Yuan Wonton has only been open for business for a mere six full services. Since its debut at the Mile High Spirits Block Party on September 7, the truck — a collaborative effort between wife and husband duo Penelope Wong and Rob Jenks — has sold out of their product at each stop, usually in under two hours. And for good reason. The short menu — consisting of only three continuous items and a rotating cast of sides made specifically for the shift — is one worth chasing.
Patrons have already begun camping outside the truck up to 30 minutes prior to opening — one customer championing his allegiance by buying the three people waiting behind him a batch of the coveted lead dish. This after essentially clawing at the window for a full half-hour. Hype is a big part of modern consumer culture — much of it being driven more by scarcity and publicity than by actual preeminence. Unlike most of the limited drops, these wontons deserve each and every bit of the rabid enthusiasm.
Wong spent the past 20 years of her career doing huge-scale fine-dining — helming the kitchen for the Glenmore Country Club, a private-dining institution with a 164-seat patio and 147-seat indoor room. She has spent her whole life cooking. Her chops began long before the country club at her parents’ restaurant, Chinatown — an esteemed North Denver establishment that lasted nearly 25 years. Her food became known for its quality, though much of her career has been spent flourishing behind closed doors, in the members-only confines of the club. This will be the first time in nearly two decades that her cuisine will be available to a general audience.
It has been suggested that 85% of marriages that are jointly-involved in a restaurant fail. “I feel that strongly about these wontons,” said Jenks, grinning at his wife of eight years. The food is of the caliber that makes that 15% seem worth the gamble, and Wong and Jenks’ compatibility is obvious. The two work full-time together on the truck, trying to do around three days of service per week per one prep day at the commissary kitchen.
The famous chili wontons ($8) were originally imagined as a menu item for the country club. Wong said it only took a few bites before she realized that her 90-100 hour weeks at Glenmoore would soon be coming to an end. While the career-closing dish was conceived in March 2017, she remained with the club until September 2018 with the hunt for the truck beginning in earnest that same November. Now serving out of an almost entirely-refitted 1983 Frito Lay vehicle, Wong and Jenks are bringing a combination of traditional Szechuan and Thai dishes packaged elegantly and without a hint of pretension. During the first four services, the two went through roughly 4700 wontons.
The pork and chive potstickers ($8) and the Chinese eggplant dumplings ($8) both come with five pieces per order and provide a solid backup to the chili wontons. This isn’t to say that either dish is an understudy — both dishes are quite impressive in their own right. The eggplant dumplings are texturally similar to their pork counterpart, while the flavor makes clear the dish has no desire to be a vegetarian knockoff. If possible, try everything. But if the chili wonton is sold out, it is worth making a trip back for what Jenks justifiably described as “the cronut of the dumpling world.”
Wong says she’s thinking of putting some soup dumplings on the menu when the weather gets colder. The chef’s whimsical approach is one of Yuan’s great charms and the love that fuels the labor is unmistakable. Many members of the extended family have expressed interest in lending a hand. Whether the food is the source of the joy or the joy is the source of the food isn’t quite clear. In either case, the long lines sure show that whatever is going on is wildly contagious.
Yuan Wonton will be popping up at Seedstock Brewery at 3610 West Colfax Ave., Denver on Thursday, September 26 from 4:30 – 8:3o p.m. Then again at George Washington Highschool on September 28 at 655 South Monaco Pkwy., Denver for a DLS fundraiser. The truck will be there from 3 – 7:30 p.m.
Future dates will appear on the truck’s Instagram.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.