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Hello, dumpling lovers. I’m assuming that, if you’re here, you have an interest in Denver’s dumpling scene and which delicious dough-wrapped parcels it can offer your palate. In that case, a monthly column on the delightfully alliterative concept sounds like the journalism of your dreams.
Or perhaps you’re thinking, “Dumplings? Of all the things 5280 could cover—why dumplings?”
If you’re in the latter camp, let me first introduce myself. I’m Ethan, and I’ve been 5280’s assistant food editor since last November. You might’ve seen me helming the monthly Local Foodie or poking my less-than-sensitive nose in plates around Denver to deliver pithy descriptions of dishes throughout our magazine and website.
What you may not know is that I am also a highly opinionated dumpling diner. Blame my family. Almost every week of my childhood, my mother or grandmother would ladle their homemade 馄饨 (wontons) over seaweed and dried baby shrimp for dinner, and I quickly learned that black vinegar—not soy sauce—is the most important condiment for Chinese-style dumplings. At age 11, my dad taught me what I believe is the only valid method of consuming xiaolongbao: Lift the parcel into a spoon, nibble a hole at the top carefully to ensure the soup stays inside, blow to cool it down, then eat it all in one bite.
It’s good timing, then, that Denver is in the midst of an unprecedented dumpling movement. Since March, at least eight dumpling restaurants in the Denver metro area have swung open their doors, with upcoming debuts—Yuan Wonton’s brick-and-mortar, for one—keeping locals waiting with bated breath. While I have no claim toward being a dumpling “expert” (I’m usually the worst folder at Lunar New Year banquets), I know when one has achieved that delicious balance between filling and wrapper, of flavor and texture.
As such, it’s my duty to keep you up-to-date on the best of Denver’s dumpling scene. Along the way, we’ll be answering questions, like “What makes a dumpling a dumpling?” What makes Molotov Kitschen’s Ukrainian varenyky different from Samarkand’s Uzbek mantu? What makes Terra’s squash tortellini in black garlic brodo and pickled peppers and Yummy Dumpling’s pork wontons in chile oil so similar? And how does Black-eyed Pea’s chicken and dumplings special possibly warrant its name?
I’ll be seeking answers from local chefs and producers with actual dumpling expertise, but I offer Merriam Webster’s definition of “a small mass of dough cooked by boiling or steaming” as an example of how nebulous, yet ubiquitous the concept is. This inquiry, hence, will be ongoing.
In the meantime, here are some preliminary findings on three delicious dumplings in Denver to start your search for the best bites.
3 Denver Dumplings to Try Now
Pork & Shepherd’s Purse Dumplings from LingLon Dumpling House
Shepherd’s purse does not garner much attention in the U.S., but the leafy green’s subtle peppery flavor and silky texture when wilted makes it ideal for dumplings like the ones at LingLon Dumpling House in University Hills. This dumpling spot, which opened in April, serves eight of these delicate bites per steamer basket; pair it with an order of xiaolongbao for an extra filling meal for one. Pro tip: multiple baskets will come stacked, and eating through one all the way will help keep the other from drying out.
Blood Sausage Wontons from Brasserie Brixton
This deep-fried offering from eclectic French eatery Brasserie Brixton in Cole takes the shape of a traditional wonton and completely upends its typical flavor. While the homemade wrappers are thicker and slightly harder to chew than those in similar dishes like crab rangoons, it works for two reasons: One, it stays crunchy despite sitting in a pool of tamari vinaigrette and chile crisp, and two, it balances out the strong flavor of the blood sausage filling, which is not shy about its slightly metallic funk but gels well with the piquant sauce.
Malai Kofta Gnocchi from Spuntino
Ricotta-potato dumplings are dumplings, too. These golden nuggets from chef Cindhura Reddy’s Spuntino are coated in a luscious Indian-spiced tomato sauce and dotted with toasted cashews, red onion, and cilantro. As one of the Highland eatery’s best examples of its Italian-Indian fusion technique, it’s undeniable that even if this dish is not strictly a wrapper around a filling, it puts respect on the dumpling name.