Physical and mental well-being. A healthy bank account. Good fortune. These are all things we could benefit from in 2022—or any time. For those who celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on February 1, 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 arrival of the new moon 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. In 2022, ring in the dawn of the Year of the Tiger—and eat your weight in good fortune—by ordering special dishes like dumplings, noodles, and seafood specialties from these local Chinese restaurants.
Don’t forget to wish your loved ones “Gong hei fat choy,” a traditional Cantonese greeting that translates to “Wishing you great happiness and prosperity.”
For Lisa Wong—chef-owner of WongWayVeg, a food truck that serves comforting vegan fare—her fifth-annual Chinese New Year dim sum menu is a love letter to her grandmother and father’s cooking. “We started the tradition five years ago because my grandma had passed away and I was looking for a way to remember these dishes that she’d make and put [my own] vegan twist on them,” says Wong, who is half Chinese and runs the six-year-old roving restaurant with the help of business partner Natalie Gilbert. “Of course it’s the new year and that’s something to be celebrated—but on a personal level for me, it’s a way to keep that connection through food and share it with everyone.”
WongWayVeg’s spread includes 14 dim-sum-style dishes (meaning they’re meant to be eaten in one or two bites, Wong says) for two people. Highlights include tea-marinated tofu with jasmine pearls, jackfruit ham sui gok (fried glutinous rice dumplings that remind Wong of her childhood), shiitake longevity noodles, tofu char sui skewers, and bao doughnuts with toasted rice ice cream and caramel sauce (a collaboration with Best One Yet ice cream).
Whether WongWayVeg’s festive menu is your first encounter with Lunar New Year or dim sum fare, Wong hopes it inspires patrons to learn more about the respective traditions. “Maybe they’ll look into what people do eat traditionally or what the significance behind these dishes is,” she says. “And that’s really cool.” The two-person meal is $78; order online by January 28 for pick up on February 1 at 1480 Leyden St.
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 13-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 dessert for Lunar New Year of sweet rice dumplings in fermented rice soup that represent togetherness or family reunions. The basin pot ($218, serves at least six) is only available for the holiday, 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 as soon as possible by calling 303-937-9088; 1048 S. Federal Blvd. (Note: 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 two-year-old Meta Asian Kitchen inside Avanti Food & Beverage in LoHi. 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,” Wan says. “Everything is served in abundance, whether it be shrimp, fish, or whole lobster. Those are mainstay foods for celebration banquets.”
To share a taste of their family traditions, Wan and Yuen are giving Denverites the opportunity to make their dumpling or wonton recipes at home Wontons are usually made from a square egg-based wrapper and dumplings are made from a round wheat or flour wrapper, Yuen says.) Each DIY kit—which produces 20 tasty bundles—includes your choice of filling (chicken and chive dumpling or chicken and shrimp wonton); one of four sauces (sweet soy, chile oil and soy vinegar, homemade sambal, or XO); and access to instructional videos on how to fold them.
For those who prefer to leave the work to someone else, Meta Asian Kitchen is also debuting some new menu items for the occasion, including chicken and shrimp wontons tossed in the restaurant’s version of the popular Hong Kong XO sauce—a recipe inspired by Yuen’s father that’s made with dried scallops, dried shrimp, and chiles. Other specials available include Wan’s Hong Kong–style vegan curry (also a beloved family recipe) and Taiwanese-inspired steak and eggs jian bing, strips of juicy steak, scrambled eggs, fresh cilantro, bean sprouts, and hoisin sauce sandwiched between two flaky scallion pancakes. You can also order Meta’s best-selling staples like fried spring rolls, pan-seared Chinatown Dumplings (stuffed with chicken and chives), and Sizzling Spicy Noodles (chewy wheat noodles kissed with tongue-numbing Sichuan seasoning).
“Eating noodles during Lunar New Year in Chinese culture represents longevity,” Yuen says. “Dumplings and fried spring rolls represent gold in ancient China. We eat these items during the new year to bring luck, wealth, health, and prosperity.” The dumpling and wonton kits are $38; a là cart dishes start at $7.50; order online January 24–27; 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 and owns the 22-year-old restaurant 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 for carry out. The meal includes a rich soup studded with pork belly, short ribs, and salted and fresh bamboo; slow-cooked, bone-in duck; xiaolongbao (soup dumplings); whole red snapper with ginger, scallion, and soy sauce; and giant pork meatballs on a bed of napa cabbage. In the package, you also get eggplant sautéed with basil and jalapeño, vegetable spring rolls, and red-bean-paste-stuffed sesame balls. The family meal is $138 (serves four); a là carte dishes start at $4.75; available now through February 6 (two-hour advanced ordering recommended for the family meal); 303-290-6666; 4940 S. Yosemite St., E-8, Greenwood Village
Ku Cha House of Tea
For many Chinese families, tea is an essential part of life, says Rong Pan, who owns Ku Cha House of Tea with husband Qin Liu—but the drink has more significance during the Lunar New Year. “Two weeks before and after Chinese New Year, we have a huge migration of Chinese people who study or work outside of their hometown to travel back to their homes in China. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving,” says Pan, who is a native of Jiangsu province. “And if I visit a Chinese family or relatives, the first thing they give you is a cup of tea to warm you up. It’s a standard greeting all the time but particularly during Chinese New Year.”
While children and youngsters receive red envelopes as gifts for the holiday, loose leaf teas, including oolong, green, and chrysanthemum varieties, are popular presents among adults. This year, Ku Cha is selling a special, perfect-for-gifting variety box of six rare rock oolong teas: The Taste of Wu Yi grows in the rocky terroir of southeast China’s northern Fujian province and is known for its sweet, slightly acidic, and fragrant flavors, Pan says. Ku Cha, which has four locations across the Front Range and an online store, also offers dozens of other loose-leaf Chinese teas to gift or enjoy with friends and family. $70 for the Taste of Wu Yi (six single serving bags), prices vary for other teas; order online or shop in store
More Delicious Options
Ace Eat Serve
For the holiday, executive chef Thach Tran is cooking Sizzling Sichuan Chile Lobster, whole lobster and prawns stir fried with Sichuan chile sauce, snow peas, lotus root, and sweet potato noodles, while executive pastry Chef Michael Kurowski is baking a special tangerine crepe cake, a sweet treat layered with milk tea cream, brown sugar boba, and tangerine caramel. Each order comes with a house-made, scratch-off fortune card that gives patrons the chance to win complimentary ping-pong, brunch, or dessert menu items, a Year of the Tiger cocktail (a drink infused with Plantation Rum and Giffard Banane Du Brésil Liqueur), and more. The lobster is $47, the crepe cake is $9, and the Year of the Tiger cocktail is 12; February 4 or 5; reserve your table online or call 303-800-7705; 501 E. 17th Ave
China Cafe II
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 China Cafe II in Westminster)
Pig and Tiger
Darren Chang and Travis Masar’s Taiwanese food stall inside Avanti Food & Beverage in Boulder has two New Year specials on deck: lobster cream cheese wontons with five-pepper Sichuan jelly and shrimp wonton noodle soup—shrimp wontons, shrimp sautéed with ginger, wonton noodles, and bok choy in a shrimp-lobster broth. “The wontons reimagine one of our childhood takeout favorites and the addition of some lobster symbolizes prosperity for the new year,” they said in an email. “[In the soup], the shrimp wontons bring happiness, good fortune, wealth, and prosperity to the new year, while wonton noodles help start new beginnings and bring longevity.” All patrons will also receive a lucky red bag packed with prizes like cash, merchandise, or gift cards with the purchase of either of the dishes. The wontons are $13 and the soup is $16; they are both available for in-person ordering starting February 1 until supplies run out; 1401 Pearl St.
This beloved Athmar Park spot has two Lunar New Year specials this year: sea cucumber and abalone—both ingredients that 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. The restaurant will also host lion dance performances at 10:30 a.m. on February 5. Prices vary; call 303-936-0089 to order the specials (the regular menu is available for online ordering); 2917 W. Mississippi Ave.
Chefs Anthony and Anna Nguyen of Sắp Sửa (a forthcoming Vietnamese concept) and Long and Shauna Nguyen of Pho King Rapidos (a Vietnamese fusion food truck) unite to take over the kitchen at Union Station’s Sunday Vinyl to produce a six-course dinner celebrating the Year of the Tiger on February 1. While the event is nearly sold out, a waitlist is available for those interested in attending. $125 per person; 1803 16th St.
Bonus: Pick up everything you need to celebrate—red envelopes, Year of the Tiger decor, snacks, and gifts—at Truong An Gifts’ 28th annual Lunar New Year celebration, January 24–February 6 at the Far East Center on South Federal Boulevard. The street fair will take place January 24–31, while the gift shop will host lion dances, martial arts, and other performances on February 5–6, from 11 a.m.–4 p.m.