Food News

The First Annual Mile High Asian Food Week Celebrates the AAPI Dining Scene

Dishes by Meta Asian Kitchen, one of several vendors participating in Mile High Asian Food Week.
Dishes by Meta Asian Kitchen, one of several vendors participating in Mile High Asian Food Week. Meta Asian Kitchen
“In the past few years, [the] AAPI — Asian American Pacific Islander — food and beverage scene has really been growing,” says Joanne Liu, who’s spearheading the first annual Mile High Asian Food Week. From February 22 to 26, twenty-plus vendors across metro Denver will offer special menu items and discounts.

With registration open through February 10, more businesses are likely to come on board. Liu shares that vendor participation is free and that participants have “autonomy to decide how they want to present their food to new and existing customers.” She also clarifies that these eateries do not necessarily serve “your traditional Asian food and beverages, but they are API-owned.” She mentions Comrade Brewing Company as an example of this, and confirms that fusion cuisines are welcome to join, too.

Mukja, a local food truck known for its Korean-fusion street food, is a participating vendor. According to owner Julia Rivera, Mile High Asian Food Week serves as “a gateway for people to be introduced to more traditional Korean flavors. We get to highlight our favorite dishes, but fuse them with more familiar flavors and share that with everyone.”

During the event, Mukja will serve a unique take on a classic Korean steamed bun, called jjinppang. “Instead of a traditional filling, we are stuffing it with cheese and spicy pork or spicy eggplant,” says Rivera.
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The Korean street cheese dog “Trifecta” by Mukja, a food truck known for its fusion menu.
Another popular food truck will be joining Mile High Asian Food Week: Yuan Wonton, owned and operated by chef Penelope Wong. Her dumplings and dishes have brought her widespread fame, and she was recently announced to be one of thirteen Colorado James Beard Award semifinalists. Wong was also named one of Westword’s top people to watch in 2023, and in her interview, she spoke about the “importance of building communities.”

Patrick and Victoria Lam, co-owners of bubble tea shop Tea Street, mirror this sentiment. “We greatly believe that Mile High Asian Food Week is a huge step in the right direction for building allies and fostering a closer community,” they comment. “Not only has the Asian population in Colorado grown, but many more Asian businesses have also opened. This event will help consumers and allies more easily identify Asian-owned and Asian-inspired businesses and show their support.”

To celebrate the event, Tea Street will offer "Cha Time,” or tea time. Its three-course tea-and-snack pairing will include items like spiced hibiscus tea, pressed royal milk tea, pickled cabbage made using their grandfather's recipe, and Teochew soy eggs.

“Our mother is Teochew Chinese, and this [is] a well-known dish in that region,” say the Lams. They describe Mile High Asian Food Week as an “opportunity for us to share [our] Chinese and Vietnamese heritage.”
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Various teas from Tea Street, including its House Plum Punch, a spiced hibiscus tea.
Tea Street
This was largely Liu’s intent in launching the project. “In Asian culture, [food is] how we show our love and care for each other," she says. "It’s really exciting to be able to share that with Colorado.”

Per the United State Census Bureau, Asian individuals make up 3.6 percent of the Colorado population. “Growing up in Colorado in the ’90s, there were not very many children that looked like us,” note the siblings.

Raised in the suburbs of Boston, Liu recalls, “I was one out of two Asian girls in my class, and so I [was] always feeling different and just really wanted to fit in.” In college, Liu became involved in the AAPI community and made a conscious effort to do the same before relocating to Denver thirteen years ago.

“Luckily, I was introduced to the AAPI community even before I got to Colorado,” says Liu. “It’s definitely a place where you really have to be introduced to it or you have to actually look for it, and it’s not easy.” To help Asian youth build its community in the Denver area, Liu co-founded Asian Girls Ignite, which shares a similar message of cultural empowerment as Mile High Asian Food Week.

“Food is universal. It brings us all together,” says Long Nguyen, owner of Pho King Rapidos. “My father is part of the group that got the strip of South Federal named Little Saigon. He's always and forever proud of where he came from, and instilled that into us. I feel like this generation, our generation, we have the opportunity to move our community forward. As many AAPI individuals can relate, our previous generation worked their butts off to provide us with what they didn't have, so it's on us to make something of it and push ourselves.”

Like other participating vendors, Pho King Rapidos takes a personalized approach to Asian cooking. “We are heavily influenced by our culture and traditions growing up in Vietnamese homes,” shares Nguyen. “However, we feel like we've also benefited from being impacted by different environments around us throughout our lives. What we've decided to do is take a collection of all those experiences and create something we're proud to call our own.”
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Yuan Wonton’s signature chili-garlic wontons are a local favorite.
Yuan Wonton
Doris Yuen, who co-founded Meta Asian Kitchen with her husband chef Ken Wan, notes that their varied influences also impact their restaurant’s menu. “Our food is inspired by our family traditions and the experiences we had growing up as Asian Americans in the United States,” says Yuen. “[Mile High Asian Food Week] means a lot to us because we are so proud to be able to share our culture and the food we love to eat with the Denver community.”

Meta Asian Kitchen, located inside Denver’s Avanti Food & Beverage, will be serving veggie noodle stir-fry tossed in Uncle Tony’s chili oil and XO chili sauce. Liu clarifies: “XO doesn’t mean hugs and kisses! It’s a spicy sauce, Cantonese style.”

Meanwhile, Pho King Rapidos is bringing back its Pho Dip for the upcoming event. Nguyen describes this as “French dip meets French onion soup, dunked in pho broth [and] made with a Vietnamese-American swag.”

More delicious foods and beverages are yet to be announced, but undoubtedly, the city has much to look forward to. For some, Mile High Asian Food Week may even be an opportunity for healing. In closing, Liu comments, “I think with the recent shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, this announcement of [Mile High Asian Food Week] came at a time [when] there is so much negativity in the media.”

She also mentions the significant effects that the recent pandemic had on Asian restaurants in particular. According to a recent study, “Asian restaurants experienced an 18.4 percent decrease in traffic (estimated US$7.42 billion lost revenue in 2020),” largely because of an increased anti-Asian sentiment.

Liu says, “It’s exciting to put on this food week to elevate those restaurants and really share what [Asian Americans] are doing in Colorado, and just the Asian food that is being served in Colorado. Hopefully, this supports those small businesses to get back on track.”

Mile High Asian Food Week is a collaborative effort presented by Asian Avenue Magazine and created by AAPI food and beverage and community members. The Colorado Restaurant Association is its primary sponsor; in-kind sponsors include Indie Creative Co. and Asian Girls Ignite. Interested vendors can register online to participate until February 11. Track participating restaurants at the MHAFW website.
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