Best of Denver

Denver's five best non-translated menus

Every time we see a menu that isn't translated into English, we'll go to just about any lengths necessary to order from it. Sometimes we strike culinary gold; sometimes we long for dishes off the menu dumbed down for American tastes. But either way, we're always glad we rolled the dice, because a non-translated menu offers authentic tastes of the restaurant-owner's country -- and frequently, items off that menu turn out to be our favorite parts of a meal.

Here are the five best non-translated menus in town. Use sign language, Google translate or the help of a native-speaker to decipher your options -- and then order a feast.

5. African Grill & Bar A quick glance at this restaurant's menu is enough to make you panic: It lists dozens of dishes, with few of them described in English. (And the pictoral menu, with its grainy photos, isn't a lot of help.) Fortunately, the Ford-wuos, the amicable couple who own the place, are happy to help, and will patiently walk you through every single item on the menu if you like. The effort will pay off with an array of West African specialties that are worth your time. 4. Lao Wang Noodle House You'll find plenty to love on the laminated, double-sided menu that you're handed when you sit down at Lao Wang. But if you're craving something really Taiwanese, those menu slats on the walls covered with Chinese characters list additional dishes. And with a little back and forth conversation, one of the Wangs will help you score innards, beef tendon and pig's ear of that non-translated menu, if you so desire. 3. New Saigon It could take a lifetime to eat through the delightful menu at New Saigon, one of our favorite places to head when we're looking for Vietnamese food that isn't pho. And while we'd be happy to stuff our faces with pork, beef and frogs legs from the English menu, if we didn't venture further afield we'd miss out on beef noodle soup with beef blood, a variety of bun dishes made with bouncy vermicelli, strange preparations of pork ribs, family-style stir frys and special Vietnamese rice cakes. 2. El Paraiso El Pariaso's menu is an extensive book, filled with dishes from all over Mexico as well as many American favorites. Your best bet is to page straight to the dishes only listed in Spanish, where grill pans and molcajetes dominate. While many servers don't know the English translations, a smartphone will help you navigate the cuts of meat, offal and seafood that comprise the board. 1. Chef Liu's Authentic Chinese Cuisine It's possible to eat straight from the Americanized Chinese menu at Chef Liu's, which I review this week, and have a pretty awesome meal. There are even many Szechuan specialties included on this menu. But if you really want to eat Szechuan food, the non-translated menu at Chef Liu's features a true best taste of the southern province of China, including an array of whole fish dishes, myriad uses of pork belly and plenty of offal.

Know of other great, non-translated menus? Tell us about them below.

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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