Today is National Chicken Wing Day — and we're making a flap about it. The lowly wing rose to celebrity status in Buffalo, New York, where a slathering of Frank's Hot Sauce and butter was all that was needed to secure the dish a spot on every sports-bar roster in the country — that, and a little blue-cheese dressing. But there's more to wings than just tangy heat, as Denver's restaurants prove, with smoked, fried and grilled variations doused in flavors from around the globe. Here are the six best chicken wings in Denver, with this year's winner of Westword's Best Chicken Wings award in the number-one slot.
6. Ace Eat Serve
501 East 17th Avenue
Ace loves wings so much that it hosts an annual Wings & Whiskey festival to raise money for the Denver Housing Authority's Youth Culinary Academy. But that's just once a year...and you need wings today. Ace has you covered with two styles: a naked version with marinated and fried wings and a kicked-up wing with tangy, savory tiger sauce. When are we going to stop loving these? When tigers fly!
5. Fire on the Mountain
3801 West 32nd Avenue
With so many styles of wings in town, sometimes its good to stick with the basics. Fire on the Mountain, winner of our Readers's Choice Award this year, boasts a dozen different sauces, but our favorite is the straight-up Buffalo, ordered extra-hot, of course. The kitchen obliges with a tongue-warming blend that includes jalapeño and habanero chiles; the first bite seems like no big deal, but the heat builds and builds until you realize you need another round of beers. And if that's not hot enough for you, the house signature El Jefe wings make the extra-hot seem tame in comparison.
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4. The Ghost BBQ & Spirits
2028 14th Street, Boulder
Boulder's Pearl Street Mall seems an unlikely location for a true smokehouse, but the Ghost delivers an authentic taste of Texas in the heart of the People's Republic. These mahogany wings are packed with smoky flavor and wrapped in a crackly skin, and if you want a little extra heat, just ask for a side of ghost-chile sauce. Chef/owner Bob Sargent's thing for wings flew to new heights this summer with his first-ever Ghost Wing Eating Contest, captured by Westword's video crew.
Keep reading for the rest of the list...
3. GQue Championship Barbecue
5160 120th Avenue, Westminster
GQue is another newcomer to the Colorado barbecue scene, and owner Jason Ganahl, a St. Louis native, has earned his wings by competing on the national barbecue circuit over the past several years. His championship chops are evident in the method he uses to give his 'cue great flavor. GQue's wings are slow-smoked before being deep-fried and then given a final dusting of the house dry rub. Head to the Westminster smokehouse for wings by the dozen — and head home with a bottle of the dry rub to add to your own wing recipe.
2. Yong Gung
2040 South Havana Street, Aurora
Yong Gung specializes in the other kind of KFC: Korean fried chicken. The wings here are twice-fried to form a crunchy, crackly shell before receiving a sticky coating of sweet, spicy goodness and a shower of chopped peanuts. The sauce is available in a hot version, too, but it won't blow your top. If you're spice-averse, a cooling side salad with Thousand Island dressing (it's like an all-American picnic!) will keep the flames at bay.
42 South Broadway
One bite of Cho77's grilled wings in Vietnamese caramel sauce will convince you that the other contenders are just playing chicken. Pungent fish sauce, Asian spices, burnt sugar and just a touch of heat come together in a sticky sauce lacquered on thick over juicy, chewy wings. There's no polite way to polish these off, so just go for it — after asking for extra wet wipes. We recommend Beerlao Dark Lager as a caramel-tinged complement to the best wings in town.