Just about every major metropolitan city has an international food climate — and that includes Denver, a diversified landscape that trumpets world-spanning cuisines that stretch from Vietnamese and Cuban to Ethiopian and South American.
Here, you can explore the world one plate at a time, eschewing burgers and hot dogs for irresistible Chinese hot pot, mind-altering Thai curries that breathe fire and remarkably good Ethiopian kitfo — dishes that are often found at off-the-beaten-path, non-touristy joints that beautifully highlight the food from their homeland.
“There’s no question that that Denver’s culinary scene has become incredibly diversified,” says chef and restaurateur Lon Symensma, who presides over two of Denver’s top Asian restaurants. “We’ve got so many restaurants that are focusing on different cuisines, techniques and concepts; it’s impossible to get to them all.”
He’s absolutely right about that. Denver’s culinary melting pot is growing by leaps and bounds and while there’s a deep, endless well of global dining choices, this roadmap of ethnic restaurants, broken down by cuisine, is your cheat sheet to the greatest international hits in and around the city.
This energetic shrine to noodles — ramen, udon, yakisoba, soba and drunken — is the handiwork of prolific chef-owner Frank Bonanno (Mizuna, Luca, Osteria Marco, Lou’s Food Bar and more), whose lobster ramen bowl, in particular, has cultivated a fevered following. You can also fill up on tuna poke, hamachi sashimi or steamed bao stuffed with duck confit, pork belly or braised pig and sip sake from a nicely designed list. Eyeball a stool at the chef’s counter to banter with the cooks, or slip away to the patio for a quieter escape amidst the blooming botanicals. 701 Grant St.
ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro
Bedecked with contemporary aesthetics, handsome woods, high ceilings and an intimate chef’s counter, chef-owner Lon Symensma’s polished anthem to Southeast Asian cuisine provides a beautiful setting in which to revel in small wonderments like his acclaimed soup dumplings, erupting with Gruyère and a thyme-scented beef broth. The season-intensive plates, brushed and streaked with masterful sauces and glazes and festooned with fresh herbs, are stunning, as are the flavors that grace every plate. 1555 Blake St.
This more casual sibling of ChoLon — also part of Lon Symensma’s restaurant empire — ballyhoos exposed brick walls inked with kaleidoscopic graffiti, a lively bar, shelves sporting Asian showpieces and an exhibition kitchen that turns out a diverse lineup of shareable Southeast Asian street foods. It’s hard to go wrong when ordering here — everything is fresh and beautifully prepared. Don’t miss the Thai-inspired coconut curry with mustard greens, pulled chicken and crispy egg noodles. 48 S. Broadway
Chef-owner Tommy Lee’s Asian noodle bar was a smash hit from the day it opened in the super-trendy Lower Highland ‘hood. Reservations aren’t accepted (your best bet is to arrive within 30 minutes of the opening tick), but your patience is rewarded with dazzling dishes that zigzag from pork belly bao and salmon crudo paired with a tamarind ponzu to duck ramen and chilled noodles mingling with chicken, apples, cashews and arugula. The beer syllabus, an eclectic collection of Asian and American craft brews, is equally inspiring. 2215 W. 32nd Ave.
Karma Asian Cuisine
Amid dark woods, arched shelves, red walls, handsome wood trappings, an opulent chandelier and a cluster of Buddhas that watch over the dining room from their various perches, young, energetic crowds descend upon this intriguing emporium for its broad spectrum of Asian cuisines. From the delicate spring roll swelled with seared ahi tuna and avocado to the vegetarian pho and Thai-themed mango curry, there’s a dish to appease every Asian persuasion. 22 S. Broadway
Imperial Chinese Seafood Restaurant
If you’ve never experienced the Chinese version of Cajun gumbo, this is a very good place to initiate yourself. The signature dish, flush with shrimp, sea bass, calamari and scallops, is a standout among more familiar staples like sesame chicken, Hunan beef and moo shoo pork. The regally appointed dining room, furbished with tables draped with a mix of red and white linens, a large fish tank and opulent artwork, is ideal for big groups who enjoy family-style dining. 431 S. Broadway
Uncle Joe’s Hong Kong Bistro
Specializing in Sichuan-style cooking, this modernist and artfully conceived downtown bistro, conveniently located near the Denver Performing Arts Complex, features dan dan noodles, ramen floating with beef brisket, roasted Sakura pork shoulder with five-spice and a separate menu dedicated solely to Chinese fire pot, a caldron of broth (spicy or tomato-based) matched with plates of seafood or locally sourced Wagyu beef, plus a forest of vegetables and herbs and sauces. 891 14th St.
