Denver’s best new restaurant is MAKfam, a fine casual eatery serving up tradition-inspired Chinese cuisine and street food with a modern flair. It’s located on South Broadway, in Denver’s Baker neighborhood, but well worth the drive from Boulder for your next date night.
MAKfam is the latest stop on Kenneth Wan and Doris Yuen’s culinary journey. After moving to Colorado in 2019, the husband-and-wife duo launched Meta Asian Kitchen inside Avanti Food & Beverage in Denver.
Now, they’ve opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant: a hip, 1,670-square-foot space with a walk-up counter, a full bar and lounge and a dining room that can accommodate up to 50 people. The name MAKfam is an abbreviation of “Meta Asian Kitchen family.”
“MAKfam is a return to our roots, showcasing more Cantonese fare and the Chinese food we grew up eating,” says Wan, who serves as the restaurant’s executive chef. “We have been dialing in our recipes, making sure it’s done correctly but with our own mark on it. For us, success is not only that our food tastes good but that it triggers a memory or positive feeling from the past.”
When dreaming up the menu, the duo drew inspiration from many different places—their families’ recipes, the dishes they grew up eating, the time they spent living on the East Coast in New York and New Jersey, and cultural traditions.
For instance, the Chinatown dumplings—which are made in-house with chicken, chive, fried shallot and cilantro—were inspired by the fare found in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood. (Wan and Yuen met in New York City in 2014, then opened their first concept together—called Hong Kong French Toast—at the Queens Night Market a year later.)
They also incorporated bits and pieces from their childhoods: Yuen was born in Hong Kong, but moved to Rhode Island with her family as a young girl. Wan, meanwhile, grew up watching his parents run a Chinese-American takeout restaurant in Massachusetts. (He later went on to study at the International Culinary Center and built up an impressive resume working at top spots like Xi’an Famous Foods and Momofuku Ssäm Bar.)
The kitchen in their new space also has a traditional wok range setup, which allows Wan to successfully execute “wok hei,” which translates to “wok’s breath.” This Cantonese cooking method gives a subtle but distinctive smokiness to MAKfam dishes like beef stir fried noodles (made with fresh local egg noodles, marinated steak strips, onion, peppers, bean sprouts and scallions) and shrimp fried rice with XO sauce (featuring house-made XO chili sauce, onion, beat sprout and scallions).
If you’re craving a drink, you’ve got plenty of options. On the cocktail side, consider the Hūng Daó Máō (also known as the Red Bean Kitty), a Tiki-inspired drink made with rum, red bean orgeat, dry curacao and lime that’s served in a fun cat-shaped mug. The Hong Kong Ice Tea is also whimsical, as it’s served in a juice box-style container. On the beer side, there are also several brews from Asian-owned and Asian-led makers, including Japas Cervejaria, Jade Mountain Brewing and Hong Kong’s Young Master Brewery.
The space is beautiful, with deep green and bright orange accents, gold light fixtures, neon lights and huge windows that let in lots of natural light. Playful personal touches dot the space, like a large framed photo showing Yuen’s grandma wearing a beanie that reads “cocaine and caviar.” And, after guests order their food at the counter, they’re handed an order number with photos of 1990s Hong Kong celebrities. Yuen collaborated with Arrow B Architecture on the space’s interior design.
“For us, MAKfam is truly a love letter to ABCs (American Born Chinese) and the greater Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community,” says Yuen, the eatery’s co-founder and general manager. “We were incredibly intentional about incorporating elements like the deep green (lucky) color scheme, artwork from Asian American artists and even showing Kung Fu movies behind the bar. All of these elements reflect parts of our cultural background and upbringing.”
Right now, MAKfam is open for lunch and dinner. In the future, they hope to add brunch and happy hour.
39 West 1st Ave., Denver; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesdays.