5 Bold Asian Seafood Dishes in Denver

By Ruth Tobias  |  January 3, 2014
Credit: Ruth Tobias

New Saigon Bakery & Deli is ever the chowhound’s treasure trove. Adjacent to its longtime namesake - which lays claim to being the oldest Vietnamese restaurant in Denver - the sunny little market crams every kind of find, from dried lotus seeds and liver jerky to pickled ambarella fruit and red-bean jelly, onto its shelves and into its display cases. But it also happens to make a mean banh mi - or rather, 16 different kinds, one of which, as you’ll see, got us to thinking about all the wonderfully pungent seafood dishes we’ve sampled in Asian restaurants across town over the years. Here are just a few that have stood out in our mouths and minds.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Jaya Asian Grill’s Nasi Goreng

    Maritime Southeast Asian cuisine remains virtually unheard of in Denver, but Jaya, tucked away in the unlikeliest of bland strip malls off Colorado and I-25, covers Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in one fell swoop. From the last country comes a take on fried rice called nasi goreng. Here, it’s studded with bits of scrambled egg, scallions and dried, salted fish - just enough to give it some punch, but not so much that your taste buds tire after the first few bites.

    1699 S. Colorado Blvd.; 303-757-7887

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    JJ Chinese Seafood Restaurant’s Capelin with Spicy Salt

    The menu at this Cantonese fixture goes on and on and on some more; amid the dozens and dozens of seafood dishes and hot pots, the goose intestine and duck tongue, the chicken feet and frogs’ legs, we admit we were so overwhelmed on our first visit here that we pretty much just closed our eyes and pointed. Which is how we discovered capelin with spicy salt. A type of smelt that's largely known for its roe (masago in Japanese), these little fishies are breaded and fried whole, tossed with sliced jalapeños, bell peppers and scallions, and sprinkled with minced, browned garlic. You bet the flavor’s intense - intoxicatingly so, right down to the bones.

    2500 W. Alameda Ave.; 303-934-8888

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Kiki’s Japanese Casual Dining’s Sanma Shioyaki

    The same goes for the grilled saury (mackerel pike) at this quaint, homestyle Japanese joint not far south of Jaya on Colorado. Accompanied simply by a slice of lemon and a mound of grated daikon radish, the fish come two to an order, their blackened skin crackling around the oily, succulent flesh you pick at with chopsticks - as deftly as possible, since they’re not gutted.

    2440 S. Colorado Blvd.; 303-504-4043

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    New Saigon Bakery & Deli’s Banh Mi Ca Moi

    Pork in all forms - meatballs, pâté, barbecue and so on - may be the most popular filling for banh mi, at least stateside. But in Vietnam, canned sardines in tomato sauce are also common; in fact, when we asked the helpful young gentleman behind the counter about New Saigon’s sardine sandwich, he proclaimed it one of his favorites, albeit a lesser seller. Granted, not everyone’s down with the unctuousness and strong savor of sardines. If you are, though, this is a mighty showcase, as the tomato sauce mixes with the generous slathering of chili mayo to soak into the classic, crusty, house-baked baguette, and the bright, crisp pickled carrots, daikon and cucumber add snappy contrast, enhanced by abundant cilantro sprigs.

    640 S. Federal Blvd.; 303-935-7859

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Thai Flavor’s Eggplant Salad

    Even seafood haters can generally handle mild, sweet shrimp - but we’ve never had it quite like this before. In fact, we’ve never had anything quite like the eggplant salad from this easygoing Thai strip-mall joint in Aurora before, combining as it does marinated chunks of the namesake ingredient with slices of crispy omelet, slivered red onion and basil leaves, as well as shrimp, in a zingy dressing based on fish sauce and chiles. The result is at once refreshing and surprisingly hearty.

    1014 S. Peoria St., Aurora; 720-859-7648