Aurora’s amazing dining scene is constantly invigorated by people on the move
“The Gateway to the Rockies,” as Denver’s neighboring city is called, became a landing spot for African-Americans who arrived from the American South due to “The Great Migration,” and continues to be called home by asylum-seekers, immigrants and refugees from more than 47 countries. Many have started businesses that give diners a chance to experience the flavors of their native lands. Here are eight sit-down, independent restaurants whose menus have been shaped by migration. They’re worth the trip from Denver!
Cora Faye’s Soul Food Café
Priscilla Smith cultivated a following for her soulful Southern cooking while running a restaurant in Park Hill. Smith moved to Aurora several years ago, and her current location is near the bustling intersection of Colfax and Chambers. Stop by to savor crispy fried chicken, smothered pork chops, and other dishes from recipes that have been in Smith’s Alabama-based family for more than a century. For a dreamy finish to your meal, order a slice of coconut cream cheese frosted cake and two pillows for your inevitable after-meal nap.
15395 E. Colfax Ave., 303-333-5551. Open 11 am-5pm Sunday; 11 am-7:30pm Tuesday-Thursday; 11 am-8:30pm Friday-Saturday. corafayescafe.com
Cuba Bakery & Café
People with Cuban heritage who live in the Denver area heavily endorse this place. Here, you’ll find a delightful blend of savory and sweet foods. Everything is served cafeteria-style, so diners can feast with their eyes before making a selection. We love the chicharron served here as a long strip of pork skin, meat and fat fried to crispy perfection. There’s also the traditional ropa vieja (translated as “old clothes”), which is shredded beef in a spicy tomato sauce. Whatever you choose for your entrée, an ideal finish is a guava-filled pastry. A word to the wise: If you want any chance of getting the Saturday oxtails special, you need to show up before noon.
15028 E. Mississippi Ave., 303-752-2822. Open 8 am-3pm Sunday; 8 am-7pm Monday-Thursday. cubabakeryandcafe.com
The Madras Café
In the Denver metro area, Indian restaurants usually feature the country’s northern cuisines. Madras Café delightfully shines a spotlight on the vegetarian dishes made in southern India. Start your meal with bajji, a popular, deep-fried street snack with a chutney dipping sauce. The plantain version is the most traditional and reminds one of an orangish fritter. We recommend zooming in on the section of the menu dedicated to “South Special Curries.” The lightly sauced and well-seasoned okra fry is earthy and soul-satisfying. For dessert, you’ll love the halwa made with finely grated carrots, condensed milk and clarified butter.
5422 S. Parker Road, 720-541-7293. Open 11 am-3pm and 5:30 pm-9pm Sunday; 11 am-2:30pm, then 5: 30-9: 30pm Tuesday-Thursday; 11 am-2:30pm, then 5: 30-9pm Friday and Saturday. themadrascafe.com
Plates by the Pound BBQ
The only thing that has been on more of a roll than barbecue chef Aaron Gonerway is his generous serving of “OG Pulled Pork” that he serves up to folks lined up around the block on Saturday mornings. True to his Texas family roots, Gonerway makes excellent beef brisket, and that’s the move to make when ordering. Another standout is the baked potato that is truly “loaded” with barbecued meat. We were also pleasantly pleased with the potato salad, smoky baked beans, and banana pudding. Mercy!
11601 E. Montview Blvd., 720-697-0082. Open Saturday, 11 am until sold out. platesbythepoundbbq.com
Silla Korean Restaurant BBQ
Silla proudly claims to be the “oldest Korean restaurant in Colorado,” and its owners should be proud. The standard Korean dishes are top-notch and possibly habit-forming. We suggest starting off with the hubcap-sized kimchi jeon pancakes and the fried, pork-filled delights called goon mandu dumplings. If you order the bulgogi – marinated, slightly sweet and thinly sliced strips of meat – you’ll get the option of cooking it yourself at the table, or having the kitchen take care of it. We left it up to the experts and devoured the sizzling, cast-iron plate of beef bulgogi accompanied by an array of fresh and pickled vegetable side dishes. For a change of pace, our bibimbap bowl was grilled calamari with a sauteed vegetable medley and a fried sunnyside-up egg over rice.
3005 S. Peoria St., 303-338-5070. Open 11:30 am-8pm, Sunday-Tuesday, Friday-Saturday. sillabbq.com
Sugar’s Caribbean Fast Food
The first time you pull up to this place, you’ll probably curse whichever map application you used. Yes, you’re in a residential neighborhood and there aren’t any signs indicating an eating place is nearby. Not to worry. Just follow the inviting aroma and the pulsating music to the back of the house. This weekend-only, take-out Jamaican “restaurant” is actually run out of owner Sugar’s (that’s the only name the owner goes by) converted back porch. His cooking adventures began long ago as a child when he watched his relatives cook. As an adult, Sugar would “run a boat” with friends (which means having a cookout). After months of rave reviews, he thought he should make some money by cooking. I’m grateful for that revelation. I don’t know why, but Jamaican cooks have a way with oxtails, and Sugar’s version doesn’t disappoint. Six meaty pieces bathed in a rich brown gravy are nestled in an ample portion of peas and rice. You’ll also love the slightly spicy jerk chicken, the fried red snapper slathered in a spicy sauce, and the flaky and meat-filled (beef or chicken) hand pies called “patties.” All of these pair nicely with a house made non-alcoholic hibiscus drink called “sorrel” or a chilled bottle of Red Stripe beer.
1140 Lansing St., 720-231-6460. Open Friday-Sunday, 11 am to 7 pm
This restaurant is one of the star attractions at the Mango House, a complex that includes immigrant-related businesses, a food court and services. We were absolutely wowed by the fermented and lightly dressed tea leaf salad with a crunchy mix of cabbage, lentils and fried peanuts. We forgot about social graces while slurping up the “Weh da nah,” a spicy pork curry punctuated with potatoes. Its ginger mint spritzer was fresh and delicious. An absolute must for dessert is the banana paratha of fried dough filled with banana with a Nutella drizzle.
10180 E. Colfax Ave., 626-628-5430. Open noon to 7 pm, Thursday-Saturday. orderurbanburma.com
Much of the Middle Eastern food served by restaurants in our community represent the cuisines of Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria (collectively known as The Levant). Since 2013, the Yemen Grill has expanded our understanding of the Middle East’s food story. Representative dishes are lamb and chicken mandi, traditional pit-cooked meats served over rice. Yet, it’s the whole fish that keeps the telephone ringing for takeout orders. Typically, the fried fish is tilapia and the grilled fish is pompano. We absolutely love the grilled pompano, which evokes the blackened fish dishes of Cajun fame with its superbly seasoned charred crust. It’s topped with shaved onions and parsley, a side salad dressed with tahini along with a mound of fragrant rice. You may add some heat with a spicy tomato relish that is very similar to salsa. Wash it down with a slightly sweet mango drink streaked with pureed strawberries.
2353 Havana St, # D15A, 303-369-1998. Open 11 am-8pm, Saturday-Sunday; 11:30 am-8pm, Monday, Tuesday and Friday.
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