Mapo tofu (or mapo doufu), a tongue-searing blend of chiles, ground pork, cubes of tofu and, hopefully, numbing Sichuan peppercorns, has become an iconic dish in many Chinese and Japanese restaurants. It's an odd combination for Western palates, since we generally associate tofu with lackluster vegetarian dishes. Mapo tofu, though, combines the swagger of Texas-style chile with the Chinese penchant for combining seemingly disparate textures into satisfying dishes. But what are we really ordering when we ask for this spicy slurry of pork and soy bean curd? According to Uncle Joe's Hong Kong Bistro, a new restaurant at the base of the Spire Building downtown (in the location that was most recently Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar), the name translates to "pock-faced old woman’s Tofu," a name that's hardly appetizing and just a little racially insensitive, according to the restaurant's website. So rather than carry on the name to Denverites blissfully ignorant of the Chinese language, Uncle Joe's has updated the name to something a little more modern: hot wife's kick-ass tofu.
Uncle Joe's is the brainchild of former Denver surgeon and current Vegas and Hong Kong entertainment mogul Dennis Law, MD. After retiring from the medical practice and branching out into film and stage production, Law also opened the first Uncle Joe's in Hong Kong. Because of his ties to Colorado, he selected Denver for the second location, which opened last month featuring a simple menu with several choices of meat served on rice, noodles, a brioche burger bun or a scallion pancake wrap. Small plates consisting of soups, dumplings, sweet potato tots with Taiwan plum salt and a few other dishes round out the menu, along with two house specials: ginger shrimp and that ass-kicking tofu.
While the restaurant bills itself as "fast and casual," Uncle Joe's is a full service restaurant with a waitstaff, not a counter-service joint in the style of Chipotle or Noodles & Co. There's also a full bar with a range of cocktails, sakes, wine and beer. Located across the street from the Colorado Convention Center and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Uncle Joe's sports an almost club-like luster with a purple color scheme accented with dark wood and white stone tops on the bar and community table.
Uncle Joe's is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight.