It’s hard to argue that Denver and Boulder are ideal places to drop a wad for a night out at the cafe d’jour.
However, if you want different, really different, you want to head to Aurora. Here the melding of languages and groceries from all over the world end up on plates only the lucky few have grown bored with.
Sure, the city now has its own share of small bites and big prices, but Aurora has what nowhere else in the metroplex has: culinary huzzah.
This is where spicy meets flavors, smells and textures you’d have to pay hundreds for to fly to the places where they originate.
Stunning Asian street foods, succulent African stews, fiery Mexican treats, astounding Middle-eastern breads are minutes from each other, affordable, and so much more memorable than your next $18 burger.
Here are a few staff favorites to tempt you to this side of Havana Street.
Dae Bok | Ttuk-Bokki
2648 S Parker Road, Unit 11
The optimal hangover food should be a spicy broth, simmering over a butane stove. To avoid a painful Yelp search the day after too many vodka sodas, I’ll make it easy: ttuk-bokki.
The Korean dish is most easily described as a spicy stew made with rice cakes — really big noodles, chopped like huge grains of rice — and fermented hot pepper paste. Add in anchovies, fish cakes, boiled eggs and green onions. It’s a godsend on frigid Colorado nights or when Saturday afternoon calls for a little extra comfort.
Ttuk-bokki is easy enough to find in Aurora. Several restaurants feature the dish, and there isn’t any shortage of Korean cafes popping up around town. Each version is a little different, but many are partial to Dae Bok’s — on the corner of Yale Avenue and Parker Road. The spot is typically quiet and dark.
The piping hot slurry can be described as a little sweet, but not so much that it takes away from the spiciness or delicious texture of the dish. At Dae-Bok, the portions are generous. A $20 dish will easily feed four people. But it’s easily as good to pick up and take home. My friends and I have been known to barely make it out of the parking lot before fishing out a spicy rice cake from the tall styrofoam cups.
— KARA MASON, Staff Writer
Angry Chicken | Korean Fried Chicken
1930 S. Havana St. Unit 13
There’s chicken and then there is Angry Chicken. The angrier, the better.
The Korean-style fried chicken restaurant is everything that’s right with the Aurora food scene. The location itself — in an old strip mall along a bustling and diverse Havana Street — is ideal. Next door, Snowl is becoming the it-spot for boba and taiyaki, and Katsu Ramen has long been a local favorite.
Angry Chicken’s menu is easy. Pick your chicken, then pick your sauce, then pick your side. The fried chicken is made gluten free, fried with rice-flour breading.
Unlike the Southern variety, Angry Chicken is all fried fresh. The owners say they get their chicken locally, and it’s made to order.
The spicy lunch is available between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. $12 will get you boneless chicken wings, with your choice of sauce (you can’t really go wrong here) and a side of fries.
The restaurant opened in December 2017 with a bang and lines aren’t uncommon during rush hours. Catch one of Aurora’s hottest trends on a quiet afternoon so you can leisurely savor the heat and flavor. And best? Doorbells on the table lets you be “that guy” to ring for more or water when the fire gets too hot.
— KARA MASON, Staff Writer
Masalaa | Indian
3140 S. Parker Road
Like countless culinary diamonds in the rough, some of the best Indian food money can buy in Aurora is tucked into a nondescript parking lot.
Masalaa has been serving up Indian food near the intersection of South Parker Road and South Peoria Street for almost 20 years, gaining a reputation for all-you-can-eat meals that are also refreshingly healthy.
The joint has made a splash in the metro since opening in 2000. Awards from metro media pepper the walls like wallpaper.
On a recent Monday, a buffet tray seemed to glow in the west-facing windows. Featured were Indian bread, white rice and various stews and condiments including a bright green mint chutney and a vegan sambar, a lentil-based chowder. $10 gets you a load of Indian delicacies, all vegetarian. Even for carnivores, it’s a welcome respite from meat-indundated Western cuisine.
Unprompted, a server delivered a delicious dosa: A crepe-style bread filled with potatoes that melt in your mouth. Masalaa features its dosas every Wednesday night – also all-you-can-eat – and changes its menu for select nights.
-GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer
Yum Yum Bakery | Asian
2680 S Havana St.
No need to keep saving for a trip to Paris for out-of-this-world pastries. A quick trip to Aurora’s K-Town neighborhood will keep you home.
While Vietnamese cuisine usually enjoys foodie adoration for generations of adaptation by French colonization, this Korean-French bakery wins hands down for improving on perfection.
