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Neighborhood Guide: South Federal, Denver

By: Justin Chaplin
April 27, 2021

Living in South Federal, Denver

Known as an ethnic, intimate neighborhood, South Federal in Denver is home to some of the best cuisine in the city. With Vietnamese and Mexican influences, it’s no surprise why the food is so delicious. Locals from across Denver come for the authentic dishes, brightly painted murals, and specialty shops. Thinking about moving to South Federal? Here’s what to know before you move to this Denver neighborhood.

Know the History

When immigrants from Vietnam and other parts of Asia came to Denver, they made the South Federal neighborhood home and set-up businesses the community needed. Vietnamese-owned businesses quickly popped up, while Mexican bakeries spread across the South Federal neighborhood  

With these strong Asian and Mexican influences, locals are proud of their Denver neighborhood and the products and services their business offer. Mexican restaurants are also popular in the Barnum area, which was named after circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum. After indulging in authentic fare, locals stroll home and browse the brightly painted street murals.

Look to the Future

South Federal will likely sustain as an authentic option for phenomenal food in Denver. Nearby locals come for Pho Duy Restaurant, the Crawling Crab, and Tarascos New Latino Cuisines.

The city of Denver is also looking into development projects in the South Federal neighborhood to help it grow. The goal is to create more green space and help shape the existing "Little Saigon" corridor into a pedestrian-friendly area. The projects are aimed to help bring more continuity to the Denver neighborhood and honor their cultural and ethnic roots.

Finding an Apartment

South Federal is a diverse Denver neighborhood. Locals view it as an authentic, unpretentious place to live. Single-family options and apartments are available in the area near ethnic cuisines, Little Saigon, the Barnum area and beyond.

But before you head out for a day of apartment hunting, stop by Vinh Xuong Bakery, the best-kept secret in the neighborhood for its tasty treats. To get a quick look at multiple apartments, use Apartment List.

Consider the Kids

You won’t be at a loss for kid-friendly treats around South Federal. Make a day of bakery hopping and sampling the variety of Vietnamese or Mexican favorites.

For starters, indulge in a Belgian waffle with a dollop of ice cream at the modest Vietnamese deli and bakery at New Saigon. You can also take the kids by One Stop Bike Shop on Morrison Road in South Federal and browse through old bikes and parts to fix up your own as a family project. For education, South Federal is served by Munroe Elementary School with nearby private schools to expand your options.

Attend a Festival

South Federal is the place to be to celebrate Chinese and Vietnamese New Year. In January, attend the festival featuring authentic food and parade with a dragon and lion dancing.

During the early Fall, locals celebrate Chile Fest in September. Business and Culture District on Mirron Road hosts this popular, annual event. Browse among the showcase of display cars, street vendors with authentic food, live music, and vendor art.

Find Everything You Need in South Federal, Denver

South Federal houses a wealth of ethnic delis and markets like Little Saigon Market with Vietnamese groceries and products. For broader options, including an eclectic cheese selection, King Soopers is a great stop.

Over at Avanza, shoppers browse Mexican fare including plantains, pastries, smoked turkey legs, and more. Savvy locals know that the specialty, ethnic shops often have less expensive produce than the big box retailers.

Getting around South Federal

Like any Denver neighborhood, locals get around South Federal by foot or bike and enjoy the outdoors. Bus transit on the local RTD services South Federal Boulevard to connect to various parts of the city. For a quick and easy ride, Uber and Lyft service the area.

South Federal is a relatively quiet, ethnic neighborhood with lots of Vietnamese and Mexican flavor, specialty shops, and restaurants.

Things to Do in South Federal, Denver

South Federal is a decidedly low-key Denver neighborhood brimming with authentic Vietnamese and Mexican cuisine. Although South Federal isn’t really known for its ultra-hip vibe, its bright murals and amazing bakeries attract locals to the diverse atmosphere. If you’re thinking of a move to South Federal, here’s what to see and do to feel like a local.

Explore Far East Center

Soak up the local and international flavors at Far East Center where East meets West. This exotic shopping area stretches from Federal Boulevard to Alameda Avenue. This is where locals shop for ingredients to cook up authentic Asian meals. Come with an open mind and check out unique herbs, lotions, and teas. Bring home an unusual item like dried osmanthus or handmade licorice to impress your friends.

Join the Locals at a Festival

Denver locals are loyal festival goers and have plenty of events to choose from. South Federal is home to the Chinese and Vietnamese New York celebration. In January, Far East Center celebrates with authentic food and drink, live music, and dragon and lion dancing.

During September, Chile Fest kicks off at the Business and Culture District on Morrison Road. Check out the collection of cars, street food, live music, pop-up art displays and more for an afternoon of fun.

Take a Stroll at the Park

You can see some of the best views of downtown Denver at South Federal’s expansive Barnum Park. Dog lovers walk their furry friends at the dog park or walk along paved trails for a morning stroll. There's also a larger mountain bike section with dirt mounds and trails for some outdoor adventure.

If you need more green space, bike over to the nearby Hutson Lake Park with tranquil mountain views. Come for a walk on the paved trail, play a game of volleyball, grill-out with your new neighbors, or work-out in the outdoor fitness zone. There's also a playground for families looking for a place to take their kids.

Go Out for Authentic Cuisine

Vinh Xuong Bakery is the kind of Denver neighborhood gem you wish everyone knew about, but also want to keep as your own best-kept secret. Come on a lazy Saturday and order up pastries covered in sugar and a dollop of cream. Or swing by for lunch and opt for a traditional bánh mì, made with homemade sauce on a freshly baked baguette.

Although South Federal, Denver has strong roots in Vietnamese and Asian culture, the neighborhood also embraces authentic Mexican shops and eateries. Chili Verde skips past the Tex-Mex fare and instead serves regional dishes from Puebla, Mexico and beyond. Locals love the unusual blend of ingredients like pomegranate seeds, plantains, and walnuts in their tasty entree dishes. But Chili Verde also offers some of the best crepes in Denver that keep loyal locals coming back.

Shop for Funky Gifts and Treats Along South Federal

Vietnamese gift shops, pinata stores, and ethnic boutiques line the main street of South Federal. Take a stroll down the hub of the neighborhood and pop in and out of the quirky toy stores, candy shops, and authentic delis to find fun and unusual gifts. Turn the experience into an excuse to throw yourself a housewarming party! Buy a pinata, Mexican beers, Vietnamese treats, and an assortment of candies and delicacies. This is a surefire way to make a good impression with your new neighbors.

Locals love South Federal’s low-key, laid-back atmosphere and authentic food shops and eateries. It’s not the place to come for a lengthy pub crawl or nightlife but offers plenty of flavor. Settle into your new Denver neighborhood in South Federal and enjoy the low-key vibe, walks in the park with downtown views, and spirited festivals in your new home.

Where to Eat and Drink in South Federal, Denver

Known for its Vietnamese influence, South Federal, Denver serves some of the most authentic dishes in the city inside. The area is home to no-fuss, unpretentious restaurants that simply focus on food. Come for the incredible selection of Vietnamese Pho and find a few surprises along the way from seafood to Mexican. Here are a few of our favorite restaurants in South Federal, Denver.

Vinh Xuong Bakery

When Vinh Xuong Bakery’s location on South Federal opened its doors over two decades ago, it quickly grew a cult following. This was largely due to their award-winning Banh Mi sandwiches served on French bread baked daily. This family-run authentic Vietnamese bakery and sandwich shop sells an assortment of stuffed buns, sesame balls, and powdery pastries. Try a Jasmine Thai tea to sip on while savoring a famous Banh Mi.

New Saigon

New Saigon has over 30-years of service under their belt and focuses on using fresh ingredients in authentic Vietnamese dishes. Like much of South Federal, this no-frills restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Local favorites include their spring rolls, crispy wontons, noodle dishes, and entrees like lobster tail and frog legs. Try the sweet soup desserts with a Boba or fresh coconut juice to end on a sweet note. A small selection of beer and wine is also available.

The Crawling Crab

The Crawling Crab is the place to go if you’ve never tried Cajun style, boiled-in-the bag seafood. From blue crab to Dungeness crab, lobster, crawfish, clams, and oysters; this place has got it all. The Crawling Crab serves their fresh seafood in baskets and platters without plates or utensils. Dine on delicious, buttery seafood or try some Cajun-inspired seasoning. Round-out your evening with domestic and imported beer and desserts like fried bananas with ice cream.

Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine

Vietnamese eateries are the star of South Federal, but the Barnum section has an impressive selection of Mexican and Latin cuisine. Stop by Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine for open-face tacos with your choice of steak, chorizo, chicken, or al pastor. Dishes are affordable and delicious, like the Baja fish taco plates, carnitas, and more. Come hungry, but not thirsty. Sadly, this Denver gem doesn’t serve alcohol. On the plus side, they have a great horchata and aguas frescas.

Pho Duy

Locals regard Pho Duy as the best pho in Denver.  Pho Duy serves up dumplings, wontons, and of course pho, inside a casual restaurant. The team focuses on using fresh, authentic ingredients and seasoning with flavors like rare steak, tendon, tripe, sprouts, herbs, and delicious broths. Top it off with a your pick from their beer and wine selection, or opt for boba iced tea.

Pho 95 Vietnamese Restaurant

More pho! We told you the Vietnamese options were endless. Pho 95 Noodle House’s famous soups feature steak and brisket along with fresh basil, beansporuts, jalapenos, and lime juice. You can also mix things up and get pan-fried noodles and satay. Unlike many of the Vietnamese restaurants along South Federal, Pho 95 serves cocktails! Try their specialities like the Asian Pear Mojito and Lychee Martini. Make a dessert out of their delicious Boba or Giai Khat coffee selection.

Torres Mexican Food

This Mexican restaurant has s large and loyal local following. Your neighborhood will probably tell you to try Torres’ pork carnitas, chicken mole, chimichangas, and taquitos. Pair it with a refreshing Mexican beer or margarita. Their menu is expansive, which makes it the kind of place you can keep coming back to try something new. Come for happy hour between 2 pm and 6 pm on weekdays for discounts on alcohol and appetizers like flautas, chili fries, and quesadillas.

Although you won’t find a wealth of trendy happy hours and fusion dishes along South Federal, you will find authentic Vietnamese and Mexican food that focuses on being the best. From all the Vietnamese Pho you could ever eat to savory pork carnitas and tacos, head to South Federal hungry and explore all your new favorite eateries.

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Justin is a Content Manager and contributing author at Apartment List, helping people navigate the world of renting. Justin previously spent his time earning his BBA in Marketing from Boise State University. Read More
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