All manner of Chinese restaurants flourish in Aurora, an international enclave east of Denver, but this is one of the few places where you’ll find three separate menus: an Americanized Chinese number; a bona fide Chinese board; and a document devoted solely to hot pot. Forego the Americanized dishes and focus instead on the terrific hot pots and real-deal Chinese specialties that range from boiled beef bobbing in a crimson broth saturated with chiles to cumin-scented lamb and crispy pig intestines. 12203 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora
Sleek and stylish looks, smashing cocktails, a thoughtful wine list and flavor-bombed dishes set this River North regional Chinese restaurant — named for Denver’s original Chinatown — apart from the rest of the pack. Owned by Tommy Lee, the chef-proprietor of Uncle, it’s the kind of place that could be too trendy, but the food lives up to the hype thanks to showstoppers like the Shanghai rice cakes, beef chow fun and Beijing duck rolls. Reservations are only accepted for parties of six or more, but there are often seats at the community table, the epicenter of all the action. 3500 Larimer St.
On a bustling swatch of asphalt dotted with Asian restaurants stands this Chinese stalwart with a casual décor flanked by aquariums swimming with sea creatures awaiting their fate on your plate. The extensive Cantonese-style menu proffers porridge with seafood, clams swathed in black bean sauce, deep-fried whole fish and whole lobsters, plus several incarnations of squid, jellyfish and shrimp. On weekends, the convivial — and sometimes chaotic — joint offers dim sum. 2500 W. Alameda Ave.
Lao Wang Noodle House
In an unassuming strip mall on Federal Boulevard — Denver’s own Silk Road — sits this diminutive Taiwanese storefront that’s revered for its soup dumplings, pan-fried pot stickers and earthy beef noodle soup. Run by an elderly husband-and-wife team, it’s not the kind of joint that you hit up when you're in a hurry, but those revered soup dumplings, along with just about everything else here, is worth the wait. 945 S. Federal Blvd.
On weekends, the herds flock to this dim sum parlor for addictive pork shumai and shrimp dumplings, chicken feet and egg-custard tarts, all delivered via carts that wheel around the cavernous room at a frantic pace. While the waits can be infuriating, the madhouse tempo is infectious, and so is the food. 2917 W. Mississippi Ave.
Super Star Asian
Brave the crowds that roll into this Chinese emporium for freshly made dim sum that offsets the flurry of bodies jostling for a seat in the chaotic dining room, especially on weekends when families and large groups arrive in droves. Carts hustle by at a quick pace, temping diners with everything from pan-fried turnip cakes studded with Chinese sausage to garlic pea vines to fried sesame balls and spare ribs swathed in black bean sauce. 2200 W. Alameda Ave.
Zoe Ma Ma
More upscale — and larger — that its original Boulder counterpart, this family-owned, fast-casual noodle shop near Denver Union Station turns out excellent Chinese dishes that zigzag from Sichuan braised-beef noodle soup (available Sunday, Monday and Tuesday only) to homey chicken noodle soup punctuated with pickled greens, ginger and bean sprouts. There’s a secret menu, too, that ballyhoos scallion pancakes and delicious soup dumplings that require a 24-hour advance notice. 1625 Wynkoop St.
Cuba Cuba Café & Bar
It’s a long way from Miami’s pulsating Little Havana neighborhood, but this Golden Triangle Creative District restaurant, residing in two exquisitely painted Victorian houses, has earned its reputation as Denver’s most vivacious — and iconic — Cuban restaurant. As dusk turns to black, conversations get louder, mojitos flow like the Rio Cauto and frolicsome diners become even more enamored of the sweet plantains, seafood, chicken and chorizo paella and big plates of mojo-marinated flank steak and slow-roasted pork shoulder. 1173 Delaware St.
Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria
The more casual sibling to Cuba Cuba, this energetic and colorful sandwich emporium, which has three additional suburban locations, is tricked out with a bar surfaced with thousands of dominoes, “Flora,” a spray-painted caricature of a stylish Cuban woman wearing a flirty red dress and holding a mojito and big jars of lemons, oranges and limes, the juices of which appear in several cocktails. Sandwiches (get the Cubano or the steak sandwich) are offset by plates propped with roasted pork, grilled chicken, steak and tempura mahi, all paired with rice and black beans. 654 S. Colorado Blvd.
Buchi Café Cubano
This sweet little storefront in Sunnyside embraces the culinary lexicon of Cuba by unleashing, among other wonderments, a fantastic Aye Conyo, a grilled sandwich, wrapped in wax paper, that’s skyscraped with ham, roasted pork, turkey, pepperoni, Swiss, onions, hot chiles, pickles and smears of mustard and key lime mayo. There’s a captivating Cuban sandwich, too, as well as breakfast sandwiches, traditional Cuban coffee lightly sweetened with raw sugar and a delectable flan. 2951 W. 38th Ave.
Like every other Ethiopian restaurant that dots the streets of Denver, standard protocol here is to use your right hand to tear off a piece of spongy injera (a fermented flatbread) and use it to scoop up the intensely flavored stewed vegetables or meats that arrive on sphered platters surfaced with more injera. The dining room, while somewhat sparse, is dim-lit and cozy, and there’s a constant buzz of conversation among communal groups who make this a regular destination. 1951 S. Havana St., Aurora
Whereas most Ethiopian restaurants focus on the food rather than atmospheric decor, Megenagna does both, serving its communal platters of housemade injera, brilliant ruby-red kitfo (Ethiopia’s answer to steak tartare), tibs, earthy lentils and stewed greens amidst a backdrop of beautiful wood-surfaced tables canopied with thatched palm leaves. Just about every table feels like its own tiki hut (the table in the back corner is especially romantic), and the emperor accent chairs — for decoration only — give the small dining room an air of Imperial sophistication. The adjacent Ethiopian market and butcher shop, which is run by the same owner, is worth exploring, too. 306 S. Ironton St., Aurora
Queen of Sheba
Located in a nondescript strip mall on bustling East Colfax, chef-owner Zewditu Aboye’s modest Ethiopian restaurant pulsates with crowds who can’t get enough of her soulful cooking. Her vegetarian combination plate, studded with hills of yellow split peas fragrant with Ethiopian herbs; green beans, carrots and potatoes; pureed red lentils; and shiro wat (pea flour simmered in a sauce of herbs, onions and spices), is second to none, and her charred beef tibs are crowd-pleasers, too. 7225 E. Colfax Ave.
This long-standing Parisian haunt from Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch (Rioja, Euclid Hall and Stoic & Genuine) evokes romance at every turn, whether it’s inside the captivating, soft-lit dining room or on the enticing courtyard patio flush with flowers. The menu, courtesy of chef de cuisine Adam Branz, is equally alluring, beckoning diners with escargot, voluptuous mussels floating in an herb-and-garlic broth and bouillabaisse bobbing with seafood, shaved fennel and chorizo. The budget-friendly wine list is exemplary, too. 1420 Larimer St.
Chef Frank Bonanno is synonymous with Denver’s restaurant scene, and Mizuna, his beloved by-the-book French restaurant in Capitol Hill, is still his star attraction. The cozy dining room, flanked by an exhibition kitchen, a curved bar and gorgeous wine library, sets the stage for the sublime dishes that emerge from the galley: luscious butter-poached lobster macaroni and cheese, beef Wellington with bone marrow anglaise and banana pot de crème. The wine syllabus is both intriguing and splurge-worthy. 225 E. 7th Ave.
With just over 30 seats, this intimate, white tablecloth Park Hill neighborhood charmer is the kind of place that locals like to keep to themselves — if only so they can score a reservation. The menu changes at least once a week and bows to seasonality, but past favorites have included veal sweetbreads with corn agnolotti, a lovely salad of chèvre flan matched with saffron-poached plums and peaches and main dishes like grilled baby octopus and little neck clams paired with corn succotash. 5021 E. 28th Ave.
