The Eight Best Dishes of Ethniche in 2014

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Ethniche started in May as a deep dive into a different ethnic cuisine each month. Since then, I've traveled through Hawaii, Ethiopia, Greece, Thailand, the American South, India, Eastern Europe and back home to Colorado for four weeks of Den-Mex green chile in December. On my journeys, I've found that Denver's barbecue shows promise (even if we don't have a BBQ style to call our own), that our Ethiopian restaurants are many and varied, and that if you flip through the pages of most menus, you'll find hidden delights and regional specialties among the standard repertoire presented by most Greek, Indian and Thai restaurants.

Here are the eight best dishes I found, one from each month of culinary exploration.

See also: The Twelve Days of Christmas on Federal Boulevard

8) Lau Lau and Kalua Pork Combo at L & L Hawaiian Barbecue 14221 East Cedar Avenue, Aurora 303-340-8824

While the kalua pork on L & L's two-meat combo platter (which also comes with rice and macaroni salad) is mildly flavored like the mildest of Mexican carnitas, the tender shreds of pork provide home-cooked comfort on par with the mayonnaise-drenched cold mac and the unseasoned white rice. The lau lau pork, though, offers a much more complex and mysterious flavor profile, with earthy, tea-like flavors from the layers of leaves in which the meat is steamed. While much of L & L's menu wouldn't be out of place in a Midwestern diner (breaded chicken cutlets, simple sides, thick slabs of fried Spam), the lau lau captures the essense of the Hawaiian Islands -- a rich and deep combination of Polynesian and Japanese ingredients and flavors.

7) Green Chile at La Fuente 3023 West 44th Avenue 303-477-5501

La Fuente's green chile combines just the right thickness, heat, pork flavor and roasty green chile goodness in a sauce that clings without being gloppy and lets the flavors of the chile peppers shine through. A hint of tomato adds an orange tint that, along with the viscosity, differentiates this chile from New Mexico versions without straying too far from the historic roots. It's a Colorado-style chile worthy of sharing with newcomers to the state.

6) Pad Thai at Suvipa Thai Food 1015 South Federal Boulevard 720-379-6038

Suvipa keeps its pad Thai simple so that the rice noodles carry the flavors of tamarind, fish sauce, belly-warming chile paste and a scattering of fresh, crunchy vegetables. Chopped peanuts add more crunch and a squirt of lime accentuates the tangy tamarind; shreds of pork and egg add savory balance. Unlike many other versions of pad Thai around town, Suvipa's rendition eschews sticky sweetness in favor of a light and lively sauce.

5) Jager Schnitzel at Golden Europe 6620 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada 303-425-1246

Schnitzel doesn't seem like a tricky dish to make; after all, it's just a thin cutlet of pork or veal (or even chicken), breaded and fried and generally served with a rustic sauce or a squeeze of lemon. Golden Europe gets all of the elements right: a crunchy and well-seasoned crust, tender and juicy pork, and -- if you order the jager schnitzel -- a generous pile of saucy sauteed onions. With a tall mug of German pilsner, this is a hearty meal fit for Octoberfest or any other time of the year you're craving the simple pleasure of filling German food.

Keep reading for more of the best dishes of Ethniche

4) Dosa at Khazana 9234 Park Meadows Drive, Lone Tree 303-993-8335

Khazana showcases the food of Southern India; much of the menu comprises light-hearted takes on regional street food. Khazana's dosa are comically large, coming on a small plate that's completely dwarfed by the crisp, lentil-flour crepe studded with cilantro and chives. A variety of stuffings are available, including Ceylon curry and vegetarian options -- or you can just order it plain with sides of chutneys. The fun lies in tearing off shreds of dosa and dipping it in the various sauces, eating your fill and realizing how much of the crepe is still left.

3) Smoked Brisket at Wayne's Smoke Shack 406 Center Drive, Superior 303-554-5319

Wayne's Smoke Shack in Superior knows that the best way to stand out in the Colorado barbecue scene is to keep it simple and stick to one region for inspiration. In much of the Deep South, pork is the favored meat for slow smoking, but in Texas beef is king. Wayne's gets Texas-style smoked brisket right with a deep mahogany bark, a moist and fatty interior, and mild but deeply infused smokiness that brings out the best in the meat.

2) The Village Sampler at Yanni's Greek Restaurant 5425 Landmark Place, Englewood 303-692-0404

The Village sampler comes with a rough, chunky eggplant melizanes, a taramasalata tinted pink with fish roe and a chtipiti hot with pureed raw garlic. The eggplant spread was pleasant, but the other two stood out with their bold and uncommon flavors. With a texture like thick mayonnaise, the taramasalata carried just enough fish flavor without becoming overwhelming, while the chtipiti mixed tangy feta cheese and roasted red pepper, with garlic as the dominant flavor. All three were heavy and rich, making it a joy to alternate bites with sips of ouzo.

1) Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant 306 South Ironton Street, Aurora 720-532-0266

Kitfo is a simple dish of minced beef, clarified butter and spices, but those spices make all the difference. At Megenagna, the butter (called niter kibbeh) is perfumed with a blend of toasted spices (cardamom, fenugreek, turmeric and coriander are typical). The beef gets a warming dose of mitmita, another spice blend that incorporates hot chile powder. The kitfo can be cooked to your liking but is traditionally served raw. Megenagna's Gurage kitfo also comes with stewed greens and two preparations of a fresh-made cheese called ayib. The intense spices and soft texture of the meat and cheese convey layers of flavor so complex as to be almost dizzying. Eaten with pieces of tangy injera flatbread, this tiny Ethiopian eatery's kitfo was one of the most transporting culinary experiences of the year.

For more from our tour of Denver's cultural, regional and international restaurant scene, check out our entire Ethniche archive.

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