Best of Denver

The Ten Best International Dishes Over the Past Year of Ethniche

Two years have passed since I began my exploration of Denver’s international food scene with the Ethniche series. Originally a monthly study of a single cuisine, it morphed into a look at individual dishes and their provenance, as well as a study of interpretations of specific preparations across various cultural groups. The series started with a quest for Hawaiian Spam musubi, and over the years I’ve even thrown in a few recipes based on finds at the city’s many international markets.

With knowledge from so many restaurants — and a little extra padding — accumulated along the way, two years seems a good time to look back at what I’ve eaten and learned. Here are the ten best dishes from the past year of Ethniche eating, in alphabetical order by restaurant name.

Goat With Rice and Spaghetti
Kin Somali Restaurant
7950 East Mississippi Avenue

A peek inside Kin Restaurant on Denver’s eastern frontier reveals a dining room that feels more like someone’s home than an actual business, and the food is equally homey and welcoming. Kin’s goat is served on a combo plate with mounds of fragrant rice and spaghetti (a holdover from Italian colonization) coated in tomato sauce. The goat itself is slow-roasted so that the vaguely curryish flavor of the seasoning penetrates all the way to the bone. Blasts of heat from a vivid green sauce, little more than a jalapeño purée, balance with cooling slices of banana — a must on any Somali platter.

Adobo Chicken
1420 East 18th Avenue

Onefold somehow manages to offer the comfort of a neighborhood diner even as it presents uncommon Southeast Asian breakfast and lunch bites interspersed among more typical Colorado fare. A savory bowl of congee drizzled with chile oil stands in for oatmeal, while a simple chicken adobo wafts Filipino aromas across the cozy cafe. Thighs and drumsticks are marinated and braised in a soy-and-vinegar sauce that carries a hint of sweetness. The juices from the chicken and stir-fried vegetables soak into the pillowy white rice, ensuring that not a grain will remain at the bottom of the bowl.

Rou Jia Mo
New Peach Garden
1111 Washington Avenue, Golden
The Chinese government at one time declared that these cumin-spiced sandwiches from Xi’an were the world’s first hamburger. There’s not much truth to the claim, of course, since burgers can be found nearly everywhere (and Denver even claims to be the home of the cheeseburger). No question, though: The rou jia mo is a rare treat, and New Peach Garden does the street-food sandwich justice, cooking beef or pork (try one of each) until the meat shreds apart and sponges up a sauce evocative of both Southern barbecue and the ancient Asian spice route. The housemade rolls are split and stuffed, revealing a coiled, flaky construction equal to the croissants of any top-notch bakery. Golden is lucky to have the subterranean Chinese eatery tucked away beneath its busy main drag.

Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen
2528 Walnut Street

The Stowaway name is appropriate for this airy coffeehouse run by two globe-trekkers who called New Zealand, Japan and Australia home before setting sail for Denver. And the shakshuka served here has an international pedigree, too, with roots in Israeli cooking but a modern upgrade through jiggly poached eggs perched atop — rather than cooking in — a lake of tomato sauce made smoky with the addition of roasted eggplant. An arugula side salad, a few planks of ciabatta and a tangy ball of shanklish (a soft goat cheese) coated in za’atar seasoning makes for a hearty breakfast before a day of wandering.
Mixiote de Borega
Taqueria El Trompito
10021 East Hampden Avenue

Mixiote is a traditional lamb or goat dish from central Mexico that originally employed the skin of the agave plant as a wrapper to hold in moisture while the meat slowly cooked in a chile-laced sauce. Agave skins aren’t exactly a common commodity in Denver, so El Trompito seals lamb shanks under foil with dried herbs, then braises them for hours. The result is some of the tenderest lamb you’ll find anywhere, coated in a glossy brick-red sauce perfect for mopping up with warm corn tortillas. And in case you need a serving of veggies with your mixiote, this one comes topped with stewed nopales, adding an okra-like texture with just the barest hint of crunch.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation