Physical and mental well-being. A healthy bank account. Good fortune. These are all things we could benefit from in 2021—or any time. For those who celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on February 12, eating the right dishes during the holiday will usher in a year filled with luck, prosperity, and happiness.
For those who aren’t familiar with the event, it celebrates the first new moon of the lunar calendar used in many east Asian countries, and also marks the rotation of the Chinese zodiac animal. In many Chinese cultures, the event kicks off a 15-day affair that traditionally begins with a feast on the eve of the New Year, which is when many in Colorado also celebrate the holiday. Ring in the dawn of the Year of the Ox—and eat your weight in good fortune—by ordering special dishes from these local Chinese restaurants.
Hong Kong BBQ
The Lunar New Year basin pot at Hong Kong BBQ in Athmar Park—a dish known as poon choy in Cantonese—is a one-pot wonder layered with seafood, meat, and vegetables, including sea cucumbers, abalone, fish maws (fish air bladders, which can be a very pricy import), jumbo dried scallops, steamed chicken, roast duck, crispy roasted pork belly, braised pork feet, dried mushrooms, bean curd, cauliflower, and more. According to Muyan Li, who owns the 12-year-old restaurant with her husband Ying Guang, the “treasury pot,” symbolizes wealth, lavishness, unity, and happiness.
“All of the ingredients carry the symbols of auspiciousness,” Li says in Cantonese, with the help of her interpreter. “Pork feet symbolize ‘wishing a great windfall;’ the dried bean curd symbolizes ‘contentment brings happiness;’ and the cauliflower symbolizes ‘rich and honored.’ The basin pot allows everyone to unveil layers of goodness together. It also implies that people who eat basin pot will make a lot of money in the coming year. Most importantly, they all will have a fruitful year.”
Hong Kong BBQ is also offering a free dessert for Lunar New Year of sweet rice dumplings in fermented rice soup which represent togetherness or family reunions. The basin pot ($198, serves at least six) is only available on February 11, but the restaurant’s many other dishes—roast duck, steamed chicken, homemade XO sauce, and more—are available any time of year. Takeout only; order by February 9 by calling 303-937-9088; 1048 S. Federal Blvd. (While the restaurant has been open for over a decade, Li and Guang took over for the previous owners in 2019.)
Meta Asian Kitchen
Kenneth Wan and Doris Yuen are serving modern dishes inspired by their Cantonese heritage at Meta Asian Kitchen inside Avanti Food & Beverage. Wan and Yuen both grew up amidst big Chinese New Year bashes with their families on the East Coast and in Hong Kong, respectively, and fondly remember receiving an abundance of red envelopes stuffed with cash from their elders, who customarily give them to children and unmarried friends and relatives. “Chinese New Year is a lavish holiday. Everything is served in abundance, whether it be shrimp, fish, or whole lobster. Those are mainstay foods for celebration banquets,” Wan says.
To give Denverites a taste of their family traditions, Wan and Yuen are offering a limited-time menu of flash-fried Szechuan lobster, finished with tongue-tingling mala spices, ginger, scallions, and Jack Daniels’s No. 27 Gold; stir-fried garlic bok choy; and char siu pork bao dusted with flakes of gold. Patrons can also order a family meal, which features crispy pan-fried noodles crowned with a medley of shrimp, calamari, white fish, carrots, and snow peas; steak, chicken, and char siu pork fried rice; chicken-filled dumplings; and vegetable spring rolls, served in quantities of eight (a notoriously lucky number in Chinese culture).
“The noodles represent longevity. And the shape of the dumplings represent the gold they used in ancient China. The spring rolls looks like bars of gold. They represent wealth and prosperity—very lucky foods to be eating during Chinese New Year,” Yuen says. The family meal is $53; a là cart dishes start at $10; order online February 11–17 for dine-in, takeout, and delivery; Avanti Food & Beverage; 3200 N. Pecos St.
For Alice Zhou, owner of Shanghai Kitchen in Greenwood Village, the Lunar New Year conjures visions of family members reunited around a bountiful spread. “On the night before [Lunar New Year], everybody gathers around the table,” says Zhou, who hails from Shanghai, China, and owns 20-year-old Shanghai Kitchen with her husband Harry. “We eat dumplings (steamed, not deep fried) and whole fish.”
