Best Hummus and Pita
Danielle Lirette

Alon Shaya's Safta, which means "grandmother" in Hebrew, has been considered one of the best restaurants in the city since it debuted at the Source Hotel in 2018. The chef/restaurateur's first eatery outside of Louisiana is inspired by his grandmother's recipes and the cuisine of Israel, where he was born. While it's nearly impossible to find a miss on the menu, the biggest hit remains the pita and hummus. The bread is pulled from a wood-burning oven and arrives hot, puffed and slightly sour from its 100-year-old starter. The only thing better than ripping off a piece and dipping it in za'atar-spiced olive oil is pairing it with Safta's impossibly smooth hummus, available in several styles including one topped with a savory, slow-cooked lamb ragu.

Farmhouse Thai Eatery
Mark Antonation

Freshness and balance are the keys to great Thai cuisine, and this low-key Lakewood eatery, which opened in 2019, serves up both — though not from a voluminous menu. Instead, it offers a smart selection of house specials bold with herbs, spices and other imported ingredients, such as the Floating Market noodle soup with its rich, brown broth, and northern Thai kao soi that balances sweet coconut milk with complex curry and has both soft and crispy noodles. The standards, from pad thai to pineapple fried rice, are solid, but order something new to you for a truly transportive experience.

Kiki's Japanese Casual Dining
Molly Martin

Filled with knickknacks, Kiki's is cluttered in the way your favorite aunt's house might be — but that just adds to the homey vibes of this casual, under-the-radar eatery that specializes in authentic country-style Japanese food. There is an entire ramen menu to explore as well as sushi offerings, but Kiki's also serves up dishes like agedashi tofu, karaage (Japanese fried chicken), takoyaki (fried balls made with wheat batter and octopus), tonkatsu (pork cutlet) and a lineup of noodle dishes.

Best Sushi
Stephen Werk/Werk Creative

When the pioneers of Denver's sushi scene open a new restaurant, it's something to see — and Temaki Den, from the team behind Sushi Den, is certainly worthy of a closer look. This sleek sushi bar inside the Source has quickly gained a reputation that lives up to its much older sibling's legacy. It specializes in aburi, or flame-seared sushi, and hand rolls (temaki) assembled in front of diners who are instructed to eat quickly and efficiently so as not to upset the delicate balance of the perfect bite — crispy nori, warm rice and cool fish. Although the bar setup has limited seating, Temaki has an expansion in the works, so that more people can soon get a taste of its standout sushi.

Ohana Island Kitchen
Laura Shunk

When Louie and Regan Colburn started slinging poke out of a walk-up window in 2016, the Hawaiian classic was hardly a bump in the Colorado culinary scene. Fast-forward six years and one pandemic later, and now there seems to be a poke spot on every corner. While most rely on endless customization options and toppings, Ohana's simple, classic take remains the best. As in Hawaii, the poke here is served in a way that lets the ahi tuna itself shine. All you have to do is choose between shoyu and spicy — and decide how many Spam musubi you're getting on the side. ("At least two" is the correct answer.)

Pho 79

Along the stretch of South Federal Boulevard where noodle houses outnumber lowriders on a Sunday night, a handful of no-nonsense Vietnamese spots, most serving rice plates and steaming bowls of pho, have stood the test of time, and Pho 79 is the standout. The restaurant's decor is warm and inviting, and the menu is comforting in its simplicity (no analysis paralysis here). The broth — a true test of any pho shop's worth — is stout and flavorful, and the accompanying bean sprouts, jalapeños, basil and lime wedges are always fresh and crisp. That said, we rarely pass up the opportunity to order one of the house specialties: bun bo Hue, a spicy soup studded with thin-sliced beef, pork sausages and unctuous pork hock.

Ramen Star
Mark Antonation

The best ramen starts with the noodles, and Ramen Star is nearly alone in Denver in its dedication to fresh ramen noodles made in-house daily. The process is time-consuming and difficult, but it results in springy, flavorful noodles that hold up in a hot bowl of broth down to the very last spoonful. Chef/owner Takashi Tamai fills his bowls with both traditional and unique ingredients, from supple chashu pork to crisp-skinned potato pierogi. Serious ramen lovers go straight for the tsukemen, which offers thick noodles served separately so that you can dip them in an intense, velvety broth. We'll slurp to that!

Seoul ManDoo
Mark Antonation

Is bigger better? Once you sink your teeth into an imposing "giant dumpling" (really, that's what they're called on the menu!), you'll never go back to diminutive dumplings. The baseball-sized giants come stuffed with chopped noodles, veggies and a variety of meats, each one threatening to burst its perfect pleats. But if you're into something dainty, Seoul ManDoo sells standard-sized steamed or fried mandoo, too, and you can even buy a frozen pack to take home and cook whenever you get a craving. With Seoul ManDoo, you can go big and go home.

Blue Ocean Asian Cuisine (Little Chengdu)
Mark Antonation

This sparsely decorated Denver Tech Center strip-mall spot, which still bears the "Blue Ocean" sign and online presence of its predecessor, offers an array of traditional Chinese dishes found on a lengthy Chinese menu that's MIA online. The main draw at Little Chengdu: noodles hand-made by the owner at a small station outside the kitchen entryway, where he pulls them with mesmerizing efficiency — something you can't find anywhere else in the city. He works solo, running both the front- and back-of-house operations, so plan to take your time when you visit. But visit often, so that you can eat your way through other specialties, too, like hot pot cooked at your table and handmade Szechuan wontons stewed in chili oil.

Savory Vietnam
Molly Martin

Opened by the daughter of the founders of New Saigon in 2019, Savory Vietnam has a cavernous dining room and, somehow, an even bigger menu. While the sheer number of options can be overwhelming, the dozens of soups, salads, noodle and rice dishes, stir-fries, hot pots and chef's specials reflect the wide range of styles and influences in Vietnamese cuisine. Go with a group that likes to share, and start with a mounded platter of finger food and fresh herbs that you wrap in rice paper to create your own rolls. Then dig into other selections, all of which arrive from the kitchen vibrant with color, aroma and flavor — like a tour of a busy street market.

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