n what’s now LoDo — was just beginning to flourish when it was decimated by riots. To this day, the city’s devoid of a Chinese-immigrant enclave. Which doesn’t mean restaurants devoted to the distinct regional traditions that define Chinese cuisine don’t exist — in fact, they’re everywhere. Here are the must-tries.
1. Flower Pepper
The sour-and-spicy sweet potato noodles, stewed pork belly over rice, and mouthwatering chicken salad have all earned this spare, snug Boulder storefront a legit following. But there’s lots more to explore on a menu that spans China’s provincial map from the northeast to the southwest.
2. Zoe Ma Ma
This tiny, nearly 10-year-old counter joint just off the Pearl Street Mall was the brainchild of Edwin Zoe and his mother Taiwan-born mother Anna, who brings decades of experience as both a home and a restaurant cook to her collection of dumplings, stews, rice plates, and more. Here and at the slightly more spacious Union Station outpost, the braised beef-noodle soup and the pillowy potstickers filled with pork, shrimp, and a “top-secret” blend of aromatics continue to get top billing.
3. Hop Alley
Named for Denver’s onetime Chinatown, Tommy Lee’s RiNo mainstay is the complete package: edgy vibe; gutsy, kinetic cuisine; truly provocative beverage program. The kitchen plays up bold flavor contrasts — cooling against tongue-lashing, mellow against pungent, bright against luscious — without ever losing its balance, while the bar dares to pair them with everything from bubbly and rosé to craft cider and Sherry to funky punches in porrons and teapots. Staples include steamed eggplant and bone-marrow fried rice; seasonal sensations come in the form of jumbo shrimp toast crowned by a tangle of frisée in orange vinaigrette or chicken-liver pâté with five-spice milk bread, miso mustard, and housemade crabapple-maple vinegar.
4. Q House
The first challenger to the throne of contemporary Chinese cuisine on which Hop Alley has been sitting since it opened is a formidable one. In fact, it won Eater’s Restaurant of the Year Award in 2018, and not for nothing: The menu packs a heck of a punch for its size, whether chef-partner Chris Lin is topping his voluptuously salty sliced brisket with a zingy salad of Asian pear and watermelon radish, reimagining lo mein with confit duck leg, or deftly frying up smelts to dip in a piquant ginger sauce. Partner Jen Mattioni pairs it all with light, sprightly cocktails featuring lychee, lemongrass, aloe juice, and the like as well as aptly chosen craft beers and wines (think aromatic whites like riesling and gewürztraminer).
5. Fortune Wok to Table
An open secret in Cherry Creek, this utter treasure offers two completely different but equally memorable dining experiences. Downstairs, slurp up rich yet vibrant Shanghainese-style noodle dishes or chow down on what may be the city’s best dumplings — steamed or pan-fried, stuffed with beef, pork, or abundant crisp veggies. Upstairs, score reservations and settle in for a small but sumptuous array of seasonal plates from chef-owner CJ Shyr such as hot-and-sour soup with shrimp and crab, pork belly braised with bok choy in a red bean–studded brown sauce, and sliced duck in cucumber shells with a side pour of black-rice hei mijiu—just one of several types of premium rice wines on offer here, supplemented by a surprisingly fine grape wine list.
These are the best places in Denver to try for Asian breakfast.