Dragonfly Noodle

1350 16th Street Mall
The Draw: Rare-in-Denver fresh ramen noodles, affordably priced dishes, friendly service
The Draw Back: A slightly sloppy dining area
Noise Level: Low
Don’t Miss: Spicy bulgogi bao; yaki udon with rib-eye; Miso Happy ramen

In 2010, Edwin Zoe opened Zoe Ma Ma for his mother, Anna. He hoped having a restaurant where she could cook the homestyle Taiwanese and Chinese foods she’d made for him growing up would help her cope with the recent loss of her husband. Anna could fuss over dumplings and braised beef soups, Edwin figured, instead of her son.

But Dragonfly Noodle—which launched in Boulder in May 2022 and opened a second location this past July on LoDo’s 16th Street Mall—is for Edwin. The elevated fast-casual eatery’s menu has everything he, and so many of us, love: steaming bowls of long-simmered ramen; slick, chewy, stir-fried noodles; and pillowy bao stuffed with seasoned meats and spicy sauces.

“Dragonfly is definitely driven by my belly,” says Zoe, who was a 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist for outstanding restaurateur for his two outposts of Zoe Ma Ma and now-defunct Chimera (which became the Boulder location of Dragonfly). “Coming out of the pandemic,” he says, “I wanted to focus on my core passion, which is noodles.”

Portrait of Edwin Zoe, owner of Dragonfly Noodle.
Edwin Zoe, owner of Dragonfly Noodle. Photo by Sarah Banks

In Denver, five versions of steamed buns—ranging from panko-breaded eggplant with Sriracha-ginger aïoli to spicy bulgogi with kimchi to hoisin-spiked roast duck—kick off the concise menu. The bao, about the size of your fist and folded taco-style, are fluffy and slightly sweet. The rich duck iteration is filled with crunchy shallots but wants for a crispier bird skin, while the Korean-style bulgogi—laced with julienne and cross-cut scallions, a zing of miso aïoli, and kicky fermented cabbage—is freshness on a plate.

In the winter, though, I want the comfort and soul-warming properties found in ramen, especially when the bowls are filled with Dragonfly’s house-made noodles. Zoe says he only knows of one other local restaurant (Sunnyside’s Ramen Star) that makes its own strands, possibly because of the expense of dough-making machines. With his Tokyo-sourced, $40,000 Yamato machine, Zoe crafts ramen noodles and then suspends them in one of two base broths. The miso-bonito, a mix of fermented miso paste and dried, shaved bonito fish, has a subtly smoky flavor, and the tonkotsu soup gains milkiness and meaty, hearty notes from pork bones boiled overnight.

The butter-poached Maine lobster rendition might be the most tempting, as the tail floats among cloud ear mushrooms, slick seaweed, a skein of fresh-made noodles, and crunchy bean sprouts. You’ll taste the richness in each bite, and at $29, you’ll pay for the indulgence. I actually preferred the simpler—and more budget-friendly—preparation found in the $12 Miso Happy ramen, which features the same accoutrements and miso-bonito broth as the lobster but is topped with super-tender, yakitori-grilled chicken thighs instead. I don’t typically get poultry in ramen for fear of encountering chunks of dried-out breast meat, but the mix of sweet and umami flavors in the organic sugar and tamari marinade, plus the smokiness from the grill, was something I’d happily eat by the skewerful.

Dragonfly Noodle’s yaki udon stir-fry stars steak and shiitake mushrooms. Photo by Sarah Banks

Even though the yaki udon and Singapore noodle plates don’t feature house-made noodles (Edwin’s machine only produces ramen), they’re still worth ordering. The former comes with thinly sliced, melt-in-your-mouth rib-eye steak, seared at high heat and hit with yakitori sauce. The silky ribbons are so soft and slippery that you’ll be forced to slurp the carb-loaded goodness. The Singaporean dish—a web of threadlike rice noodles tossed in curry sauce with slivers of celery and carrots, scrambled egg, and a handful of giant shrimp—is light on the spice and delicious, but it didn’t leave me craving another bite quite like the udon.

With all my bao and noodle desires sated, there was one area where I was left wanting: the environment. Dragonfly took over a space that previously housed fast-casual Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, but despite a radical renovation, you still order everything—including sake and soju-based cocktails—at a counter. Then eager and attentive servers deliver steaming bowls of goodness to tables in the bright dining area. I’ll admit I was a little confused by the hybrid, fast-casual-slash-dine-in model on my first visit and, honestly, I really didn’t love feasting on such thoughtfully made fare while facing the bussing station full of trash cans, dirty dishes, and empty beer bottles. I will say, however, that when I came with my kids for a second meal, I appreciated the quick-paced experience far more.

Zoe may have created Dragonfly with his preferences in mind, but it’s a restaurant with mass appeal. High-quality noodle-centric dishes, a focused menu, and mostly accessible prices make it pretty darn likable. Turns out, Dragonfly is a restaurant for everyone.

Sake Swell

Death & Co.’s cocktail, The Direct Flight. Photo courtesy of Shawn Campbell

Coloradans are suckers for sake, the rice-based beverage that’s brewed similarly to beer but sips somewhere between a wine and a spirit. One piece of evidence? RiNo is home to one of only 20 sake breweries in the United States. “[People in] Denver are very much into the food scene, and they want to try new drinks,” says William Stewart, co-owner of five-year-old Colorado Sake Co. Once relegated to Japanese menus, sake can now be ordered at a variety of bars and restaurants across town. Here’s where to taste the spectrum.

Colorado Sake Co.

The state’s only sake brewery and tasting room, Colorado Sake Co. in RiNo produces 12 on-tap variations, including the herbaceous, serrano-pepper-spiced Green Machine and the Bee’s Knees, made with Grand Junction–sourced lavender. Last summer, the spot canned the world’s first sake seltzers, available in yuzu ginger, lime, blood orange, and mixed berry.

Death & Co.

Bartenders at this swanky lobby bar inside RiNo’s Ramble Hotel incorporate the Japanese beverage into cocktails. The Direct Flight, shaken with Tozai Snow Maiden junmai nigori sake, lemongrass sochu, lime, and maraschino liqueur, is a fan favorite.

Glo Noodle House

West Highland’s Glo Noodle House serves 20 different types of the fermented rice drink, so in order to try a few, we suggest ordering a flight. Adventurous quaffers should try the Fun & Funky lineup: four two-ounce pours of hard-to-find sakes with unique flavor profiles such as a beefy, umami-heavy rendition and one flavored with yuzu, which gives it sweet and tart notes.