Dining Out at Denver Vietnamese Restaurant Sap Sua

Denver’s hottest new restaurant Sap Sua proves it’s worth the accolades.

Clockwise from top: banh ngot chien (grilled veal sweetbreads), tau hu ky cuon tom, and trung va trung.
Clockwise from top: banh ngot chien (grilled veal sweetbreads), tau hu ky cuon tom, and trung va trung. Photo by Connor Stehr.

Local fanfare around Sap Sua’s Vietnamese food (which it describes as “nontraditional,” though inspired by traditional flavors and recipes) started before it opened in June 2023. Then came the national press: It was named one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in the country by Bon Appétit, and made it onto Esquire’s coveted 50 Best New Restaurants in America 2023 list—the only one in Colorado and the first time a Denver restaurant earned mention in the list’s 40-plus year history. This year, Sap Sua is a James Beard Award Best New Restaurant semifinalist.

Sap sua translates to “almost” or “about to be,” a nod to the idea that one should always seek to improve each day. That said, coveted reservations that are released 30 days in advance and an impressive list of early accolades hint that, for diners, Sap Sua is already a must-eat restaurant in the city. The food makes it easy to see why.

The hamachi crudo, for example, pairs structured cuts of fish with refreshing hits of lemongrass, ginger, and chili. A small cup of coconut milk poured table-side levels out the flavors between sweet, salty, and acidic. Don’t let a hamachi starter steer you away from a second hamachi dish, ca kho: a meaty fish collar flavored with coconut caramel served over steamed rice.

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Trung va trung, a soft scrambled egg dish, brings umami elements to the forefront in ways that will make many rethink the scope of what eggs can do. A generous amount of trout roe pops in every bite, and the impossibly fluffy egg seems to float on top of the starchy rice below. Savory butter, fish sauce, and roe are also used to complement the crispy-edged, deeply savory shrimp cake tau hu ky cuon tom. Only, in this case, a small bite of mint brightens each bite. Grilled veal sweetbreads come with an outside char and Cantabrian anchovies, a savory combo that could easily overwhelm the palate if it weren’t for the refreshing cilantro salsa verde and Thai chilis.

The beverage menu is designed around food—wine and beer that pair well, and cocktails designed with food flavors in mind. Without the suggestion of head bartender Lo Fox, I would have missed the “leave your shiitake at the door” cocktail made with rye whiskey and shiitake mushrooms that tastes like savory dashi with a kick; or the “witch, don’t kill my vibe,” a vodka cocktail that is the only successful example of using black pepper in a drink that I’ve experienced in nearly a decade of writing about spirits and cocktails. The same goes for food and wine pairing: while delicious on their own, the sweetbreads truly shine alongside the dry riesling suggested by beverage director George Wright IV.

For dessert, the che suong sao is a take on Vietnam’s classic treat of coconut milk and crushed ice that’s best enjoyed eaten from the bottom up.

It can be hard for a much-hyped restaurant to prove it is worth the effort of getting a reservation. Sap Sua is among that exclusive group. Two people can comfortably share five dishes. That said, filling your table with more is understandable when each is a hit. Limit your order and you may find yourself reserving another seating 30 days in advance to try all that you missed.