Denver's dining scene is making a big comeback — and we're hungering to go 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, share dinner with friends at Savory Vietnam.
2200 West Alameda Avenue
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
For more information:
Salted fish fried rice.
On January 1,
2019, longtime dim sum favorite King's Land closed and just three days later, the space reopened with a new sign out front reading "Savory Vietnam."
While the interior didn't change much, the menu sure did — thanks to An Nguyen, the daughter of the founders of New Saigon, Ha Pham and Thai Nguyen.
An's parents sold the family's restaurant in 2017, but she wasn't quite ready to take the reins then — she'd recently had a baby and wanted to concentrate on her family. But by the time King's Land went up for sale, she'd already been plotting her return to the kitchen.
Savory Vietnam is located in the Pacific Ocean Marketplace shopping center off Alameda Avenue. A new divider blocks much of the large dining area from view, helping to give the place a less cavernous feel — but you're not really here for the atmosphere. The service is very matter-of-fact, though friendly, and the decor is forgettable. But the food sure isn't.
What you're eating:
Make-your-own rice paper roll platter with beef, pork, shrimp and deep fried shrimp paste.
The first thing to know about dining here is that it's best enjoyed with a group, because the massive number of options could leave your brain reeling if you try to choose just one thing to sample. Noodle bowls, rice plates, fire pots, crab, clams, mussels...the categories go on and on.
But there's one item I've ordered every time I visit: the rice paper wraps. Available in twenty options — yes, twenty — your choice of protein (or one of the combinations) comes on a platter over rice noodles, with chopped peanuts, scallions and fried onions on top. On my last visit, we went with a combo of beef, pork, shrimp and deep-fried shrimp paste ($29.95), cut into perfectly-sized strips.
A basket packed with fresh veggies including cucumber, carrot, lettuce and bean sprouts, along with herbs, is served on the side, as is a slightly sweet dipping sauce. A semi-circle-shaped holder comes with the wraps and warm water to soften them. Rotate your wrap so that the whole thing gets a quick bath, then get to work building your roll. Lay down some noodles, a few pieces of meat, maybe some sprigs of cilantro and a slice of carrot — just be wary of overfilling, which can lead to a ripped wrapper later.
Once everything's tucked inside, fold over the top and bottom of the paper and roll it tightly; experience with burritos (or joints) helps here. The platter is big enough for four or five people to make a couple of wraps each — or enough for a group of three to take home a respectable amount of leftovers.
In addition to the wraps, I've tried something new on every visit and have still only made my way through a fraction of the menu. Salted fish fried rice ($13.95) is simply flavored with some crunch, thanks to the bits of preserved fish studded throughout. A seafood take on the wide, chewy hu tieu noodles ($17.95) includes shrimp, scallops, squid and mussels nearly as long as my hand, all bathed in a light yet savory gravy oyster sauce.
Then there's the hot and sour pineapple soup, pork spare ribs caramelized with a sweet and savory fish sauce, clams in a black pepper sauce with butter and garlic, a deep-fried whole sea bass with a gingery sauce. The meals I've had here all run together in a haze of sweet, salty, umami-packed flavor, and I've yet to be disappointed by anything that lands on the table.
So don't be overwhelmed by the choices. But do plan on visiting more than once.