Denver's dining scene is making a big post-pandemic comeback, and we're hungering to get back out. With so many new ventures and old favorites to visit after more than a year of restaurant shutdowns and restrictions, the choices can be overwhelming. So we're serving up Short Stop, with recommendations for things that should definitely be on your culinary short list. This week, we're talking about the best spot for Asian noodles in the Tech Center — or anywhere in Denver, for that matter.
What: All the noodle dishes
Where: Blue Ocean Asian Cuisine (aka Little Chengdu)
When: Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday, 4 to 9:30 p.m.
For more info: Visit orderblueoceancuisine.com
The place: At this sparsely decorated, very under-the-radar spot located in a Denver Tech Center strip mall, I saw only two other parties on a Monday night. I'd ventured south to try the new WingWok, but a sign on the door noted that it will be closed Mondays until July 26 (even though its social media says otherwise). Thanks for the info, sign.
Hungry and now challenged to pick a new destination for dinner, a different sign came to mind: the one that reads Blue Ocean (a leftover relic from the space's previous tenant) outside of Little Chengdu, which I discovered thanks to a 2017 Westword story by Laura Shunk.
I hadn't eaten there since before the pandemic; during a recent conversation with a friend, we'd wondered if it had survived and, if so, still made the Szechuan and other regional Chinese specialties we (and Shunk) had enjoyed so much in the past. There was no way to tell online, because Blue Ocean — which I'll call "the eatery" to help people find the place — only lists the Americanized version of its menu there. It offers everything you'd expect from a typical Chinese place in the United States: egg rolls, sesame chicken, kung pao beef, fried rice. Even the very-not-Chinese pad Thai makes an appearance. Basically, it's aimed at pleasing the Tech Center lunch crowd and largely non-diverse homeowners in that part of town.
I've never tried any of those dishes, so I can't speak to Blue Ocean's ability to make them. I was hungry for something else: noodles. When I arrived, the place was very quiet (not even background music was playing), and yet another sign instructed me to ring a bell to get the owner's attention, which I did. Sitting right next to that bell was the Chinese menu I'd hoped to find. A very, very good sign, indeed.
What you're eating: The Chinese menu, which has English translations — though certainly not very descriptive language — is lengthy and filled with dishes far less frequently found in Denver than orange chicken: pig's ears, sliced and served in a bath of chile oil; stir-fried frog; black mushrooms with braised pork; hot and spicy pig intestines. Many of these have textures and flavors that take some getting used to if you didn't grow up eating them.
I always to try push my culinary boundaries when given the option, so I ordered the pig's ears and enjoyed the flavor very much, though the cartilage-heavy texture was a tougher sell. But I'll eat anything doused in chile oil, so I made it through a few before focusing on the other dishes on the table.
I'd opted for the knife-cut noodles, which are thick and hearty and served in soup form with cabbage, a few largely diced pieces of tomato (which add a nice hit of refreshing yet mild acidity) and scant bits of pork — though the noodles are the main event — in a mild, clear broth. In a recent piece about a broth-less pho roll, I admitted that I didn't like broth much — but this dish could mark a turning point in my soup-appreciation journey. It has all the comfort of a chicken noodle soup, but with far more depth and flavor, which builds with each slurp.
My favorite item this round, though, was the dan dan noodles. Other places in town serve this Szechuan dish of minced pork in a dark, spicy sauce served over a tangle of noodles similar to thick spaghetti (notably, Lao Wang Noodle House), but my dinner partner quickly declared that this was the best version he'd tasted. If Blue Ocean were closer to downtown and focused solely on its noodle game, it would have a line out the door for this dish alone.
Although we didn't have the hand-pulled noodles this trip, those are standouts, too — especially if you enjoy a thick, broad noodle with bite. They come heaped in a pile with larger pieces of pork than what you get in in the knife-cut noodle soup, along with bean sprouts and cabbage in a sauce that has a bit of heat but isn't numbingly spicy.
All of the noodles are made by the owner; on busier nights, you may even spot him through the entrance to the kitchen, working dough and pulling noodles with mesmerizing efficiency.
As I watched bag after bag of to-go food being brought to the front counter, I felt a tinge of sadness for the people at home in their Tech Center apartments waiting for a delivery of sesame chicken while missing out on the real magic of this place.
Until Blue Ocean adds these specialties to its online ordering options, do yourself a favor and make the trek in to try them. And if you discover more to love on the menu, tell me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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