Hidden Vietnamese

Penn Station Coffee | Uptown

Tucked behind the 17th Avenue Orange Theory Fitness studio in Uptown, Penn Station Coffee is a tiny, unassuming, utterly wonderful hidden gem. Owner Jessica Thai, a Vietnam native who opened the shop in 2016, has dotted her daytime cafe menu (lattes, breakfast pastries, turkey sandwiches) with specialties from her childhood. Your choice of succulent barbecue pork, chicken, or tofu fills Penn Station’s banh mi, built with the perfect proportion of fresh herbs, cucumber, pickled carrot, and rich paté on a warm, toasty-edged French roll; the same proteins also top noodle and rice bowls. “Hu tieu” (a spicy noodle soup redolent of lemongrass), cool pork- or shrimp-filled spring rolls, and sweet, rich Vietnamese coffee are equally welcome, especially given the dearth of high-quality, classic Vietnamese fare immediately east of downtown Denver.

Middle Eastern with Flair

Ash’Kara | LoHi

Silky hummus, tender pita, and crisp falafel may be what lure you to Ash’Kara. But the chic four-month-old restaurant from chef Daniel Asher and the team behind neighboring Señor Bear offers more than just brilliant versions of familiar Mediterranean dishes. Drawing on travel, time spent on his family’s kibbutz in the Western Galilee, and a childhood fueled by Middle Eastern food in Montreal, Asher lets his creativity flow through Ash’Kara’s menu. Vibrant small plates range from Spanish octopus with garlicky “zhug” (a spicy cilantro sauce) to wood-roasted carrots with pistachio “dukka” (an Egyptian spice blend). Large-format dishes—like date-molasses-glazed duck with a roasted veggie tagine—enliven family-style dining. And even cocktails, such as the Peace-full with yogurt and pomegranate syrup, are elevated by far-flung flavors.

Chicken, via Australia

Chook | Platt Park

Fast-casual, family-friendly, bright, and funky: Chook couldn’t be more different from its cozy wine bar predecessor, the Village Cork. The four-month-old eatery is not only bringing a fresh kind of neighborhood establishment to Old South Pearl, but it’s also introducing diners to its Australian namesake, charcoal-grilled chicken (aka “chook”). Mercantile Dining & Provision chefs Alex Seidel and Matt Vawter are responsible for the juicy rotisserie meat, which is mopped with “chermoula” (a Moroccan paprika and herb marinade) as it sizzles over the coals. Sold by the quarter, half, and whole bird, it’s a tasty meal on its own, but we love it pulled, doused in peppery gravy, and tucked into squishy slider buns. Batched cocktails, fresh veggie sides, and from-scratch pudding are just a few more tasty reasons why you’ll find yourself returning to this new gathering place again and again.


The number of humanely raised chickens Chook rotisserie-grills every day

Photo by Sarah Boyum.

Spice Up Your Life

Forget Old Bay. A new DIY blend bar in Aurora lets you create your own perfect seasoning mix.

If you’ve eaten the glorious burger at Boulder’s Blackbelly Market, you’ve already tasted the handiwork of Zach Johnston’s five-year-old culinary seasoning company, the Spice Guy. In addition to the blend of paprika, garlic, sugar, salt, and Worcestershire powder it makes for Blackbelly, the Spice Guy crafts aromatic wares for 500-plus other restaurants and brands across Colorado. Luckily for home chefs, Johnston recently expanded his business to include an Aurora production facility with a blending bar where visitors can concoct custom mixes for $12 per pound. Staffers are on hand to help you navigate more than 200 spices—ranging from gourmet salts to Hatch green chile powder to ground ginger—which you can combine to your liking. Or, if you’d rather leave the blending to the masters, pick up one of the Spice Guy’s signature seasonings, including the Perfect Burger variety that makes Blackbelly’s patties so unbelievably tasty. —Chloe Barrett

This article was originally published in 5280 April 2019.
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen is 5280’s former food editor. She oversaw all of 5280’s food-related coverage from October 2016 to March 2021.