Yum Yum offers a wide range of mostly sweet classics and novelties. Parisian macaroons are sublime, just-right chewy almond-flour biscuits with a not-too-sweet creme center.
In fact, the entire bakery expertly walks the line between sumptuous and saccharine.
Something you’ve never had and won’t soon give up are Korean based traditions with an astonishing French twist. Red-bean cakes never tasted like this. Impossibly light and crunchy, no amount of will power can withstand just one more bite. Likewise for something spongy and tender filled with yam paste. A puffy ball filled with what otherwise would be an unremarkable American Twinkie is a light, joyous lark of a pastry that will keep you driving back for more.
The shop offers a wide range of stunning cakes and pastries, sometimes variations on a theme, other times, totally beguiling strangers.
On the counter last week were fresh savory buns filled with potato and slurried meat, rolled in what appeared to be a crunchy Panko breadcrumb mixture. If you’re on the hunt for different, ask for them.
— DAVE PERRY, Staff Writer
Nón Lá The Eating Place | Balut
13250 E. Mississippi Ave.
I first tried balut sitting in a child-size plastic chair on a sweltering sidewalk in Ho Chi Minh City. A Vietnamese friend and his wife had ordered a basket of the semi-fertilized duck embryos, cackling as I whacked a teaspoon on the shell. It took me several attempts to extricate the rubbery, veiny omelet from its short-term home and introduce it to my skeptical taste buds.
Months later, I tried the controversial dish again on a street corner a couple hundred miles north in Dalat, Vietnam. The eggs were being plucked out of a boiling vat from a woman whose hands made a first baseman’s mitt look like onion skin. One by one, she casually scooped the eggs out of the vat — completely impervious to the bubbling cauldron of scalding water — and prepared them with chiles, lime and salt. I’ve been thinking about those odd little huevos ever since.
Luckily, I work in Aurora, which makes finding food from around the world shockingly easy to come by.
Balut is no exception. The peculiar protein is dished at a Vietnamese joint housed in a former Russian events space on East Mississippi Avenue. (If that’s not an Aurora sentence, I don’t know what is.)
And it’s sensational. For just $5, adventurous omnivores can enjoy a pair of at once creamy and dense duck embryos at Nhi Nguyen’s Nón Lá The Eating Place. The baluts, prepared during a recent visit by Nguyen’s mother, come in a diminutive bowl teeming with a zippy tamarind sauce and dotted with Vietnamese herbs. Although the delicacies come pre-shelled — therefore removing the intimate and technical challenge of stripping the scalding coating yourself — the idiosyncratic meal is a must-have: for both the traveling foodie who’s constantly searching for the next novel thing, and the diehard fans of southeast Asian cuisine.
Don’t miss this wildly savory specialty hiding in plain sight in the shadow of Interstate 225. The best part? This time I fit in the chair, and wasn’t sweating into a cup of 5-cent beer while others ribbed me in a language I didn’t understand. Well, the latter probably happened again, but the sumptuous seeds were well worth it.
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer
Nón Lá The Eating Place | Bánh Xèo
13250 E. Mississippi Ave.
Just because it isn’t on the menu, doesn’t mean it can’t be ordered.
Nhi Nguyen underscored that credo in the tastiest of ways during a recent visit to she and her husband’s newly acquired Vietnamese restaurant on East Mississippi Avenue.
Upon being asked in clumsy Vietnamese, and then shown a broken text message in even clumsier Vietnamese, Nguyen declared she could make a plate of much sought after “Vietnamese crepes.”
The Aurora resident enlisted the help of her mom, who flutters in and out of the kitchen at the cavernous Nón Lá The Eating Place, to fry up a pair of bánh xèo, rice flour “pancakes” wrapped over mung bean sprouts, pork and shrimp.
Nguyen’s version of the popular Vietnamese street food dish lines up with her roots in the deep southern corners of her home country.
“The further south (in Vietnam) you go, the bigger the bành xèo gets,” according to Saigoneer, a lifestyle blog covering some of the many goings on in Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen’s from Cà Mau, one of the country’s most southern provinces in the Mekong Delta region. Her cakes are about 1-foot wide.
Nguyen recommends downing her mom’s bánh xèo the way she did growing up: cut into slivers, wrapped in lettuce, doused with mint, cilantro and thai basil, and drizzled with a bright fish sauce. The combination of the cool lettuce, crunchy fried rice flour and tangy dressing is one of the most exceptional flavor cocktails available in this sprawling burg.
And now you know: to try it for yourself, all you have to do is ask.
— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer
Shahrazad Bakery | Iraqi
2603 S. Parker Road
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Bread, the staff of life, is taken to the ultimate level at this unassuming Parker Road strip-mall bakery run by Iraqi immigrants.
The alchemy inside comes from the masterful treatment of flours, yeasts and patience finished in a tandoori oven. The result? Hands down, the best flat breads in Colorado.
These breads are bigger than an LP album. Perfectly and slightly puffed, they are an exquisite blend of chewy and tender.
The wheat crust caramelizes in the super hot clay oven, blistering it with a smattering of crunchies but overall, varnishing the bread with a subtle sweetness.
No hyperbole here, the breads, about $4 for three, are born to snuggle a shawarma, salad or even take peanut butter to an entirely new level.
This Iraqi-family run gem also offers a wide assortment of meat and veggie pies, and sandwich specialties, all barely cool from the oven and proof that the Denver food scene can’t hold a candle to bright spots like this across Aurora.
— DAVE PERRY, Staff Writer
Glazed And Confused | Donuts
The Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St.
Sweet, salty, fattening, greasy — delicious.
The donuts from Glazed and Confused defy and embrace all the requisite superlatives used with this uniquely American treat. So many options in fact, Homer Simpson himself would get a serious bout of choice paralysis. Fortunately, they are all stunning.
These aren’t the dreaded cakes that can live for weeks on a store shelf without changing. They’re short-lived pastries that can lead to cravings.
The bakery has their regular offerings, like the Breakfast of Champz, which is a maple and bacon infused glazed donut with bacon on top – or another fan favorite the Cinnanutellamon, which is a donut with a cinnamon and Nutella glaze, delicately drizzled with chocolate ganache.
Try the spicy fried chicken donut, which has a honey chipotle glaze, topped with fried chicken skins. And to stay on trend, G&C has a coconut-berry CBD extract donut which is infused with 20 mg of CBD per donut. Glazed and Confused uses organic, sustainable and local ingredients in most of their donuts, which are hand-made every day.
— PHILIP B. POSTON, Staff Writer
Aurora Eats: Dolsot Bibimbap at Silla Korean Restaurant
3005 S. Peoria St.
Trust the server who delivers your dish to the table and warns you that it’s hot.
When the Dolsot Bibimbap hits your table at Silla Korean Restaurant it will be hot. Like take-a-layer-off-your-skin-if-you-touch-it hot.
The dolsot (a bowl made of agalmatolite) soaks in heat from the oven and keeps it throughout the entire meal.
Once piping hot, the bibimbap — which translates into “mixed rice” in Korean — is added, as Silla heaps portions of white rice, tasty bulgogi (thinly-sliced marinated beef), plus lettuce, assorted vegetables and a fried egg into the dolsot and rushes it to your table. From the crackle and sizzle going on, it sounds like the Korean version of fajitas.
Don’t fill up too much on the banchan (side dishes) such as kimche, bean sprouts and fish cakes, because you’ve got business to attend to and a bowl not to touch.
The way you eat the bibimbap is a personal choice, but don’t waste too much time before you start to stir it up.
If you don’t get to it quickly, the rice on the bottom will continue to cook and form a burnt crust. Some people enjoy it, but it adds an unusual crunhcy texture when you take a bite. The egg will cook once it hits the side of the bowl and the rest of the veggies will acquire Vulcan-like levels of heat at the start.
Dash some Gochujang sauce into the mix for a sweet and spicy accent and savor a meal you don’t have to hurry to eat because it will stay warm the entire time.
Wash it down at the end with Silla’s sweet rice drink and you’ve got one of Aurora’s most interactive and satisfying meals.
— COURTNEY OAKES, Staff Writer
FOOD BY THE FOOT
Rosie’s Diner | American
14061 E Iliff Ave.
Aurora is blessed to boast an array of ethinic cuisines and exotic fare, and there’s no shortage of classics either. When the ban mi has grown old, a footlong hot dog never does. Sate that craving for an all-American, all-beef Kosher footlong Kraut Dog at Rosie’s Diner at East Iliff Avenue and South Blackhawk.
The award-winning diner offers a simple take on a traditional delicacy.
Upon first glance, the footlong can seem imposing, with its outsized girth stretching the physical limits of its slightly toasted, gently grilled sheath.
The dog is presented in two halves, making it an ideal choice either for a couple to split or for the glutton attempting to pace themselves.
The meat, grilled to perfection, is a flavor-packed mix of savory and salty.
The hot dog is served with a side of diner fries, fairly thick-cut potato wedges lightly dusted in special house seasoning. The foot-long measures up, literally.
— SASHA HELLER, Staff Writer