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I’m not going to bury the lead here: Chopstickers makes Denver’s best soup dumplings.
Originating in the Shanghai region and popularized globally by Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, xiaolongbao traditionally contain three components: a thin, unleavened wheat wrapper; a simple pork filling; and a chicken- or pork-based aspic, which is diced and folded into the filling and melts into soup when the dumplings are steamed. When done right, soup dumplings ascend to the most savory and unctuous of culinary echelons, but their simple appearance belies their technical intricacies. In reality, many restaurants’ xiaolongbao are falling apart, tough to chew, or worst of all, bone-dry.
So what makes Chopstickers the best soup dumpling spot in Denver? And how should one even judge the thing?
To find out, I conducted a highly scientific survey—an Instagram story poll—and asked my followers what factor they think is most important when assessing a soup dumpling. Two main camps emerged. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they believe the texture of the wrapper—thin, lightly chewy, and above all, structurally sound so that the soup stays inside—is most important. Thirty-six percent proposed that an abundance of soup should decide the best of the best. I fall into the latter camp.
After trying a wide assortment of soup dumplings around the Denver metro area, I’ve determined that Chopstickers rises above its competitors on both measures. Co-owners Zhijian Liu and Mengjiao Li first started the fast-casual eatery in Fort Collins two years ago, but with the opening of a downtown Denver location (on California Street, between 16th and 17th streets) in May, plenty of Front Rangers can now dive into these sumptuous bites.
I paid my first visit to the Denver outpost earlier this month.When I arrived, my dining companions—former 5280 staffer Callie Sumlin and Laura Young, founder of New Denizen—were already discussing the menu. None of us had been to Chopstickers, but we had heard plenty of hype from friends who had visited the Fort Collins location. It was my first meal of the day; I was ready to eat, and expectations were high.
Chopstickers delivered. The first thing I noticed was that these soup dumplings are not folded like most xiaolongbao. Instead of coming to a point, the pleats of dough form a small ring at the top which creates an ideal spot to grab with chopsticks. Especially for novices, this means less struggling to pick the dumpling up and far less of a chance of puncturing the skin. Out of the 16 dumplings we ordered, I don’t recall a single one breaking.
Oftentimes, this thicker knob of dough doesn’t steam through, remaining chewy and tough. At Chopstickers, the entire wrapper is fully cooked, supple, and strong. My only criticism may be that the dough is just a little thick for my taste (probably by a millimeter or so). I was pleasantly surprised, though, that even as the soup dumplings cooled, they did not dry out.
Most important, Chopstickers’ soup dumplings have plenty of soup. In my opinion, many soup dumplings in Denver struggle with this; instead of gushing, they merely seem like their filling is juicy. Chopstickers’ soup is pleasantly fatty but not greasy, and clean both visually and flavorwise. There’s a gentle waft of ginger and alliums in the mix, but on the whole, the taste is properly pork-forward.
The xiaolongbao weren’t the only dumplings we tried; we also ordered the shrimp and chive water-fried bao and the pork potstickers. Both came out beautifully golden brown and were delicious. But if you only try one item at Chopstickers, I’d suggest going with the soup dumplings. And if I find that another eatery’s xiaolongbao unseats the current champion, you’ll no doubt hear of it.