Nestled among markets and coffee shops in a quaint plaza off Parker Road in Aurora is Colorado’s only Uzbek eatery. At tables under the dim light of Samarkand Restaurant’s elegant chandeliers, Uzbek families order favorites, while newcomers peruse the concise 15-item menu of nine appetizers and six entrées. By offering traditional fare from his native land in a homey atmosphere, which has remained largely unchanged since its opening in 2015, owner Shavkat Mumin serves the local Uzbek community.

Mumin grew up in Uzbekistan through its earliest years of independence beginning in 1991. Political unrest shook the republic, crippling its economy and causing spikes in food insecurity. “If you grew up in America, there were a lot of food options—Chinese cuisine, Italian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, and so many more,” says Mumin, who was only nine when his home country separated from the Soviet Union. “Life was different [in Uzbekistan], and any food was a shining gem during that time.” Mumin witnessed firsthand citizens going hungry for days on end, struggling to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

A few tables with blue chairs and Uzbek paintings on the wall.
Samarkand’s interior. Photo by Visvajit Sriramrajan

Ten years later, in 2001, Mumin hopped on a plane to the United States to seek a better life. “I stayed in New York at first, with my biological father, and worked all kinds of odd jobs—as a gas station attendant, a hotelier, a house cleaner, a mover,” he says, eventually following his mother and stepfather to Colorado later that year and working long-term as a trucker. “But I wasn’t content. I missed the food of my country and I wanted to do something about it.” With no Uzbek restaurants in the state, Mumin took it upon himself to fill the niche and open Samarkand, allowing him to re-access the food of his childhood and give back to Colorado’s small, but close-knit Uzbek community.

“It’s special how people interact with food… There are so many options for bread, but I still only eat obi non,” Mumin says, referring to a traditional bread dish popular at Samarkand. At the Aurora establishment, hungry customers can smell the fluffy, yeasted loaves baking in the kitchen even before they’re seated at a table. The lightly honey-sweetened bread is indented in the center using a stamp called a “checkich.” Obi non, though delicious on its own, is even better dipped in lagman—an Uzbek pulled noodle soup cooked with red onions, potatoes, tomatoes, Bulgarian peppers, and turnips.

Top-down shot of four Uzbek dumplings.
Mantu at Samarkand. Photo by Visvajit Sriramrajan

The lyulya kebab is a must-try. Unlike traditional kebabs of cubed meat and vegetables, these skewered eats are made with a mixture of minced beef, onions, and sheep tail fat, which are coal-grilled, sprinkled with sumac, and served with lavash (a common Western Asian flatbread). Other meat-and-carb dishes like the mantu, four tender beef dumplings served with a lemon and garlic yogurt sauce, and the pilav, a hearty long-grain rice dish with lamb, onion, and carrot, are also worth ordering.

Eight years after Samarkand Restaurant’s initial opening, Mumin is proud of what he’s built here in Colorado. “I never could have imagined as a teenager in Uzbekistan that this is where I’d be today,” he says.

1842 South Parker Road, Aurora