The Denver dining scene has its fair share of Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, American-Chinese, Ethiopian and Korean restaurants. But the cuisines of certain other countries and cultures are just now starting to appear, as waves of immigrants find their way to Colorado. Despite COVID-related restrictions, new restaurants catering to these groups (and sometimes owned by members of them) continue to open, introducing some foods to the metro area for the first time.
Here are five new eateries serving hard-to-find cuisines and dishes, both on site and for takeout.
Clawful1862 South Wadsworth Boulevard, Lakewood
Viet-Cajun seafood washed up in Denver several years ago, with a small wave of new restaurants prepping crawfish, shrimp and crab boils along with other finger-licking bar food. The Asian Cajun (2400 West Alameda Avenue) and the Crawling Crab (781 South Federal Boulevard) have survived and even thrived, each gaining a loyal customer base. Now there's a new player in the game: Clawful, which was just finishing up construction in March when the COVID-based restaurant lockdowns began, has opened with limited indoor seating. It's serving up peel-and-eat shrimp, lobster, clams, crawfish and other seafood in a number of sauce flavors and spice levels, plus sausage, corn, potatoes and other Cajun sides. The restaurant promises live crawfish from December to July (which is Gulf Coast crawfish season). Whatever you order promises to provide messy, delicious fun.
Hong Kong Station6878 South Yosemite Street, Centennial
Hong Kong Station isn't a typical Chinese restaurant serving only the familiar stir-fried dishes and noodles. Nor can it be counted in the current cadre of popular dumpling shops. Instead, it's a very specific kind of eatery unique to Hong Kong called a cha chaan teng, or tea restaurant. Hot and iced teas are the specialty, some brewed strong and served with sweetened condensed milk — but there's plenty of food, too. Among the signature cha chaan teng dishes are the Hong Kong-style French toast and the baked rice dishes. For the former, two pieces of French toast are glued together with peanut butter (seriously; just keep reading), then fried and topped with condensed milk and a fat slab of butter. The latter tops baked rice with European influences: fried pork chops in tomato sauce, ribeye steak in black pepper sauce, seafood in cream sauce. As at the best tea houses in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Station's menu is huge, so you're sure to find something you like, whether it's crackly chicken wings, scallion pancakes, egg foo yong or mapo tofu. If that lineup sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Jenny Zhang, the owner of Hong Kong Cafe at 10890 East Dartmouth Avenue, sold that restaurant (it's now open under new owners) and reopened her place in Centennial with a slightly new name. At Hong Kong Station, she's created a welcoming, sophisticated atmosphere in the dining room — but many of the dishes are perfect to grab on the go.
Madras Cafe5422 South Parker Road, Aurora
For years, Masalaa (at 3140 South Parker Road in Aurora) was the only completely vegetarian Indian restaurant in the metro area — and one that specialized in such hard-to-find (in these parts, at least) South Indian street food as dosas, vada pav and uttapam. But now there's a new meatless restaurant in town, representing the cuisine of Tamil Nadu, on India's southeastern coast. Madras Cafe sits between Cherry Creek Reservoir and southeast Aurora's housing developments, offering folks in the suburbs a chance to try something new. Specialties include vadai, savory doughnuts made with lentil flour; bajji, fried snacks that get their superior crunch from chickpea flour (with a choice of plantain, chiles, potato or onion); and several styles of dosa, those crispy, paper-thin crepes served with various toppings. There are also Northern Indian curries in case you're looking for something familiar; the tikka masala, for example, comes with mushrooms, mixed veggies or paneer cheese instead of chicken. Much of the menu is vegan, but ask if you aren't sure, as dairy products are used in some of the dishes.
Noodles Express703 South Colorado Boulevard
Regional Chinese cuisines have been on the rise in Denver lately, especially at restaurants serving the food of Sichuan, but dishes representing other provinces — Yunnan, Shaanxi, Guangdong and Gansu, for example — have become more accessible, too, if not exactly prevalent. Noodles Express offers a fairly large selection of Sichuan favorites, from spicy eggplant to dan dan noodles, but you'll also find a few things that are far less common in Denver, even if they're popular all over China. Order the noodles in soybean paste and you'll find yourself with a complex, satisfying bowl otherwise known as zhajiangmian, native to the Shandong province, or choose the Lanzhou beef noodle soup, one of China's most comforting meals. For a different kind of comfort, the menu’s section titled “America’s Popular” lists General Tao’s chicken, sesame chicken and beef and broccoli.
Taw Win Burmese1120 Yosemite Street, Aurora
While we can't confirm it, there's a distinct possibility that metro Denver has never had two restaurants dedicated to Burmese cooking at the same time — until now. Urban Burma opened in 2019 as one of several international food counters inside Mango House (at 10180 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora), and it was recently joined in Aurora by Taw Win Burmese, which took over a former Asian market. Traditional Burmese dishes such as mohinga (fish and rice noodle soup), ono kaw swe (chicken coconut curry noodles) and tea leaf salad, a refreshing counterpoint to the restaurant's spicy sauces, are all available; you can also order whole fried fish, curries and a few Thai dishes. The dining room has been set up with widely spaced tables, so the restaurant can only seat a few parties at a time, but the food packs up well for takeout as long as you're not driving all the way across town.
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