Sweet and savory crepes are the siren song of this convivial café that also dispenses starters, salads and panini from an open kitchen surrounded by a 12-seat chef’s counter. The lofty, sunlit space, bedecked with windows, exposed red brick and an array of local art, ups its game with an impressive collection of espresso drinks and a full bar that struts Champagne cocktails, martinis, European beers and wine. 1842 S. Broadway
Nobu Matsuhisa, one of the world’s most sought after sultans of sushi and sashimi, recently opened a Denver outpost of his New York-based flagship. The Cherry Creek show-stopper, tricked out with stone accents, reclaimed teak, Japanese cut-out screens and a 14-seat sushi bar, parades beautifully displayed slivers of fresh fish, coupled with five styles of Wagyu beef preparations, lobster tacos, lamb chops, noodles and more. The voluminous wine list is nothing short of epic. 98 N. Steele St.
Blue Sushi Sake Grill
Billed as a restaurant that serves “traditional sushi with an American twist,” this swanky temple of raw fish, hued in blue jewel tones, also proffers a lengthy martini roster, weekly lunch specials and twice-a-day happy hours that feature discounts on cocktails, beer, sake, appetizers, rolls, sushi and more. 1616 16th St.
SOKO Sushi & Sake Bar
Wedged into a cluster of restaurants on the 16th Street Mall, this downtown homage to Japanese cuisine (with a few Korean and Japanese dishes stamping the menu for good measure) features a pleasant atmosphere in which to satisfy your seafood specimen cravings. The $10 lunch deal is a steal, and the Monday-through-Saturday happy hour offers discounts on sushi, cocktails and beer. And while plentiful portions of sushi are the primary draw there, the unlikely star is the tonkotsu ramen, which will bowl you over. 1600 Champa St.
Cherry Hills Sushi
Whether you settle in for a hand-held uni roll, a lobster roll or a six-piece order of glistening sashimi, you’ll find pristine quality all the way around at this quick-serve shrine to raw fish that sports sushi bar seating for 20 in a sleek and minimalist environment. 1400 E. Hampden Ave., Englewood
Eschewing trend-setting fads, Domo is an exquisitely adorned Japanese restaurant that specializes in the countrified cuisine of northern Japan. The dining rooms, with their tree-stump seats, rustic woods and farmhouse folk art, are conducive to community-style gatherings, while the beautifully meditative garden is an idyllic respite for canoodling couples, especially during cherry blossom season. 1365 Osage St.
Land of Sushi
This animated Japanese stalwart in the south suburbs remains one of the top spots in metro Denver for remarkably fresh — and strikingly presented — raw fish. But there’s much more to the menu than tuna, salmon and shrimp slid onto rolled rice: halibut collar, soba noodles, miso black cod and Colorado lamb chops also grace the menu, as does a solid selection of sake. Don’t miss the specials board — and, when it’s in season, the glorious monkfish liver, otherwise known as the foie gras of the sea. 2412 E Arapahoe Rd., Centennial
Since the day this jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring shrine to Japanese cuisine opened in 1985, diners have waxed poetic, often waiting for hours to snag a coveted seat in the stunningly appointed space. And it’s easy to see why: Owners and brothers Yasu and Toshi Kizaki source impeccably fresh fish from Japan and then masterfully create painterly mosaics that are as breathtaking to eat as they are to ogle. If you can score stools at the sushi bar, you’ll get dinner and a spectacular knife skills show. 1487 S. Pearl St.
While Sushi Den cemented the reputation of brothers Yasu and Toshi Kizaki, this lively izakaya — located next door to Sushi Den and the second restaurant in their trifecta — only made their stronghold on Denver’s Japanese scene more concrete. Like Sushi Den, the aesthetics reach dazzling heights (especially if you’re seated on the rooftop patio), but unlike Sushi Den, where raw fish takes center stage, Izakaya Den turns out sushi, plus a parade of innovative small plates punctuated with global ingredients. Sake is the preferred beverage here, and the list is impressively comprehensive. 1518 S. Pearl St.
The third restaurant from Yasu and Toshi Kizaki, which resides across the street from Sushi Den, is a bustling robata that delves deep into slow-grilled, skewered meats cooked over binchotan charcoal, a prized Japanese oak that ignites everything from chicken hearts and Wagyu beef to lamb tenderloin. The menu also trumpets a collection of fantastic ramen bowls and a wok-seared, chile-jolted pork dish (Buta Kimchi) that might be the city’s best hangover cure. At the very least, it diminishes the thud of a pounding headache. 1501 S. Pearl St.
