Longform

FOOD & DRINK

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Best Egg Rolls
Champa Foods
2960 Champa St.

Yes, we know this place looks like a little neighborhood market, but step right up for the best egg rolls in town. Tucked behind all the groceries is a take-out counter making food to go, including decent burgers and wonderful chicken-fried rice that's heavy on the black pepper. The 75-cent egg rolls, though, are the real deal. They're huge, homemade packages stuffed with rice, vegetables and other tidbits, cooked to order (and until then, kept in the market's cooler right alongside the frozen pizzas).

Best Spring Rolls
Viet Nam Inn
6510 S. Broadway, Littleton

The concept is so simple that we're amazed at how few places get it right. In this Vietnamese variation on the theme, rice noodles, shrimp and pork are rolled inside a soft-cooked, rice-paper wrapper, covered with chopped peanuts and then served with fresh bean sprouts, lettuce and basil, with nuoc cham for dipping. Viet Nam knows how to roll with the munches: Use tip-top ingredients, make the fish sauce sweet and spicy, and no skimping on the extras. The result is two big bundles with a tiny price tag.

Best Sesame Chicken
Red Dragon
2021 S. University Blvd.

This dish is on every Chinese restaurant's menu, but too often the sesame chicken tastes like candy or wet Styrofoam--or both. Not so at the Red Dragon, which coats the tender (but not tenderized) meat with a thin, crispy batter and liberally pours on the ground red pepper. The resulting sweet-and-hot combination is addictive.

Best Sushi
L'Auberge Zen
9955 E. Hampden Ave.

Although sushi bars were all the rage a decade ago, L'Auberge Zen keeps the concept fresh by serving spanking-fresh seafood. The tuna, yellowtail and salmon sashimi are deceptively simple--and absolutely delicious. Don't be fooled by artsy-fartsy presentation or jujitsu-like sushi-making tactics--when you're eating it raw, accept no substitutes.

Best Soft-Shell Crab
New Orient
10203 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora

Many places want to hide this popular crustacean in a cloak of batter and spices, but New Orient recognizes that less is more. The delicate crust serves only to keep the heady perfumes from being released until the beautiful swimmer is split open to reveal a steaming, succulent crab. A spicy sesame sauce comes on the side, but we're usually in too much of a hurry to be bothered with dipping.

Best Crabcakes
240 Union Restaurant
240 Union Blvd., Lakewood

Even the crab didn't know he could taste this good. Ultrafresh Dungeness is packed into a ball of herbs and spices, then cooked until the outside is crispy and the inside still achingly soft and juicy. Although the cakes are great on their own, they come with an inventive aioli that 240 Union chef Matthew Franklin changes, along with the rest of the menu, about every three months. Our favorite so far: the sherry cayenne.

Best Pickled Octopus
Central 1 Restaurant
300 S. Pearl St.

It's nine o'clock in the evening and you're still too full from dinner to go out for another meal--but you need something. Then it hits you: pickled octopus, of course! And there's no better place for it than Central 1, a Greek restaurant. Lemony and soft (but still chewy enough to remind you that you are, after all, eating octopus), the dish, served with soft pitas, is a late-night delicacy you won't mistake for just another pizza. Opa!

Best Jellyfish
Golden Plate
9880 W. Girton Dr., Lakewood

The Golden Plate is almost impossible to find--it's tucked in a tiny plaza at the corner of Kipling Parkway and Hampden--but find it you must, if jellyfish tickles your fancy. Slightly chewy, a little rubbery but with a seafood flavor all its own, jellyfish is not for everyone. And if it's not for you, Golden Plate has many other intriguing items--but don't look for them on the regular menu: It's the "special menu" in back that lists such tantalizing dishes as dumplings stuffed with tofu and pork hash.

Best Fish Dish
Sushi Den
1487 S. Pearl St.

The best things in life are free of unnecessary encumberments, and that's exactly what's right with Sushi Den's steamed fresh fish in a bamboo basket (and that's the name the dish goes by--talk about simplicity!). The fish is always the very best available in Denver--we've sampled orange roughy, sea bass and salmon, and Sushi Den's owner/chef has been known to turn down quite a few at the airport--and the preparation the ultimate in good taste: steamed with tofu, noodles and mushrooms and served with a ponzu sauce for dipping.

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