Chicken-wing season will be hitting its peak this coming weekend, with football fans getting ready to chow down during the Super Bowl, but Denver has great wing options for those who love to munch on them all year long. But why settle for a simple Buffalo wing, however tasty, when chefs all over the city have cooked up fun and unique recipes? For the weird, the different and even a little of the traditional, here are ten of the best flappers in town, all delicious and all vying to be the top wing.
501 East 17th Avenue
Dubbed "tiger wings," these sweet, spicy and crispy beauties will have you roaring for more. There's something addictive about each bite, and even if you aren't one to suck the bones clean, we're pretty sure you'll be tempted at Ace. To make the tiger wings, chef Thach Tran brines them overnight in a mixture of garlic, fish sauce, salt and sugar. When he fries them, the juices create a Vietnamese-style caramel coating, which isn't sweet as much as it's an umami bomb of flavor. The wings are fried three times in total, giving the dish that wonderful outside shell. Lemongrass, more garlic, mirin, rice vinegar and kaffir lime leaves add even more nuances, though you can order the dish naked if you so desire. A side of housemade "toga-ranch," a mixture of togarashi and ranch dressing, adds a creamy note if you need it. As a bonus, you can order the wings for $1 each during Ace's happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m.
8302 East Northfield Boulevard
Anyone who loves wings, fried chicken and Asian cuisine in general will revel in the crunchy goodness of these double-fried Korean chicken wings. The sauce proves lightly spicy and coats the crackly crust so well it's like the chicken was born that way. In between bites, cut the spice with cubes of sweet pickled daikon radish, a condiment that plays perfectly with the flavors of the chicken. An import from New York City, Bonchon opened in Stapleton last fall. Already there's a following of fans, so when you go, expect a crowd and a wait of about twenty minutes for the wings to cook. Each batch is made to order and is totally worth the wait.
1200 West 38th Avenue
Crush chef/owner Jason McGovern pays just as much attention to the wings served at his LoHi restaurant as he does to the pizza. Each batch starts with Red Bird chicken wings that brine for 48 hours in a special solution. Then the wings smoke over a combination of fruit and pecan wood for up to an hour, then bake for another thirty to 45 minutes in the pizza oven. But wait — that's not the end of the process. From the oven, the wings go on the grill to earn their stripes and then are tossed in one of nine housemade sauces and dry rubs (think honey sriracha or Buffalo green chile) and put back on the grill. All that, and the wings are likely to be consumed in a fraction of the time it took to make them.
249 Columbine Street
Nothing about the wings at chef Gregory Gourdet's Departure in Cherry Creek screams football food or pub fare. The dish does, however, slay wing-loving hearts with pure tastiness. But first, let's establish that these beauties have been lollipopped, meaning the meat has been pushed down to one end of the bone before cooking to make for an easy, mess-free bite. That same meat gets marinated in soy sauce and then dusted with potato starch before being fried into a crispy ball of goodness. Dip your wing in sweet chili sauce and cool the heat with a little pickled carrot and daikon. Who knows? You may never go back to the classic Buffalo wing.
5160 120th Avenue, Westminster, 303-379-9205
8433 Park Meadows Center Drive, Lone Tree, 303-729-2506
Not every barbecue place serves chicken wings, much less good chicken wings. But at Jason Ganahl's Westminster joint, you can get some of the best smoked wings around. "It’s not a staple in most barbecue places, so it’s nice to offer something in addition to traditional barbecue items," he says. "Plus they are fun to eat and versatile, with so many different ways to flavor them." GQue offers a rotating wing flavor each week, but no matter what's on the outside of the wing, you can always you can expect crispy skin and juicy meat from being slow-smoked over hickory logs he brings in from eastern Kansas. Ganahl, who is known on the barbecue championship and contest circuit, hales from Missouri, where barbecue reigns. The wings, he says, are just added delicious fun.
723 South University Boulevard
At Grillin' Wings & Things, owner Michael Godart takes the time to fry his wings, toss them in sauce and then finish them on the grill. It's time-consuming and messy, but he wouldn't have it any other way, and neither would the die-hard wing fans that go to this Bonnie Brae neighborhood joint. The style, he says, is popular on the East Coast, where he's from. Choose from fifteen homemade sauces such as honey hot, dry-rubbed Cajun, sweet ginger Thai and fire hot. An order, ranging in sizes from six to sixty wings, comes with carrot and celery sticks and your choice of ranch or blue cheese.
Highland, 2219 West 32nd Avenue, 720-287-4493
Sloan's Lake, 1565 Raleigh Street, 720-456-6779
Belleview Station, 4910 South Newport Street, 720-583-1367
Smoked wings are a beautiful thing, and Highland Tap and Burger uses an Old Hickory Pit smoker to make this dish really stand out. The meat comes out juicy, with a savory campfire flavor, and since the wings are never fried, you can feel (kind of) healthy eating a whole pile of them. These wings are taking over the town with Tap & Burger locations in LoHi, Sloan's Lake and the DTC.
1800 East Evans Avenue
If you have any history with the decades-old Spanky's Roadhouse near the University of Denver, you may think of it as a simple college dive bar. That's no longer the case: The space and menu have both undergone a complete overhaul in the past few years, and one of the house specialties is wings. With nine sauces and/or rubs to choose from, you could be there all day sampling flavors. However, follow our lead and stick with the sweet and spicy sesame sauce. It's a perfect marriage of classic American-Chinese food and pub culture. The chicken itself is plump and juicy, making for a fulfilling wing. If you want to balance the richness of the sesame chicken wings, consider also ordering a plate of dry-rubbed wings coated in a spice mixture that chef Justin Adrian created with the local company Spice Guys just for Spanky's. Happy-hour wings run six for $6 from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.
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Steuben's Food Service
Uptown, 523 East 17th Avenue, 303-830-1001
Arvada, 7355 Ralston Road, Arvada, 303-830-0096
You don't often see wings served whole these days, but at both Steuben's locations, the drumette, flat (the part with two bones) and the tip are all presented as an intact wing. They're darn good, too, spicy and rich with a nice crackle to the skin. Pull them apart and dip into housemade blue cheese dressing or ranch; either way, it's a delicious way to tame the heat from the Buffalo sauce, which Steuben's also makes from scratch. There's only one way to order the wings, but if you don't like heat, the kitchen offers them "naked" on request. Get them for $1 each during the daily happy hours from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to close. And if you're looking to take some home for the Super Bowl, order a tray of 24 for $24 at least 24 hours in advance. Pick up by 1 p.m. on game day, or utilize Door Dash and have them delivered.
999 18th Street
This downtown newcomer believes in responsible sourcing as well as solid flavor, so chef Michael Beary uses poultry from Wayne Farms in Georgia. Each batch of wings get fried and seasoned with your choice of citrusy Peruvian, spicy Escondido or smoky pasilla, made with smoked chiles from the mountains of Oaxaca. After much trial and error, Beary perfected the flavor profiles of each of his five dry rubs, and the attention comes through in smokey, earthy and tangy flavors. A plate of wings also comes with an order of Oaxacan crema that imparts a citrus kick to the whole mess. Enjoy the wings four to a plate for $7 during happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.