Although I’ve been in Colorado long enough (more than 20 years) that it has become home, I was born in the Mountain State: West Virginia. Growing up in Charleston in the 1980s made for an idyllic childhood, but the town wasn’t exactly a dining destination. Bob Evans, Shoney’s, and Bennigan’s were rotating dinner-out options for my family—and 50,000-plus other Charlestonians. Yes, there was a nice-ish seafood restaurant at the mall and an upscale-ish New American place with a decent bar, but for the most part, the buffet of eateries was small, bland, and uniform. That’s likely why I remember the first time I tasted kung pao beef at a small spot called China Imperial, one of the very few Asian restaurants in a city that was just as homogenous as its food.
The Sichuan dish was a revelation for me. It’s been more than three decades, but I still remember how the peppercorns made my tongue tingle. I wish I’d been bold enough at the time to ask the owners about the spicy sauce or where they got their recipes or how they ended up opening a Sichuan restaurant in West Virginia, of all places. As an elementary-age kid, my reporter chops still needed a little honing.
Fortunately, food editor Patricia Kaowthumrong and associate food editor Riane Menardi Morrison are pros. For this issue’s “The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Food in Denver,” the duo asked all the right questions to take you on a tour of the Chinese food landscape in the Mile High City while exploring the historical origins of many of the dishes you think you know—but may not.
Since I left Charleston at age 12, I’ve been lucky to live in and visit more diverse cities with equally varied food scenes. I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel to China, where I experienced its rich history, inquisitive people, and culinary depth and breadth. Still, there has never been a moment for me like that first bite of kung pao beef, which opened my taste buds to a world beyond my own. I sincerely hope that something in our pages broadens your horizons in some way, too.