During our recent explorations of traditional Chinese cuisine in Denver, we also revisited our last list of the best in town. From homey and traditional zha jiang mian at Zoe Ma Ma to forward-thinking, wood-fired cooking at Hop Alley, Denver has more to offer than ever before when it comes to regional Chinese dishes. Here's our list of the ten best Chinese restaurants in Denver right now, in alphabetical order, with this year's pick for Best Chinese Restaurant in the number-one slot.
Will it repeat in 2017? Looks like the competition could be stiff.
10. China Jade
12203 East Iliff Avenue, Aurora
China Jade, a stalwart in an ever-changing Aurora strip mall on East Iliff Avenue, has been a perennial favorite for its dedication to traditional Sichuan cooking featuring hot pots, blazing hot sauces and dishes studded with tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Soothing plates can be had, too, including a chilled appetizer of silken tofu topped with preserved eggs in shades of jade and amber. And recently, the little shop did guests a favor by combining its Chinese menu with its roster of American Chinese favorites, with prime menu real estate given to the house specialties.
9. China Taipei
8100 South Quebec Street, Centennial
For more than twenty years, the Chou family has been serving bold and beautiful Chinese fare to residents of Denver's southern suburbs — since before the name Centennial was even official. Tucked behind a row of retail shops and a stuccoed faux bell tower, the family-run restaurant surprises seekers of standard kung pao and sesame chicken with a deep menu of Taiwanese treasures, from thick noodle soups to succulent braised pork belly.
8. Hop Alley
3500 Larimer Street
Restaurateur Tommy Lee just opened his second spot in River North in December (his first is the still jam-packed noodle house Uncle), but it has already become one of the tops in town thanks to a thoroughly researched slate of regional specialties — like the Sichuan-style offal combo called husband-and-wife salad or the Xi'an street-food favorite cumin lamb sandwiches. Meats get added punch from time spent over wood coals, while modern menu sensibilities, from locally sourced, sustainable proteins and produce to a strong list of cocktails and wines, make Hop Alley, named in honor of Denver's long-gone nineteenth-century Chinatown, an instant destination.
7. JJ Chinese Seafood Restaurant
2500 West Alameda Avenue
The multiple menus at this eatery adorned with live tanks assure you that there's something here for almost every taste — all of it prepared with skill and an eye to tradition, and served by some of the friendliest waitstaff in town. Even the standard American Chinese dishes are far from standard, including sweet-and-sour shrimp that's neither cloying nor gloppy. But the restaurant's name is a giveaway that the best dishes are those featuring the ocean's bounty, whether the delicate and ultra-fresh razor clams in XO sauce or whole flounder with steamy white flesh encased in a shatteringly crisp deep-fried crust. This is the go-to spot for Denver's off-duty chefs.
6. King's Land Seafood Restaurant
2200 West Alameda Avenue
King's Land serves plenty of fresh seafood, but fans flock to the cavernous west Denver dining hall for the weekend dim sum brunch, where teetering carts stacked with baskets of buns, siu mai, fritters and noodles trundle between tables — daring you to stuff yourself like a taut-skinned dumpling. Variety, quality and value combine into a dizzying eating event where, no matter how much you eat, the bill always seems to come to no more than twenty bucks a head.
Keep reading for the rest of our list of the best Chinese restaurants in Denver...
5. New Peach Garden
1111 Washington Avenue, Golden
This quiet subterranean kitchen right on Golden's main drag recently added more house specials to its already tempting list of dishes hailing from China's Shaanxi province — and other quadrants of the map lesser known in Denver's culinary collection. Housemade breads and hand-pulled noodles highlight a menu seasoned with cumin and scorched with Sichuan heat. Don't miss the rou jia mo: circular sandwiches stuffed with shreds of toothsome and aromatic pork or beef.
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4. Shanghai Kitchen
4940 South Yosemite Street, Greenwood Village
This southeast suburban eatery covers a range of American Chinese favorites, but there's also a menu in Chinese (with English translations) that features other dishes less familiar to typical takeout customers. Traditional preparations await those willing to make the crosstown trek from the usual Federal Boulevard haunts, so go hungry and explore the range of whole-fish specials, cold sesame noodles and other fare — including dishes that only appear on the specials board in Chinese characters. Look for "mini pork dumplings," the liquid-filled delights more commonly called soup dumplings or xiaolongbao.
3. Zoe Ma Ma
1625 Wynkoop Street, 303-545-6262
2010 10th Street, Boulder, 303-545-6262
Zoe Ma Ma is the closest thing you'll find to Chinese home cooking in the Denver-Boulder area. In fact, with owner Edwin Zoe's mom in the kitchen, you'll swear she's cooking just for you. Everything is made in-house, from tender steamed buns to plump dumplings to noodles at the bottom of every bowl of braised beef or chicken soup. Regulars know which day to head over for specials, with lion's-head meatballs making an appearance mid-week and the famous Sichuan beef noodle bowl showing up from Sunday to Tuesday.
2. Yum Yum Spice
2039 South University Boulevard
The name of this hot-pot specialist is a little goofy, but one "yum" just isn't enough for the Sichuan-style offerings here that allow you to mix and match veggies and proteins to your liking. Crank up the numbing heat — that's customizable, too — for a bold dose of tingly, buzzing Sichuan peppercorns that balance fiery red chiles. Choose from standard meats like pork or beef, or opt for something more traditional, such as whole bullfrog or duck head. Hot pots come as broth-based mini-cauldrons or dry-pot style, served in a sizzling wok with a flavorful sauce that clings to every morsel.
1. Super Star Asian
2200 West Alameda Avenue
Super Star is a beacon in west Denver for those seeking a weekend dim sum banquet, and the endless parade of rattling carts stacked with dumplings, pastries and other nibbles certainly won't disappoint. While the kitchen shines with shumai and turns out tempting turnip cakes during daytime hours, a visit during dinner proves that its ability to impress doesn't end when the carts stop circling. Instead, things just get better. You can't go wrong with anything from the sea, including what might be the city's most complete list of abalone preparations, as well as the live-tank specials and a beautiful lobster in XO sauce. Bubbling clay pots filled with complex stews and family dinners featuring whole Peking duck and steamed fish — among many other traditional preparations — mean that you can share a quiet dinner for two or head over with the whole clan for a blow-out celebration. Ask for the Chinese menu for even more options; the staff is happy to translate.