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While Americanized Chinese dishes like orange chicken and crab cheese wontons are undeniably delicious, there are a bounty of restaurants in and around Denver that go beyond these beloved takeout staples. At these spots, talented chefs are cooking delicious specialties inspired by their roots. Most serve fare from multiple regions throughout the People’s Republic of China and neighboring Taiwan, but look closely and you’ll spot chef-driven specialties with deep culinary roots from Cantonese, Huaiyang, Shandong, Sichuan, and Taiwanese traditions. Here are 15 of the best spots along the front range for traditional Chinese dishes—some of which can be found exclusively on the eateries’ “traditional Chinese” menus,” which patrons can (and should) request.
Editor’s Note: This is a living list of the best Chinese restaurants, listed in alphabetical order, that was last updated on March 1, 2022. Did we miss your favorite? Email us at [email protected].
At 10-year-old Blue Ocean (also called Little Chengdu, after the city of the same name in the Sichuan province), chef-owner Jack Ning excels at cooking Sichuan specialties and making hand-pulled noodles. In fact, he’s one of the only Denver-area chefs to do so. Parse through the lengthy menu to spot traditional Sichuan offerings like kung pao beef and fish filets boiled in hot chile oil, which are interspersed with American-Chinese items.
Eat this: Ask for the separate, build-your-own hot pot menu, and gather your crew around a heated vessel full of simmering soup bobbing with whole chiles and Sichuan peppercorns (choose between spicy, extra spicy, or a split pot with both). Then pick raw ingredients such as sliced lamb, lotus root, and napa cabbage to dip in the broth to cook. Bonus: The all-you-can-eat experience costs just $26 per person. 8101 E. Belleview Ave., 303-220-0577
Hong Kong Station
Tucked within a strip mall off South Yosemite Street in Centennial, Hong Kong Station specializes in Cantonese-inspired dishes from its namesake city near southern China’s Guangdong province, as well as regions throughout China.
Eat this: Don’t miss the brisket and tendon hot pot, morsels of tender beef in a umami-rich sauce that arrives at your table bubbling in a clay bowl with a side of steamed rice. Pair your meal with a side of tender, garlic-scented yu choy (Chinese greens), along with a light and airy shrimp toast. The latter features triangles of bread that are smeared with shrimp paste, fried to golden perfection, and accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce. 6878 S. Yosemite St., Centennial, 720-592-0861
Chef Tommy Lee’s modern and creative interpretations of classic Chinese dishes make Hop Alley one of the Mile High City’s most influential restaurants. The RiNo eatery’s name is a nod to the eponymous thriving Chinatown in what is now LoDo that was destroyed when a racist mob attacked Chinese businesses in the community in 1880.
Eat this: The mouthwatering turnip cakes—made with turnips that are emulsified with shrimp and sausage, fried until browned and crispy, and served atop a black garlic sauce—are a must have. The laziji, tender chicken thigh nuggets coated in a Sichuan peppercorn dust and diced scallions, and pickled vegetables, a medley of bean sprouts, red cabbage, cauliflower, and jalapeños, are also favorites. 3500 Larimer St., 720-379-8340
Hong Kong– and Cantonese-style barbecue is the draw at Huakee BBQ, Hong and GuoHua Wu’s tiny, takeout-only eatery beside H Mart in Westminster. The couple, who are from China’s Guangdong province, prepare roasted duck, pork, and chicken and delicacies such as chicken feet with black bean sauce; spicy, crunchy sliced pig ears; and zong zi, bamboo-leaf-wrapped parcels of steamed glutinous rice with peanuts, egg yolks, shredded pork, and other fillings.
Eat this: If you’re visiting the restaurant for the first time, try the Three Delicacy Combo, which comes your choice of three items—glistening, crispy-skinned duck; juicy roast chicken; sweet char sui (barbecued pork); or tender spareribs—served over a bed of rice with bok choy.
KP Asian Cafe
While KP Asian Cafe in Aurora sports a solid lineup of American-Chinese takeout fundamentals—sesame chicken, beef broccoli, sweet and sour pork—chef-owner Kevin Chu and his wife specialize in cooking an assortment of exemplary regional dishes from the People’s Republic. That includes lesser-known sustenance from cuisines with origins in southern (Cantonese), western (Sichuan), and northern (Shandong) China.
Eat this: The Hong Kong–style wonton noodle soup, an oil-glossed broth bejeweled with slippery dumplings, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and handmade egg noodles (a rarity in the Mile High City), is our go-to order. Get it with the restaurant’s juicy, roasted duck. Or ask for one of the hot pots, clay vessels laden with wok-fired bites like tender pork ribs and bitter melon or spicy braised brisket and tendon. 12201 E. Mississippi Ave., #111, Aurora, 720-456-7745
Lao Wang Noodle House
The Wang family has served soul-warming Taiwanese cuisine in modest, red- and yellow-walled digs off South Federal Boulevard in Westwood for 22 years. After the passing of owner Tse-Ching, his wife, Chung-Ming, and son, Danny, continue the tradition of making all of the restaurant’s dumplings and wontons from scratch.
Eat this: From the plump xiaolongbao filled with nuggets of pork and broth and crispy-bottomed pot stickers to wontons swimming in a gently spicy soup, you can’t go wrong with any of the dough-wrapped delights on the menu. 945 S. Federal Blvd., 303-975-2497
Meta Asian Kitchen
Chef Kenneth Wan and wife Doris Yuen—who grew up on the East Coast and Hong Kong, respectively—look to their roots to produce a menu of Cantonese, American Chinese, and fusion specialties inspired by family recipes at this two-year-old fast-casual spot inside Avanti Food & Beverage.
Eat this: The spicy fried Mala wings, bone-in pieces of bird bathed in a Sichuan-peppercorn-zinged seasoning and homemade sambal, are a fiery treat. Or indulge in the Sichuan mozzarella sticks, which combine fried cheese, mouth-numbingly wonderful Sichuan peppercorns, and calming Thai basil ranch dip. Also visit during weekend brunch to try the Taiwanese-inspired jian bing: steak strips, scrambled eggs, cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, and hoisin sauce sandwiched between two flaky scallion pancakes. 3200 N. Pecos St., 303-325-5384
Diners flock to the fast-casual Noodles Express in Belcaro for mouth-numbing experiences fueled by extra-spicy Sichuan dishes, many of which are seasoned with the eponymous peppercorn.
Eat this: We like the dan dan mian, a twist on the traditional version that comes topped with minced pork, peanuts, chile oil, cilantro, green onions—and sauerkraut, an addition that adds extra layers of crunchy texture and tangy flavor to the classic. Or try the crispy fried Chongqing chicken stir-fried with Sichuan peppercorns and chiles with an order of the refreshing-yet-fiery, chile-oil drenched sliced fresh cucumber. 703 S. Colorado Blvd., 303-736-8818
Contemporary Q House in City Park showcases the culinary prowess of chef Christopher Lin, a veteran of David Chang’s Momofuku. The bustling three-year-old spot offers a thoughtful lineup of inventive cocktails and a concise menu of modern Chinese bites.
Eat this: The shatteringly crisp, head-on salt and pepper shrimp, braised pork rice inspired by Taiwanese lu rou fan, and five-spice-scented barbecue ribs are winning accompaniments to drinks like the grapefruit-oil-infused cucumber negroni or the fruit-forward lychee martini. 3421 E. Colfax Ave.; 720-729-8887
Harry and Alice Zhou’s casual-yet-elegant Shanghai Kitchen in Greenwood Village is an ode to their native city. At the 22-year-old spot adjacent to a King Soopers, Alice manages the front of house while Harry—who trained as a chef in the city of Shanghai and the Sichuan province—helms the kitchen.
Eat this: The whole steamed sea bass, either prepared with ginger-wine sauce (Shanghai style) or hot chile oil (Sichuan style), is a tasty example of how fish is traditionally eaten in many Chinese regional cuisines. The eggplant with pork, tea-smoked duck with pickled vegetables, and twice-cooked pork belly are also worth adding to your spread. 4940 S, Yosemite St., E-8, Greenwood Village
At 13-year-old Star Kitchen in Athmar Park, the spacious dining room is lined with tanks occupied by live and ultimately delicious sea creatures waiting to be steamed or stir fried. While the fish and crustaceans are popular at dinnertime (thanks, in part, to a two-for-one lobster deal), Cantonese-style dim sum plates served from roaming carts are what midday diners are there to order for lunch and brunch.
Eat this:If you’re there for dim sum—which is served daily—devour baskets of fluffy buns filled with char siu (barbecued pork), crispy-gooey fried turnip cakes, puffy feng zhua (braised chicken feet), and lotus-leaf-wrapped sticky rice alongside bowls of steaming congee (rice porridge) bejeweled with bits of pork and preserved eggs. For dinner, get the shell-on lobster caked with ginger-scallion sauce and the salt-and-pepper squid. 2917 W. Mississippi Ave., 303-936-0089
Sunflower Asian Cafe
This airy Littleton restaurant is one of the only spots in the metro area where you can taste Huaiyang cuisine from China’s eastern region. Husband-and-wife duo Wen Hu Xue and Annie Tang hail from Yangzhou, a city in the Jiangsu province, where Xue was also a chef. Together, they serve subtly seasoned dishes that highlight the freshness and natural flavors of the ingredients.
Eat this: Upon arrival, ask to peruse the traditional Chinese menu, where you’ll find an extensive selection of specialties spanning most regions of China (we also love the Sichuan dishes here). For eastern Chinese fare, try the Yangzhou fried rice or noodles, which are stir-fried without soy sauce; or bite into giant, fermented-soybean-drenched lion’s head meatballs or slices of tender braised pork belly with meigan cai (pickled mustard greens). 91 W. Mineral Ave., #100, Littleton; 303-798-0700
Pig and Tiger
At Pig and Tiger, a food stall inside Boulder’s bustling Avanti Food and Beverage, Taiwanese-American chef Darren Chang serves up bites from his family’s homeland in the form of fluffy gua bao buns, comforting lu rou fan (braised pork over rice), and tender steamed pork dumplings. With an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, the spot is an approachable introduction to Taiwan’s cuisine.
Eat this: Pig and Tiger’s version of beef noodle soup—Taiwan’s most famous dish—is a rich, savory delight studded with tender braised beef shank, crunchy bok choy, and tangy pickled mustard greens. Round out your meal with an order of gua bao: thick, fatty pork belly wedged into soft, fluffy bao buns sprinkled with cilantro and pickled mustard greens. 1401 Pearl St., Boulder
Yum Yum Spice
Dine in at Yum Yum Spice, a casual University of Denver–area staple, to customize your own dry pot or gānguō. The broth-less variety of Sichuan hot pot can only be found on its own menu (separate from the American-Chinese version; ask for it upon arrival). Patrons can select their own combination of proteins and veggies, which are wok fried with chile oil and Sichuan peppercorns and presented atop a tabletop gas burner.
Eat this: How you build your dream pot is up to you—but for proteins, we like tofu skin or pork paired with greens like napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms, lotus root, and bok choy. Add a savory punch with shrimp or fish balls or Chinese sausage. Don’t forget to indicate your spice level—for the full experience, order the Sichuan flavor (specify “extra hot”). 2039 S. University Blvd., #4318; 720-543-9921
Self-proclaimed “shef” Penelope Wong’s gorgeously pleated dumplings, wontons, buns and entrées influenced by her Thai-Chinese heritage and dedication to supporting social justice issues make her coveted offerings worth seeking out. Tip: Find the food truck’s schedule on her Instagram stories and order in advance online as soon the website allows—or be prepared to stand in line.
Eat this: The fist-size xiaolongbao, pork buns stuffed with char siu pork, and chile wontons are cult favorites. Also look for specials such as zongzi, banana-leaf-wrapped bundles of sticky rice with salt-cured duck eggs, pork, and shiitake mushrooms, and rou bing, a flaky, meat-filled pancake.