Best of Denver

Denver's five best Vietnamese restaurants

Denver has an abundance of Vietnamese restaurants, all devoted to a culinary canon that marries French and Chinese cooking into dishes that are delicious whether you're eating noodles on the street or chowing down at a formal feast.

Dozens of pho shops dot Federal Boulevard and South Havana Street, and more expansive restaurants offer a good selection of specialties from this Southeast Asian country. Here, in no particular order, are the five best Vietnamese restaurants in the Denver area.

Pho Duy, 945 South Federal Boulevard The Denver area has dozens and dozens of pho shops, most of which serve up decent bowls of noodle soup. But only a few really stand out, and the one that rises to the top is Pho Duy, which is located in a strip mall on Federal Boulevard. The menu is as spare as the decor. Save for a few specialties and spring rolls, there's not much offered beyond pho -- but the kitchen doesn't need to make anything else to pull in crowds. Its intensely layered broth, which tastes like it comes from a very well-seasoned pot, supports nests of springy noodles, thin slices of beef, brisket or offal, and all the fresh herbal produce you can stand. Ribbon it with sriracha or ask for a little of the restaurant's homemade hot sauce for a punch of heat. Pho 95, 1002 South Federal Boulevard Pho 95 is another contender for the best pho-maker in town. We're suckers for the brimming bowls of rich beef broth filled with tendon, tripe or rare steak and noodles, sided by heaps of bean sprouts, cilantro and saw-leaf herb. But we also love almost everything else on Pho 95's menu, including bun (noodle bowls), spring rolls, egg rolls and a plate of thin pork chops, coated in a sweet-savory marinade and grilled crispy. Ba Le Sandwich, 1044 South Federal Boulevard There are a few places to get great banh mi sandwiches in town, but our favorite is Ba Le, a tiny shop that turns out the city's best version, packing crisp-crusted baguettes with pate, pickled carrots, jalapeños and cilantro, among other fillings. You'll have to take your sandwich to go -- or perch on the planter outside to eat it -- but at less than $5 each, this is lunch on the cheap. Saigon Bowl, 333 South Federal Boulevard Saigon Bowl has held down its spot in the Far East Center for more than fifteen years, but it would probably take a lifetime to eat your way through its extensive menu. The kitchen cooks up a vast array of bun and pho, but it also turns out stir-fried frog's legs, jellyfish salad, lobster tail, a variety of simple and traditional fish preparations, and our favorite Vietnamese fondue pot in town. Chinese specialties have also snuck onto the list -- just as they have in many places in Vietnam -- to expand the authentic tastes of southeast Asia. 1. New Saigon, 630 South Federal Boulevard New Saigon, which I review this week, is one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in Denver, and it's still one of the best. The kitchen serves up a broad spectrum of dishes from Vietnam, one of the best countries for eating in the entire world. A smart way to sample much of what New Saigon has to offer is the rice-paper wrap platter, which holds all the goods to make your own spring roll-style wraps out of soft-shell crab, grilled shrimp, pork and egg rolls. But no matter what you order here, you're sure to be pleased. That's what earned the spot our Best Vietnamese Restaurant award in the Best of Denver 2011 -- and what makes it the Vietnamese eatery to beat in the Best of Denver 2012, which hits the streets on March 29.

Have other obsessions? Tell us about them in the comments.

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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