The ramen craze had already peaked before renowned chef Jeff Osaka opened his ode to noodles, but this playful slurp shop, located below street level, has swagger and staying power, unleashing a deeply rich tonkotsu with chashu (thin-sliced pork), the best version of Japanese fried chicken in Denver, bacon fried rice studded with vegetables and whimsy bento boxes. 2611 Walnut St.
Don’t expect anything pedestrian from this highbrow head-turner that turns sushi on its skull. Here, against a contemporary backdrop of artistic accents, custom-made furniture and a sultry backlit bar, chef Corey Baker dispenses first-rate fresh fish from the sushi bar (splurge on the seven-course tasting menu), plus miso-marinated black cod, broiled hamachi and shake collars and salted mackerel. 2930 Umatilla St.
Part bar and part restaurant, this pulsating Korean joint, located in a small mall accentuated with international restaurants and markets, is scattered with booths and tables, some with built-in barbecues. A parade of banchan (Korean side dishes), plus plenty of soju to keep conversations animated, kicks off a meal here, and while standards like bulgogi and seafood soup with noodles dot the expansive menu, it’s the Korean twice-fried chicken — crisp-skinned, juicy and paired with a dipping sauce that simultaneously spicy and sweet — that keeps the crowds clamoring for more. 2779 S. Parker Rd., Aurora
Seoul Korean BBQ & Sushi
The appeal of this modest, bright-lit spot that attracts a posse of revelers lies in its repertoire of tried-and-true Korean staples: bowl after bowl of pre-meal side dishes called banchan; bulgogi and bibimbap; and marinated meats and vegetables grilled at the table. Sip soju while you explore the daunting, leather-bound menu, and you’ll likely encounter a lot more treasures, including a spicy soup floating with scallions and shredded brisket, or chilled soymilk noodle soup. There’s sushi, too, but the Korean dishes steal the show. 2080 S. Havana St., Aurora
Korean and Japanese dishes are prepared with equal aplomb at this relaxing neighborhood spot in Capitol Hill, where more than 40 rolls, from California to New York, stamp the menu. Still, while the sushi has it share of loyalists, it’s the Korean-leaning plates, including kimchi soup, dumplings stuffed with cabbage and beef, and bulgogi that cement its reputation. If you’re in the mood for a sugar rush, try the terrific tempura cheesecake. 701 E. 6th Ave.
There are three outposts of this super-popular temple to Korean cuisine, whose name translates to “pig.” And it’s easy to pig out here, thanks to the unlimited barbecue, offered both at lunch and dinner. In addition to the do-it-yourself meats (brisket, pork belly, beef, chicken or pork bulgogi and beef short ribs), which are paired with rice and side dishes, the menu also features a swell of starters, including pan-fried seafood pancakes, chicken dumplings and steamed tofu mingling with sautéed kimchi, pork and garlic. If you want to eschew the all-you-can-eat barbecue, you can also order main dishes from a la carte section of the menu. 827 Colorado Blvd.; 460 Broadway; 7570 Sheridan Blvd., Westminster
Work & Class
Work & Class, whose kitchen is helmed by Dana Rodriguez, a 2016 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest semifinalist, is one of the most popular (and flat-out best) restaurants in Denver, which explains the commanding waits for a table, a ritual that begins at the opening tick of 4 p.m. Inside the cozy quarters, bedecked with a community table, bar area, exhibition kitchen and chef’s counter, those lucky enough to snag a seat fall immediately in love with Rodriguez’s Latin-inspired marvels: blue corn empanadas hugging zucchini, squash and Oaxaca cheese; shrimp and pineapple ceviche with housemade tortilla chips; red-chile braised pork; and roasted goat. The meats are served by the quarter, half and full pound and pair beautifully with the roasted corn and poblano salad, fried sweet plantains and rice and beans. 2500 Larimer St.
