to Louie and Regan Colburn's Ohana Island Kitchen, which opened in the fall of 2016 after starting life as a walk-up window just across the street. Louie hails from Hawaii, and his pristine, simply dressed ahi tuna demonstrates a true knowledge of how to do it right. Beyond the tuna, Ohana also offers other great island bites such as kalua pork and Spam musubi — which you should always tack on with any poke order.

Best Ramen
Mark Antonation

Takashi Tamai is more than a ramen chef; he's an artist who works with noodles and broth. Before opening his own spot two years ago, the chef/owner of Ramen Star invested in an elaborate machine that he uses to make fresh noodles daily. Those noodles go into tonkotsu, miso, shoyu, kimchi and veggie broths, all of which come with housemade toppings such as chashu pork, soy-marinated eggs and crisped dumplings labeled "potato pierogi" on the menu. Once you've spooned up every bite, you'll want to tip the bowl to your lips to get every last drop.

Best Conversion to a Ramen Bar
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.

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