To help you create the experience at home, the restaurant is serving an eight-dish, Shanghai-style feast. The meal includes a rich soup studded with pork belly, short ribs, and salted and fresh bamboo; slow-cooked, bone-in duck; black fungus mushroom salad; whole sea bass topped with peas, carrots, pine nuts, corn, and sweet-and-sour sauce; and pork meatballs stuffed with salted egg and shrimp. In the package, you also get salt and pepper shrimp, soup dumplings, and eggplant sautéed with basil and jalapeño. The family meal is $128 (serves four to six); a là carte dishes start at $14.95; call to order by February 10 for dine in or takeout at 303-290-6666; 4940 S. Yosemite St., E-8, Greenwood Village
Volcano Asian Cuisine
“Fish is always part of the [Lunar New Year] dinner because it represents abundance,” says Jie Zheng, owner of 10-year-old Volcano Asian Cuisine in Greenwood Village, which serves Chinese and Japanese specialties. “In some areas in China, the fish—yú in simplified Chinese—is included, but not eaten completely. The remainder is stored overnight to honor the Chinese phrase ‘may there be surpluses every year,’ which sounds the same as ‘may there be fish every year.’”
For the Year of the Ox holiday, Zheng recommends ordering Volcano’s whole tilapia—which is fried and served with a special house sauce, cilantro, and sliced peppers and ginger—in addition to the spicy twice-cooked pork with Szechuan chile bean paste and fermented black beans; honey-walnut shrimp; and the tender garlic-spiked sha cha beef. All of the dishes are available year-round. Prices vary; 303-662-8111 to order for dine-in, takeout, and delivery; 9632 E. Arapahoe Rd., Greenwood Village
More Delicious Options
Executive chef Thach Tran is cooking King Crab Longevity Noodles ($48), in which stir-fried egg noodles come laced with rich coconut curry sauce and five-spice butter, topped with tempura-fried crab legs and Thai herbs. Each order comes with crunchy garlic bao and a complimentary red envelope with a scratch ticket that could win you a free dish, a Year of the Ox cocktail, a carafe of sake, and more. Reserve your table online for dine-in on February 12 or call 303-800-7705; 501 E. 17th Ave
At China Cafe II in Aurora, you can pick up hand-made dumplings, steamed fish with soy sauce, chicken with mushrooms, salt and pepper shrimp, and braised pork legs—which symbolize wealth and abundance. According to Leah Cai, daughter of owner Enyun Cai, eating dumplings on the holiday helps ensure that you will have plenty of money in the New Year and that your family will be in good health and can always be together. Prices vary; order online or call 303-369-0330; 16870 W. Iliff Ave., Aurora (not associated with the Chine Cafe II in Westminster)
Whip up a bowl of good health with the help of Hop Alley’s dan dan mien meal kit, which includes all of the ingredients you need to make two large bowls of long-life noodles enhanced with ground pork, pickled mustard greens, cucumbers, peanuts, dan dan sauce, chile crisp, and slow-poached eggs, plus two beers and a bottle of wine. $75; order online for pickup on February 13; 2500 Larimer St.
This beloved south Denver spot has two Lunar New Year specials this year: sea cucumber and abalone cooked in oyster sauce—served on a bed bok choy, as greens symbolize wealth—and pork knuckle served with lotus root. Star Kitchen also offers an extensive menu of other favorites eaten during the holiday, from whole roast duck to wok-fried lobster to shrimp and pork siu mai and whole steamed fish. Prices vary; call 303-936-0089 to order the specials (the regular menu is available for online ordering); 2917 W. Mississippi Ave.
Bonus: Pick up everything you need to celebrate—red envelopes, Year of the Ox decor, snacks, and gifts—at Truong An Gifts’ Lunar Street Market Fair, February 4–11 at the Far East Center on South Federal Blvd. Or order a gift box ($45), curated by the shop in partnership with Asian Avenue Magazine, which includes a sake bottle and cup, lucky cat figurine, gold decorations, chopsticks, Year of the Ox charm, red envelopes, a box of Pocky Sticks, and coupons to local Asian restaurants.