Walls of weathered brick, wood floors, funky light fixtures, giant mirrors and a large bar provide a hipster backdrop for stylish Latin-American cuisine and cocktails at this bi-level space in the heart of the trendy Baker neighborhood. Go straight for the octopus ceviche united with avocado, red onions, jalapenos and housemade plantain chips — or try a selection of the empanadas and soft corn tacos, all of which are filled with fresh ingredients and vibrant flavors. 24 Broadway
Been-here-forever Café Brazil is easily one of The Mile High City’s most beloved food temples. Part rum bar, part restaurant, the sexy quarters evoke a sultry vibe that’s conducive to the equally lustful plates that emerge from affable chef-owner Tony Zarlenga’s kitchen. He’s a master of seafood preparations, unleashing dishes like the beguiling seafood Copacabana that involves beautifully prepared shrimp and sea scallops in a rich coconut milk sauce fragrant with garlic and shallots and ringed with vegetables. 4408 Lowell Blvd.
This tribute to Venezuelan street food, located on the bottom level of Avanti Food & Beverage, a multilevel food hall that houses three bars, seven restaurants and a rooftop deck with views to a thrill, dispenses delicious arepas, handheld, corn-based flatbread that’s grilled, split open and swelled with meats, vegetables, black beans, salty white cheese and sauces. The menu, which focuses on locally sourced ingredients, changes frequently, but the pabellón arepa, sandwiched with black beans, plantains, shredded beef and cheese, is typically a mainstay and obscenely good. 3200 Pecos St.
Dreams are made of the housemade, gold-tinged empanadas at this cheerful Argentine bakery, coffeehouse and café that turns out sweet and savory versions of the hand-crimped pastries, plus gorgeous rounds of tortilla espanola (a Spanish-style omelet), salads, tartas, dulce de leche roll cake and alfajor, splendid little Latin American cookies. The roster of coffee drinks, poured from a towering espresso machine blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, includes a don’t-miss Nutella latte and the Argentinian-style cortado, made with steamed milk and a double shot of espresso. 1298 S. Broadway
Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse
The whopping salad bar — a gigantic spread of greens in every guise, plus cheeses, asparagus, heart of palm and vegetable-focused sides — is, on its own, spectacular. But while this behemoth, all-you-can-stomach Brazilian churrascaria in LoDo fulfills the needs of vegetarians, make no mistake: meat — loads of it — is at the heart of the matter. Gauchos bounce from table to table with well-seasoned chicken, various cuts of beef, lamb, sausages and ribs, all on skewers, and your only job is to eat until your belt buckle spontaneously combusts. 1513 Wynkoop St.
Aloy Modern Thai
Cloth red napkins, dressed up art dotting the exposed brick walls and elegant plate artistry give this bright and airy dining room in the Ballpark area an air of contemporary flair and formality. The cooking, billed as a “farm-to-table experience,” pays homage to quality-sourced ingredients, which come to light in dishes like the carrot-ginger dressed house salad with heirloom tomatoes; smoked salmon with Asian pears and yucca chips; and rack of lamb matched with beets and sweet potatoes. 2134 Larimer St.
Aung’s Bangkok Café
Traditional Thai dishes that make an indelible mark on your palate are what this serene restaurant does best — creamy panang curry with pork, citrus-jolted laab, lemongrass-scented seafood soup and aromatic stir-fries. The flavors are wonderfully balanced, and all of the curry pastes are made from scratch, but beware: if you order it “Thai hot,” you’ll need more than a bowl of rice, a beer or a Thai iced tea to quell the fire. The chef-owner doesn’t mess around when it comes to igniting the flame. 1225 E. Hampden Ave., Englewood
US Thai Café
A magnet for in-the-know locals, US Thai Café seduces regulars with its tongue-numbing curries intoxicated with chiles. The snug dining quarters are bereft of any superfluous embellishments, but no one comes here for the scenery: They come for the menu’s ability to take adventurous taste buds on a thrill ride through the different regions of Thailand. There’s no liquor license, but the Thai iced tea does its best to counteract the burn. 5228 W. 25th Ave., Edgewater
J’s Noodles Star Thai
If you go during the dinner rush, be prepared to wait for a table in the tiny, no-frills room decked out with pink tables. Arrive during non-peak hours and you’ll have more time to enjoy the appropriately named tom yum flush with lime leaves, lemongrass, onions, mushrooms and chicken, beef, pork, tofu or shrimp. Thai standards such as chicken satay, papaya salad, pad thai and drunken noodles are pretty much textbook perfect. If you feel like being punished, feel free to heap on the chiles from the condiment caddy. 945 S. Federal Blvd.
Curry puffs. Curry puffs. Curry puffs. Those alone are worth the price of admission to this humble Thai joint located midway in a strip mall with a chaotic parking lot. Still, fight for a spot, and once you’re squarely between the lines (good luck with that), make a beeline for a table, order the croissant-like pastry puffs bulged with curried potatoes and then move on to the properly acidic papaya salad, smooth green curry and pad thai, which is exceedingly good compared to the sugar-slicked noodles most Thai restaurants try to pass off. 1015 S. Federal Blvd.
No matter where you’re from, the Vietnamese food from this Federal Boulevard stalwart will likely transport you to nirvana. The menu, a voluminous read, goes on for pages, making it difficult to make a decision. And because it’s nearly always full, servers might rush you through the process, so we’ll make it easy for you: Go for the Saigon Special, a mammoth plate of egg rolls, grilled pork, soft-shell crab, a forest of greens and herbs and rice paper; dip the rice papers into the container of hot water, shake off the excess, wrap everything inside the rolls and dunk them in the nuoc cham, a spicy Vietnamese dipping sauce. 630 S. Federal Blvd.
New Saigon Bakery & Deli
Just adjacent to New Saigon is this worthy sibling, a bustling sandwich shop and bakery that lures a legion of fans with its bánh mì, a Vietnamese sandwich made with a chewy baguette stacked with cucumbers, crisp pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeños, cilantro and meats, including grilled beef, chicken or pork. Along with the two-fisted sandwiches, you can sip on a boba smoothie and appease your sweet spot with a delicious pastry, coconut Jell-O or mixed fruit tart. 640 S. Federal Blvd.
When there’s a chill in the air — and even when there’s not — devotees descend upon this pho-nominal soup parlor, where the steaming bowls of broth provide restorative sustenance. The sheer number of options is mind-blowing, but independent of whether you opt for chicken, seafood, meatballs, tendon, brisket, tripe, rare steak, or a combination that involves just about every protein, the result is a bowl of bliss accompanied by the requisite mound of fresh herbs, lime wedges and chiles to stir and splash into the broth. 1401 S. Federal Blvd.
Vinh Xuong Bakery
This duo of family-owned Vietnamese confectionaries and sandwich spots are very different when it comes to décor (the Federal Boulevard bakery is modest, while the Alameda outpost is modern, hip and spruced up with lounge furniture), but the food at both places is first-rate Vietnamese. House-baked baguettes, soft inside with a crunchy exterior, support the requisite ingredients comprising a bánh mì, while the baked goods trumpet moon cakes and a solid mix of house-baked sweets, including sublime sesame balls. The smoothies are uniformly excellent, too, and the sweetened Vietnamese coffee at the Alameda location can’t be oversold; it’s liquid gold. 2370 W. Alameda Ave.; 375 S. Federal Blvd.
Exemplary pho is the calling card of this lively Vietnamese slurp shop that turns out flavor-intensive, anise-scented broths matched with meats, slippery noodles, a mountain of fresh accompaniments (bean sprouts, lime wedges, cilantro and holy basil) and bottles of sriracha. If don’t have animal instincts, the meatless pho is deftly seasoned and brimming with bright vegetables. The convivial space is perpetually packed during the noon hour, but service is quick and there are plenty of community tables to accommodate large groups. 925 S. Federal Blvd.
Residing in the Far East Center, where there’s a high concentration of Asian restaurants, Saigon Bowl stands out for its voluptuous menu touting a whirlwind tour of Vietnamese favorites. You can’t go wrong with the profoundly good pho, paired with fresh herbs, but you won’t make a mistake if you eschew the Vietnamese soup for the deep-fried soft-shell crab, seafood fire pot or combination noodle bowl festooned with shrimp, chicken, pork and a greaseless egg roll. Service can be a bit abrupt (and slow), but the food more than makes up for it. 333 S. Federal Blvd.
Although the neighborhood where India’s resides is rather bland, the cooking is anything but. Diners congregate in roomy booths or at large tables covered with white linens to feast on delectably spiced North Indian specialties: chicken tikka masala, mattar paneer, lamb vindaloo and creamy chicken korma flecked with almonds, raisins and cashews. The wine list is surprisingly deep for a curry house, and the beer selection even more so, branching out well beyond the typical bottles of Taj Mahal and Kingfisher. 8921 E. Hampden Ave.
Bawarchi Biryani Point
This chain, imported from Hyderabad, India, specializes in biryani, a South Asian, slow-cooked basmati rice dish that’s intensely fragrant with spices and stocked with chicken, goat, cubes of Indian cheese or vegetables. Speaking of vegetables, the meatless section of the menu channels South India, famed for its dosas, thin lentil flour crepes, roughly the size of a Semi wheel, filled with savory onions and smashed potatoes seasoned with curry spices. Here, as is customary, they’re served with sambar (a lentil-based vegetarian stew) and an array of chile-fueled chutneys. 11001 E. Arapahoe Pl., Centennial
Biju’s Little Curry Shop
The kaleidoscopic, graffiti-chalked walls, jars of exotic spices and canary-yellow chairs are as bold as the flavor-packed curry bowls at this pair of fast-casual Indian food temples recently featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The spots, perfect for power lunches or casual dinners paired with beer or wine, are also worth seeking out for the five different chutneys, including the Adacheri, a tamarind-based number pelted with birds-eye chiles. Not enough heat to induce tears? Ask for the ghost pepper salt and prepare to wilt. 1441 26th St.; 4276 Tennyson St.
True to its name, this nicely decorated restaurant seduces patrons with its wonderfully spiced kabobs, available with grilled, black-etched chicken, beef or vegetables. Cushions of house-baked pita accompany just about every meal, some of which are elevated with the addition of a garlic dip that’s potent enough to drain the blood of vampires. The kabobs share space on the menu with a selection of fatayers, savory, Arabic-style pastries that are stuffed with feta cheese, spinach, cremini mushrooms or ground beef and baked in the oven. An uncommonly notable wine, beer and cocktail list bridges the gap between casual pit stop and dinner date destination. 5709 E. Colfax Ave.
When it comes to longevity, you may as well just call Jerusalem “Pita the Great.” It’s a legend, plying nearby neighborhood residents and University of Denver students and faculty with around-the-clock plates of lightly fried, well-crisped falafel; lemon-rich hummus; meaty kabobs; beef and chicken gyros; huge combination plates; and sheesh ta’ouk, a stew of grilled chicken, onions, peppers, tomatoes and a shower of Mid-East spices. Everything, naturally, is served with warm disks of pita bread. The joint does a brisk takeout business, prices are super-cheap and the atmosphere, while simple, pulsates with energy. 890 E. Evans Ave.
Channeling the Mediterranean with its bright walls brushed the color of sunflowers and the Indigo Aegean Sea, Café Byblos is sexy, fashionable and ideal for a quiet night out. The lack of a liquor license doesn’t deter from the food, a delightful canon of familiar Middle Eastern dips like hummus and baba ghanoush; refreshing salads such as tabbouleh and fettoush; and main dishes that float from lamb kabobs and kafta kabobs to marinated lamb shank and chicken shawarma. 400 Corona St.
Shish Kabob Grill
The atmosphere at this venerated Mid-East storefront is a bit like a well-worn living room, which is to say that it’s comfortable, endearingly tattered and cozy. It’s also full of regulars that go grabby for what may be the best hummus in the city: smooth, nutty, splashed with lemon, pooled with olive oil and showered with ground sumac, a tangy spice the color of a desert sunset. As expected, the kabobs shine, too, as do the falafel sandwich and gyro plate. 1503 Grant St.
If you can deftly weave your way through the caravan of haphazardly parked cars in the tight lot, your perseverance is rewarded handsomely at this unassuming, down-to-earth Middle Eastern dining room that offers top-notch (and enormous) vegetarian platters, kabobs and kabob sandwiches, hearty moussaka, marinated and skewered mushrooms blackened with char and oven-roasted lamb. There’s no alcohol, but the banana shake, a Syrian specialty that involves milk, ripe bananas, cinnamon and sugar, is more than satisfying. 2276 S. Colorado Blvd.