Nibbles: The joy of discovering hidden ethnic eateries in Aurora


Chef Zeng Qun Liu prepares fried striped bass with tomato sauce at Chef Liu's Authentic Chinese Cuisine in Aurora. The restaurant is featured in Visit Aurora's inaugural Aurora Eats & Drinks poll. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Chef Zeng Qun Liu prepares fried striped bass with tomato sauce at Chef Liu’s Authentic Chinese Cuisine in Aurora. The restaurant is featured in Visit Aurora’s inaugural Aurora Eats & Drinks poll. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA – So how gigantic is Aurora?

Colorado’s third- largest city is so expansive there are still many hidden culinary gems to be uncovered, and new ones quietly opening in as-yet-undiscovered strip malls. After two years of writing about the city’s restaurants, bakeries and markets, I find out about unfamiliar places because people tell me about them or I get lost and see them as I’m turning around. That’s literally how I found La Cocina de Imelda, a Guadalajara taqueria at 1074 S. Ironton St., and Darya Persian Restaurant at 10890 E. Dartmouth Ave.

I was leaving Pho 888, subject of my Feb. 21 profile, when I saw the suspiciously new sign for Mama Olivia’s Pizzeria across the parking lot at 477 Sable Blvd. near East Sixth Avenue. Open about six months, this ma-and-pa place dishes thin-crust pizza, plus calzones, fragrant garlic knots, garlic Parmesan fries and jalapeno cheese bread sticks. I loved my pie topped with quality fennel-seeded Italian sausage, roasted red peppers and fresh spinach dug, especially the nice-and-wheaty thin crust with slices that folded perfectly.

A friend e-mailed me the news that Aurora is once again home to one of the metro area’s only Afghani restaurants, Ariana Kabob Cafe at 2767 S. Parker Road. I can’t wait to sample the halal restaurant’s Afghan bread, mantoo (dumplings) and kabobs with green chutney and tea.

When I interviewed Visit Aurora head Gary Wheat, the Mississippi native happily clued me in about the Bayou Snack Shack.  Like me, Wheat had presumed that Aurora had no eatery specializing in Cajun/Creole food until a caller clued him in. The cafe’s fried shrimp po-boy and slow-roasted spicy beef brisket are near perfect.

To promote the city as a culinary destination, Visit Aurora recently inaugurated the Aurora Eats & Drinks poll and asked its Facebook fans to vote for their favorite eatery through March 1. The 25 restaurants in this round include Wine Experience Cafe, Lupita’s, Kim Ba, Chef Liu’s, and Bender’s Brats. To vote, like the Visit Aurora Facebook page or find out more at visitaurora.com.

So here’s a big thank you to all the folks who keep me in the food loop. If you know of any hidden, unique eateries in Aurora and vicinity, let me know at: jlehndorff@aurorasentinel.com.

AND THE WINNER IS …

Food and dining award season is already upon us and local restaurants and chefs are picking up kudos. Crave Real Burgers in Castle Rock is the sole Colorado burger eatery to make Zagat’s recent list of the Top 25 burger joints in America, noted for its “creative combinations featuring unique toppings.” … Colorado nominees for the 2013 James Beard Awards include Jorel Pierce (Euclid Hall), Jennifer Jazinski (Rioja, etc.), Max Mackissock (Squeaky Bean), Alex Seidel (Fruition), and Frank Bonanno (Mizuna, etc.), as well as Frasca (wine program) and Williams & Graham (bar program). … Denver’s Pinche Taqueria was named one of the nation’s top taco spots by foodandwine.com which praises its taco stuffed with sweet-and-sour pork belly braised in whiskey and tequila with cabbage-cilantro slaw and candied garlic. … Frasca in Boulder is listed as one of the 101 best restaurants in America at thedailymeal.com.

RAISING THE BAR

Just as Colorado proved a fertile birthplace for the craft brewing movement, the state is becoming one of the epicenters of the artisan distilling with more than 30 licenses issued including Centennial’s own Downslope Distilling. Many will be competing in the Denver International Spirits Competition on March 2 and 3. Colorado’s rising status will be on display April 1-6 as the American Distilling Institute brings its national Dstill convention to town for the first time. The gathering of small-batch distillers and mixologists will include a public tasting event, An American Craft Spirit & Cocktail Showcase, April 3, at the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver. Ticket information at dstill.com.

EAT THIS QUOTE

“Kraft mac and cheese w/ Lawry’s seasoning salt is the breakfast of pregnant champions!”

— Jessica Simpson, expectant actress, singer and humorist

Read more Nibbles at aurorasentinel.com/category/guide/colorado-table. Like the Nibbles Facebook page. Read more food and drink columns at theauroramagazine.com/category/colorado-table.

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