Best of Denver

The Ten Best Chinese Restaurants in Denver — 2018 Edition

Housemade noodles at Zoe Ma Ma.
Housemade noodles at Zoe Ma Ma. Danielle Lirette

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Szechuan Tasty House's zha jiang mian.
Laura Shunk
Szechuan Tasty House
1000 West Evans Avenue

Despite its name, not all of the best dishes at Szechuan Tasty House hail from Sichuan province. The chef here, who hails from the northern city of Tianjin, is skilled with Imperial Cuisine, which encompasses highlights from all of China’s regions. Ask for the English translation of the Chinese menu, then take your cues from parties around you, and you'll see that you should order a spicy chile-oil dish (fish, beef, or half-and-half of each) and the zha jiang mian — the chewy noodles come topped with sweet-savory stewed pork imbued with five-spice and topped with slivers of fresh, verdant cucumber. Szechuan Tasty House also does a good version of Mao’s favorite dish, hong shao rou — translated here as home-style braised pork in brown sauce — and baseball-sized lion’s-head meatballs made from pork.

Sichuan-style boiled fish.
Laura Shunk
Sunflower Asian Cafe
91 West Mineral Avenue, Littleton

Ask your server for advice at Sunflower Asian Kitchen, and she may rather forcefully steer you toward the Sichuan specialties, especially if you indicate you like spice. Heed her nudging: This strip mall restaurant offers regional specialties from across China, but it’s deft at balancing tingling Sichuan peppercorns and hot chiles in dishes like the Sichuan-style boiled fish, in which hunks of white fish swim in a trough of angry-looking broth liberally flooded with chili oil. Consider starting your meal with the tea-smoked eel, a Sichuan specialty that comprises fish marinated in and then smoked with tea and sugar. And a truly Chinese meal requires a side of vegetables; we'd go for garlic-spiked sautéed greens or the dry-fried green beans. But, really, as long as you’re working off the Chinese menu — as opposed to the American-Chinese list you might be handed when you first walk in — it’s difficult to go wrong.

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In a sea of dim sum parlors, Super Star floats to the top.
Laura Shunk
Super Star Asian
2200 West Alameda Avenue

Denver is long on decent dim sum, but the most consistently excellent parlor is Super Star Asian, a bare-bones cavern whose back wall is lined with seafood tanks. Cart-pushers traverse the dining room, which is full even on weekdays, offering such standards as barbecue pork buns and shu mai, shrimp har gow and chicken feet. Selections are most plentiful on the weekend, but if you don’t see what you want from the extensive list of dumplings and snacks, you can always ask for it. We always make sure to get the turnip cakes, crisp-edged and sided with plummy hoisin, and custard tarts, our favorite dessert. Nighttime at Super Star gives way to feasts: XO crab or lobster, cod in black bean sauce, pork belly with preserved cabbage, and roasted duck, which should be ordered in advance.

Yum Yum Spice
2039 South University Boulevard

Yum Yum Spice deals a sizable menu of rather pedestrian American-Chinese offerings, but savvy diners skip right past those for a more unusual proposition: dry-pot hot pot, listed here as griddle-cooked foods. A variety of proteins could anchor that pot; gizzards, duck heads and pork intestine get the same billing here as beef and shrimp. Our pick, though, is the bullfrog; the amphibian, whose texture is somewhere between halibut and chicken, is a popular feature on one of the most famous dry-pot streets in Beijing. No matter what you choose, it'll be served still-sizzling in a massive wok, tossed with cauliflower, celery, bean sprouts and lotus root, and inundated with both hot chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. Choose your heat level accordingly; asking the kitchen to dial it up to full force guarantees you'll not only sweat, but you'll also feel the effects of those peppercorns, which leave a mild Novocaine-like numbness on your lips and tongue — a sensation that's addicting after you get used to it.

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Housemade noodles at Zoe Ma Ma.
Danielle Lirette
Zoe Ma Ma
2010 10th Street, Boulder; 1625 Wynkoop Street

Zoe Ma Ma’s success is thanks to proprietor Edwin Zoe’s mother: the owner co-opted her into running the kitchen at his original Boulder restaurant and cooking recipes from her native Taiwan and his father’s native Shandong that he loved as a child. Those recipes include a heady Taiwanese beef noodle soup, one of that country’s most famous and revered dishes; zha jiang mian, or chewy noodles topped with stewed pork and shreds of raw cucumbers and carrots; and the CPR, a five-spice-laced stew of chicken and potatoes served over rice (we sometimes substitute noodles). The dishes were such a hit in Boulder, Zoe opened a second Zoe Ma Ma at Denver’s Union Station in 2015. Keep an eye out for the special lion’s-head meatballs, served only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk