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Until just a couple of years ago, residents of the northern suburbs had to commute to Federal Boulevard to satisfy their appetites for Asian cuisine that went beyond Chinese and Vietnamese takeout staples. But rising commercial real estate prices in Denver and Boulder and the appeal of underserved markets in surrounding cities have recently led restaurateurs serving everything from dumplings and Korean fried chicken to hot pot and boba tea to bring their businesses to Denver’s suburbs. The wave of migration has been particularly noticeable along U.S. 36.
One of those restaurateurs is Thuy Le, a co-founder of the now-closed T-Wa Inn, Denver’s first Vietnamese restaurant, and former owner of Boulder’s 30-year-old Chez Thuy, a citadel of Vietnamese cuisine now owned by her son. Last December, Thuy launched Tu’s Kitchen along the 120th Avenue corridor in a Broomfield strip mall with several other businesses that popped up in 2023, including Kirin Hot Pot and Hong Guan Chinese Restaurant. Thuy chose to bring Tu’s—an unfussy eatery offering a massive menu of roughly 100 Vietnamese dishes—to the suburbs instead of Boulder to have a larger kitchen to accommodate catering gigs.
Those acquainted with Chez Thuy’s menu of Vietnamese classics will find Tu’s bill of fare somewhat familiar—but with new creations that diners will find to be much more savory than saccharine. While pho and noodle bowls are still the most popular selections, there’s a huge payoff if you move beyond those mainstays and build a spread of lesser-known specialties to share in the approximately 70-seat, kitschy dining room furnished with live plants and art depicting scenes in Vietnam and China.
Before exploring the unknown, though, the fresh spring rolls are an uncommonly delicious iteration of a common dish. In my experience, the quality of this particular starter is an excellent predictor of how the rest of the meal at any Vietnamese restaurant will go. Tired fillings, a dry and rubbery rice paper wrapper, or an off-tasting dipping sauce can portend bad things to come. Not at Tu’s. Thuy’s perfect parcels delivered on every count: Plump shrimp and slices of moist char siu (sweet-barbecue-glazed pork) were rolled in silky wrappers with bright herbs and paired with a traditional nutty dipping sauce.
The need for something conventional sated, my dining companions and I dove into the menu’s recesses. The snails, a rare find outside of Denver, were the most intriguing course. The mollusks arrived in their shells atop a sizzling cast-iron plate adorned with fragrant basil and rich, earthy garlic butter and tasted closer to clams freshly plucked from the sea than the more mud-flavored escargot I’ve had the displeasure of sampling elsewhere. They were pudgy and firm rather than rubbery, and rivaled classic French versions in terms of both preparation and texture.
The soft-shell crabs, whole crustaceans that are lightly battered and fried to a golden crisp, were impeccable. The inherent sweetness of the shellfish was accentuated by the accompanying lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, and tangle of rice noodles, while the attendant fish-sauce-based dip introduced sweet and salty notes. We enjoyed piling the crab and its accouterments into the lettuce and eating it all together as a wrap.
If you’re a vegetarian, you don’t have to worry about the same old, same old, either. One substantial option at Tu’s is the vegetarian hot pot, which features bean curd, eggplant, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, zucchini, chayote (a type of squash), peanuts, and cashews. Everything was cooked in a creamy, coconut-based sauce that closely resembled a very mild curry, a dressing I used liberally on the steamed rice.
As a frequent diner, I’m aware that when I adventure past a menu’s typical staples—particularly when that menu has 100 items—I might encounter some, well, misadventures. Two dishes that I ordered during both of my visits—the quail and lamb chops—differed in quality each time but were still serviceable. The three bone-in birds were topped with a black-pepper-heavy sweet and sour sauce, while the generously portioned lamb chops sported a five-spice and wine marinade. The seasonings—as well as a side of bracing, fish-sauce-laced slaw—were always on point, but each protein was overcooked on my second helping. While the dishes were still enjoyable, memories of those earlier preparations, with spot-on rareness, made me pine for the previous dinner.
The reality that I was, in fact, longing for Tu’s food means those minor missteps won’t keep me from returning. And I know I am not alone: While the dining room is small and the strip mall location isn’t exactly swanky, the crowds suggest that crave-worthy Vietnamese cuisine is worth seeking out no matter where it might be.
6500 W. 120th Ave., Broomfield
The Draw: Big menu of well-known and original creations rooted in Vietnamese tradition
The Drawback: Inconsistent preparation
Noise Level: Low
Don’t Miss: Fresh spring rolls, soft-shell crab, quail, lamb chops
You don’t have to travel to Ho Chi Minh City to devour Vietnamese-inspired preparations of fresh- and saltwater dwellers. Try them at these local spots instead. —CF, PK & Ethan Pan
Vietnamese Cajun fare has roots in New Orleans, where many Southeast Asian immigrants settled after the Vietnam War. Dig into a seafood boil, one of the cuisine’s staples, at this casual, nearly 17-month-old eatery in Lakewood, where whole shrimp, crawfish, and other plucked-from-the-water delights are coated in finger-licking sauces. 6981 W. Alaska Drive, Lakewood
For more than 35 years, diners have cracked open an assortment of succulent shellfish at this relaxed eatery. Drizzle steamed cherrystone clams with ginger-infused fish sauce, or split a spicy-sour stew replete with mussels, squid, and lobster tails among a few of your friends. 630 S. Federal Blvd.
At Viet’s, patrons can choose from a variety of fruits de mer, from periwinkle snails to razor clams, prepared in their choice of sauce. Indulge in the platter of grilled lobster tails crowned with melted butter and onions or the scallops sautéed with black mushrooms. 333 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 125