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Yuan Wonton is perhaps Denver’s hottest new restaurant right now. Chef-owner Penelope Wong transformed her hit dumpling food truck into a brick-and-mortar earlier this month, and within hours of opening for reservations, ravenous devotees had booked out most of the prime time slots for a month.
The eatery piqued many fans’ curiosity when it announced its tripartite format. The Park Hill spot houses Yuan Wonton itself, serving on Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Friday mornings; Thuy, a Vietnamese concept from fellow food truck Pho King Rapidos, which serves on Friday and Saturday evenings and collaborates with Yuan Wonton on Thursday evenings; and Sweets & Sourdough, a retail bakeshop open Thursday to Sunday mornings. That means the menu will be completely different depending on what time you step in.
I’ll admit: I had not tried Yuan Wonton until last week. Her food truck had drummed up so much hype that its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it presale orders and dizzying day-of lines admittedly scared me off. Once I heard of the imminent brick-and-mortar, I decided to just bide my time.
Boy, was it worth it. These dumplings are spot-on flavorwise, their wrappers are folded precisely, and they’re never under or overcooked.
But the best part of Yuan Wonton’s dumplings is their creativity. Each one pays serious homage to Chinese tradition but carries its own special flair. Wong often calls these twists her “ABC version” of the traditional dishes, referring to her American-born Chinese identity. At its heart, Wong’s menu is a tribute to her family members, many of whom she has lost, and a reclamation of her childhood, both good and bad.
“There’s a lot of identity loss growing up ABC,” Wong says. “The memories I have [of my family], they’re all in the kitchen.”
As an American-born Chinese myself, I’m affirmed by Wong’s bear-hug embrace of this hybrid identity we share. So often when discussing diasporic cuisines, we mourn the loss of “authenticity.” Wong seems to take it as a freedom to experiment, not a handicap.
You might not pick up on all these bits of experimentation in her dumplings. That’s alright, but I’d argue that having the knowledge makes them even more delicious. So, from an American-born Chinese perspective, here’s the guide to every Yuan Wonton dumpling (until her menu rotates again).
Yuan Wonton OG Chile Oil Wontons
The Tradition: Hong Kong–style wontons—pork and shrimp filling wrapped in a yellow-hued egg dough.
The Twist: Dressing the wontons with Sichuan chile oil and a house sauce instead of the common Cantonese preparation of serving them in a noodle soup.
Yuan Wonton Sichuan Eggplant Dumplings
The Tradition: Sichuan yuxiang eggplant, which strikes a mouth-watering balance between sweet, sour, salty, and spicy.
The Twist: Puréeing yuxiang eggplant—which Wong, who was a vegetarian for 15 years, frequently made for herself—and stuffing it into dough to make vegan dumplings.
Yuan Wonton XL Xiao Long Bao
The Tradition: The beloved soup dumpling’s classic shape and pork filling.
The Twist: Wong’s palm-size xiao long bao are packed with soup jelly—an aspic rich with collagen from chicken feet instead of pork rind—that melts into a savory broth after it’s cooked.
Khao Soi Chicken Wontons
The Tradition: Khao soi, a noodle soup popular in Thailand—where Wong also has roots—Myanmar, and Laos.
The Twist: Taking the usual components of khao soi—a curry broth, pickled mustard greens, onion, and lime—but swapping out the rice noodles for delicate chicken and chive wontons.
Shelby J’s (Sheng Jian Bao)
The Tradition: Sheng jian bao is a pan-fried pork bun commonly found in the Chinese cities of Suzhou and Shanghai. The most traditional version has a thin skin plus soup inside (read: it’s a technical nightmare to prepare) and is my personal favorite type of dumpling.
The Twist: Yuan Wonton swaps the thin wrapper for a fluffy, yeasted dough to produce the version you’ll most often find in the U.S. Wong, however, does want to develop a recipe for the traditional version.
Hot & Sour Chicken & Ginger Wontons
The Tradition: Shanghai-style wontons, which unlike Hong Kong wontons use a white eggless dough and are usually served by themselves in soup.
The Twist: First, these wontons have a chicken filling instead of pork. Second, Wong tops the soup with a variety of herbs, as well as condiments usually found on Sichuanese chaoshou wontons—chile oil, black vinegar, and sesame seeds. “A lot of [the flavor choices] come from my own taste preferences,” says Wong.
Chinese Chive Pockets
The Tradition: Jiucai hezi, a simple flour-and-water dough enveloping a healthy portion of garlic chives, scrambled egg, mini shrimp, and cellophane noodles. The pocket (or literally “box” in Chinese) is then pan-fried until crispy.
The Twist: Wong takes out the scrambled egg and shrimp and replaces them with tofu to keep the dish vegan.