No. 95 Goat Hot Pot at Viet's 333 South Federal Boulevard 303-922-5774
Viet's, tucked into the corner of the always bustling Far East Center, doesn't stand out as a destination dining spot. But despite its hidden location and competition from scads of other well-known Vietnamese eateries within a few packed blocks of Federal, there are always a few large groups at Viet's, celebrating, sampling or reuniting over an array of dishes meant for sharing during special occasions -- even if that special occasion is just catching up with old friends. From the right seat, you can watch a parade of platters heaped in sauce-covered seafood, pungent salads with crunchy shrimp crackers and, most notably, simmering hot pots kept bubbling at the table with a blue flame from a portable gas stove.
Owner Hiep Thai comes from a cooking background; his mother was in the restaurant business in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving the family to the U.S. His experience shows in the goat hot pot -- or lau de -- that's an unusual (for Western palates) combination of lotus root, turnip leaves, Chinese celery, chives and taro supporting the star: toothsome goat in a broth so full of spices that the meat takes on a yellow hue. The flavor of each ingredient has its place, adding layers of homey satisfaction to the stew.
Accompanied by chao (not to be confused with the similarly spelled rice porridge), a slick, gray sauce that combines the fermented funk of natto, cider vinegar and blue cheese, the dish strikes simultaneous chords of familiar, home-style comfort food and profoundly exotic flavors not found in European-based cooking.
That's the wonder and attraction of Vietnamese cuisine -- the familiar and the unique combined in one dish. We love Vietnamese bun bowls with simple rice noodles and char-grilled meats, even if fish sauce provides a jolt of the unfamiliar. We crave pho, a close cousin to Mom's chicken soup, only backed by star anise and ginger instead of thyme or sage. So it is with Viet's goat hot pot, and that's why we return here -- whether for special occasions or just as a reminder of how good it really is.
In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're already loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city. And over the next nine months, we'll be sharing many of them with you, counting down (in no particular order) one hundred of our favorite dishes before the the Best of Denver 2015 hits the streets on March 26. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2014 countdown are linked below.
No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch No 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa