Monthly Archives: June 2013

Lucky China, Aurora

Lucky China
2000 S. Havana Blvd.
Aurora, CO 80014

What led me to Lucky China was their ad in the local Chinese paper. It was a fairly generic Chinese newspaper restaurant ad, except for one thing: their sample menu had both seemingly Northern and Cantonese style dishes. Explicitly, the ad stated there were “Southern Northern Small Plates”, which seemed a bit odd. Of course, that just piqued my curiosity and emboldened me to try it out so I could taste what regional variety of Chinese food they are aiming to serve.

I walked into the restaurant and was warmly greeted. I was prompted seated at one of their beautiful dark wooden tables and immediately was handed the Chinese menu (which actually had a Korean menu on the back, given the large number of Korean residents in the area). They do also have a typical Chinese-American cuisine menu as well, which you can see on their website. Their menu didn’t quite clarify the confusion, and the fact that when the owner switched to Cantonese from Mandarin to speak to me didn’t help me discern what kind of regional cuisine they specialize in either.

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I decided to order two dishes: their red oil cooked pork and their pork with preserved vegetables noodle soup. Both dishes came out beautifully. The pork was well braised and very tender, with the pork fat tasting quite succulent. The bok choy was fresh and well cooked too. The sauce was great as well, but not spicy so I knew off the bat that it wasn’t Sichuan style. The noodle soup was good too, and my mother would approve having a fondness for the dish. However, the noodles were more Northern style hand pulled noodles than the rice noodles you would find if the noodle soup was served in a Hong Kong style establishment.

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All in all, the food was good and my initial inclinations are that it’s Cantonese style food with a Shanghainese flair. Perhaps the owner and/or chef is from a Shanghai family that immigrated to Hong Kong after the Communist Revolution, so it is kind of a fusion of regional cuisines. As a friend said to me when I reported my findings: “Maybe it’s just homestyle cooking, authenticity be damned.” Either way, the food was delicious, if a bit pricey (my bill came out to about $20).

As an aside, I did note an interesting trend that happened when I was eating there. The three other occupied tables when I was dining there were taken up by three couples, each with one Chinese female and one Caucasian male. They were all eating out of the Chinese menu, and one of the Caucasian guys seemed to speak Mandarin than I did! Perhaps this bodes well for a future date night.

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JJ Chinese, Denver

JJ Chinese Dim Sum Seafood Restaurant
2500 W. Alameda Ave.
Denver, CO 80219

Many Cantonese families eat dinner late, at least compared to when traditional American families eat dinner. I haven’t figured out why it’s so common, but it’s the reason why many Cantonese restaurants are open late. It’s not unusual for many Cantonese restaurants in California and New York to stay open until midnight, with many restaurants having a special late supper menu after 9PM. Since my family ate around 8 or 9PM on a typical night anyway, we often ate late suppers on the weekend at different restaurants, allowing our family to eat out on a budget.

Thus, it was an easy decision on where to eat in honor of my late mother’s 53rd birthday. JJ Chinese is certainly one of the top Chinese restaurants in Denver, including a recommendation from David Chan, a renown Chinese food eater and blogger that has eaten at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants. It also happens to have a great late night Chinese menu with items as low as $5.95.

Since I was eating in honor of my mom,  I opted to eat one dish from the late supper menu and another item that she loved to eat, but was not on the late super menu, but can still order on the regular menu. The first dish was black pepper marinated beef short ribs and the second dish was ong choy stir fried in spicy fish paste (Ong Choy is an Asian vegetable with long stems and hearty leaves, genetically close to sweet potato leaves). To complete the meal I also ordered a ginseng and chicken soup, a favorite of my mom.

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The black pepper beef short ribs were pretty decent, albeit a bit chewier than I had expected. The ong choy was excellent, reminescent of how my mom would cook the dish at home. It was a little spicy too, with some serrano peppers tossed in to the stir fry, which is just how my mom would like it. The soup was also great, with a good chicken broth that had tender bits of chicken meat and great flavor from the ginseng. For dessert I also had a sweet green bean pudding, which came on the house. While the beef short ribs were not the best I have eaten, this was another meal that has cemented JJ as one of the best Chinese restaurants in Denver.

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The service could use some refinement, however. As is typical with a Chinese restaurant, especially one with a smaller square footage like JJ, there is less wait staff for the late supper time. Given that the restaurant was quite busy, service tended to be a little slow. They definitely did try earnestly, and did get get everything right, but it would have helped if there was an extra server.

All in all, you cannot really beat the value of JJ, especially in their late night menu. I daresay that it may be a better late night menu than Golden City, the family favorite restaurant in San Diego. However, I can certainly say that JJ did an excellent job preparing a meal worthy of my mother’s memory.

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New Canton BBQ, Aurora

New Canton BBQ
2751 S. Parker Rd., Suite B
Aurora, CO 80014

One of my favorite memories as a child was going to the local Cantonese style BBQ shop and buying a roast duck, soy sauce chicken, roast pork, or barbecued pork back home. Aside from Dim Sum, Cantonese style BBQ is another critical staple of Cantonese cuisine. You cannot go to one wedding banquet, big birthday celebration, or holiday family get together without at least several pounds of roast pork or roast duck. Therefore, when I saw an ad in the local Chinese newspaper advertising a Cantonese barbecue place in the Denver area, I had to go.

Located next to the H-Mart in Aurora, New Canton BBQ occupies a small and relatively unassuming space. The first time I entered New Canton, it was as if my childhood memories returned. There were roast ducks, soy sauce chickens, and a huge rack of roast pork hanging in the Chinese barbecue racks. On the steam trays were Cantonese barbecue delicacies, including duck wings and pig intestines.

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During my latest visit I ordered a roast pork and soy sauce chicken rice plate. The plate came with soup, made with a light pork broth and watercress. The soup was pretty delicious, reminding me of the chicken and watercress soup my mom would make. When the rice plate came out, it had generous portions of roast pork, soy sauce chicken, and lightly broiled broccoli. The roast pork had succulent meat and crispy skin, making it nearly perfect. The soy sauce chicken was juicy and tender. The broccoli was even cooked fairly well. I even ordered a half pound of barbecue pork to go, and that was quite delicious as well.

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Service was pretty great as well. It’s run by a small family, with the wife from Taishan and the husband from Kaiping in Guangdong Province. They were very attentive, even when busy, willing to refill soup, rice, and water. They also took care to make sure that their small shop is nearly spotless as well to be very inviting.

I am truly grateful that New Canton BBQ opened up shop. No longer do I have to pine for my next trip to California for my next affordable fix of roast duck.

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Super Star, Denver

Super Star Asian Cuisine
2200 W. Alameda Ave. #5A
Denver, CO 80223

Dim Sum was undoubtedly my mom’s favorite type of meal. Like many people born and raised in Hong Kong, Dim Sum was a huge part of her upbringing and identity. This Dim Sum culture continued in America with the large number of Hong Kong immigrants moving here in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. To this day, you can find any number of large Cantonese restaurants across the country (especially in the San Gabriel Valley, San Francisco, and New York) filled to the brim on weekend mornings and early afternoons with people lining up to an hour and a half for a table. (If you are unfamiliar with Dim Sum, please read this excellent beginners guide to Dim Sum on BuzzFeed)

Unsurprisingly, Dim Sum was a big part of my childhood. My family spent many weekends traveling to the San Gabriel Valley to eat at the best Dim Sum restaurants in America. It didn’t hurt that at some places dishes cost as low as $1.88 each.

Because of these experiences, Dim Sum is a vital part of my identity as a Cantonese person. As such, many of the first “authentic Chinese” meals I take my non-Chinese friends to is Dim Sum. It’s a great way to show my friends a meal that is so important to me while also allowing them to try different items without busting the wallet. No surprise, the first Chinese meal I ate with my new roommate was Dim Sum.

While Star Kitchen on Mississippi and Federal is generally acknowledged as serving the best Dim Sum in Denver, we decided to go to Super Star Asian Cuisine because it was a little bit closer to where we live. Another advantage is its proximity to the Pacific Ocean Marketplace, allowing one to eat Dim Sum and then do some Chinese grocery shopping right next door.

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We arrived around 1:15PM and was promptly seated, which was good given that the place was relatively full when we arrived. Following the delivery of Chrysanthemum Tea and ice water, the trolley carts started arriving (Denver does not have a large Dim Sum parlor doing paper menu ordering yet). First up was the fried items cart, where we picked out a plate of soy sauce chow mein, potstickers, and daikon cakes. The soy sauce chow mein was nothing special, as expected, while the potstickers and daikon cakes were generally good. They were fried just right for a near-perfect texture, though the filling ingredients could have had more flavor.

Next we skipped the congee and tripe cart to sample items from the steamed items cart. We got shui mai, har gow, and tofu with shrimp. My roommate loved the shui mai while I thought it was decent, though nothing to write home about if I were in Monterey Park, California. We both agreed that while the shrimp was good in the har gow, the wrapper was a bit mushy and slimy. I loved the shrimp and tofu, but my roommate did not like the texture.

For dessert we had sesame balls with lotus seed paste, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately, they had sold out of egg custard tarts and almond tofu, so we could not sample those as I had liked.

All in all, Super Star Asian Cuisine has pretty decent Dim Sum, rivaling any Dim Sum place in Chicago, San Diego, or Boston. The quality here is not near the levels I could find in San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles; but I am blessed that Denver’s Cantonese cuisine scene is robust enough to give me as satisfying taste of home.

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