Restaurant Peek: Uncle
2215 W 32nd Ave. | Denver, CO 80211
Tel: 303-433-3263 | uncledenver.tumblr.com
HOURS: Mon – Sat: 5pm to 10pm
The word “Uncle” or “Auntie” in many Asian cultures is not only used to designate a family member but often is a name or title given to someone as a sign of respect; and you certainly have to respect what Tommy Lee is doing with his restaurant Uncle.
Lee’s parents are from Hong Kong so he says he grew up in a ‘spoiled food culture’ and has always had a passion for food even at a young age. Although he was a foodie most of his life, Lee didn’t start cooking or experimenting with recipes until he was in college attending business school. And that was when he knew he wanted to open a restaurant.
During his summer breaks, he worked at restaurants, including his uncle’s (no pun intended), learning the nuances of running a restaurant business. He gathered inspiration from visits to David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York. Lee envisioned opening his own version in Denver, ‘a restaurant [he] wanted to go to’ with food that he liked to eat.
In August 2012, this vision came to fruition. Uncle, located in the Lower Highlands (LoHi), lives in a perfect spot for the innovative dining Lee and his chefs present.
Having visited Hong Kong and observing his family cook, Lee understands that even though Asian dishes seem simple, they are intensive in preparation of the ingredients which translates to complex flavors. Ramen may seem simple, but there is so much that goes into the dish, which is why it is so highly regarded in Japan. Uncle cooks its ramen broth for up to ten hours to get the deep but light flavors. The noodles are just as important and that is why Lee has ramen noodles custom tailored by Sun Noodles. That’s right, they have their noodles specially made to hold up and keep its al dente feel for what seems like forever and melds perfectly into the soups.
The Chashu Ramen, for example, has soup flavored with soy, apple and garlic-infused lard which gives it its deep flavors. Blanketing the noodles are braised pork belly, bean sprouts, peas, and an unbelievably perfectly boiled egg. The Kimchi Ramen with its Korean flare is served with shredded pork, napa cabbage, poached egg, and topped with the house made kimchi. This spicy ramen is reminiscent to a Korean jjigae.
Their most popular ramen is the Spicy Chicken Ramen that uses szchezuan spices to give the soy-based soup a miso like unctuous taste. Uncle also serves delicious steamed buns (bao) filled with ingredients like tender pork belly and tasty shrimp. The baos themselves are light and fluffy but tough enough to hold in their flavorful ingredients.
Uncle’s veggie dishes are nothing to brush off either. The Fried Brussel Sprouts are crazy good. The fried vegetables are a perfect vehicle to soak up the Vietnamese dipping sauce, nuoc cham. Ingredients like vegetables are seasonal and so is the menu. Lee and his crew are always changing it up as often as every week.
The drink selection is unique and the restaurant offers imported beers, like Hite (lager) and Echigo (stout) to match their menu. The ever-changing selection is what keeps patrons coming. In fact when Uncle first opened, it only had one ramen selection and now seven months later, it has four. That is what makes Uncle special. Lee and his chefs are trying to perfect what they like to cook, and that—to many, is respectable.