The pinch isn’t whether you can plan a culinary tour of Denbigh, but whether you can work every delicious spot into your jaunt and whether the cops will treat you kindly when you’re passed out in the middle of Warwick Boulevard with a belly full of food.
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Start with some beers at Craft 60, then burgers at Viking Burger, and end it with baklava at the Balkan Cuisine Restaurant? Beef bulgogi at Kyung Sung, Sarajevsko Pivo at Balkan, and then fried plantains at La Pena Horeb? Authentic Puerto Rican stewed chicken at Horeb, then a trip to Total Wine and the rest of the evening with Netflix? The possibilities are endless, and they’re all right next to each other in Denbigh.
The debate over the best Korean food in Hampton Roads is far from over, but in the Kleinman household it ended the second we bit into Kyung Sung’s kimchi. Like a lot of Korean restaurants, Kyung Sung is nothing fancy, but the Bibimbap and Mandu dispense with the need for finery and haute decor.
If you’ve never heard of Balkan food, don’t worry. The Balkans are tucked behind Italy’s boot, and Balkan food is spiced like Italian cuisine’s darker, more brooding cousin. It does not create its joy in bright and shiny things but rather in the grand acknowledgment of the vastness of creation. The Ćevapi (meat sausage) is ground in house, the cream cheese is homemade, and the dough is baked fresh then softened a bit with supa.
If you are in a rush or desire an Americanized version of a foreign cuisine, then the Balkan Cuisine Restaurant is not for you. On Fridays and Saturdays you can pre-order Meso Ispod Saca (grilled beef with potatoes and veggies) and Börek Ispod Saca (beef and potatoes in dough). The bread, which is baked “How my mother taught me,” is worth the trip alone.
When speaking of food, Almira Ribic, the chef and owner, sounds like a mechanic discussing the finer points of a Maserati. Everything on the menu is cooked from scratch, most on the day it is served. Almira will not have it any other way, and she alights with passion when discussing this: “I’m not going to serve sandwiches. You have pizza and sandwich shops on every corner. I represent my food from my country–where I come from. Our food takes time. You cannot cook beef sausages in the microwave.” The proof, in this case, is in the Ćevapi and the slow-cooked Sarma with cabbage that melts in your soul and in the layers and layers of Almira’s baklava.
On my first visit to La Pena Horeb I made the mistake of ordering a Mexican entree, which was tasty, but their Puerto Rican food is where it’s at. It seems like every time I have authentic ethnic food, everything is simple: rice, meat, greens. Order two plates of Pernil & Arroz con Gandules so you can have some the next day to persuade yourself it really happened.
Across the street is Viking Burger, which is quickly becoming the star of the show in Denbigh. The staff is exceedingly friendly, and a burger smothered in jalapeños and meat sauce will put a bolt in your being. The small feast hall is appropriately full of the geekiest conversations known to man, and the fries pop in your mouth, both filling and light. Specials cycle through, but the care put into each meal and the genuinely friendly atmosphere will keep you coming back.
Craft 60 Ale House may throw off the ethnic theme here, but their beer list has depth and range with beers like Baltika from Russia and Singha from Thailand. Though not technically Denbigh, Midtown Eats is a stone’s throw away and has specials like a Saigon Shrimp Wrap (sweet and spicy Vietnamese chiles, gulf shrimp, sticky rice, and daikon radish slaw), a New Orleans Burger (beef, shrimp, and chipotle mayonnaise), and a Bayamo (traditional Cuban stew with pork, cilantro, basil, potatoes, and red rice).
The collection of restaurants on Warwick Boulevard could not have been planned, but they feel that way. Just as Hampton’s foodie pockets have flourished independently, the Denbigh food corridor is as indie and DIY as it gets. Check it all here: