Best Bites: Prawn and Pork Belly Green Papaya Salad
Rioja, 1431 Larimer St., 303-820-2282, www.riojadenver.com. Though Rioja is billed as a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, chef-owner Jennifer Jasinski is just as taken with Asian cuisine as the rest of us. She's intrigued by the juxtaposition of spicy, sweet, salty, and savory—and she celebrates these flavor strata with a riff on the southern Vietnamese green papaya salad. Jasinski regards the traditional combination—shredded, unripened papaya, Thai basil, mint, and pork—as a jumping-off point, and she gives it a twist with a toss of zippy chile-vinegar gastrique. She then tops the lunchtime dish with unctuous pork belly (house-brined, poached, chilled, and pan-roasted), sweet grilled Hawaiian blue prawns, and crunchy ginger-crusted peanuts.