Denver's five best Japanese restaurants
While Denver is swimming in great options for sushi, we're woefully short on Japanese joints that feature good versions of the broader culinary canon -- and, in fact, we'd be stoked if a few more spots of this sort opened up, whether they're restaurants serving up Japanese noodles like ramen or soba or authentic izakayas, giving the Mile High City a taste of that nation's countryside.
Cassandra Kotnik Agedashi tofu at Hana Japanese Bistro, one of the city's best Japanese restaurants.
There are a few that sate our cravings, though. Here, in no particular order, are the city's five best Japanese restaurants.
Amu Sake Bar & Grill, 1221 Spruce Street, Boulder
Amu's owner, Nao-san, is best known for Sushi Zanmai, a raucous sushi spot that attracts legions of college students for raw fish and karaoke. With all that commotion, it's easy to miss the sliver of a spot right next door: Amu. That restaurant specializes in Japanese country fare, and for years it's turned out simple, excellent dishes -- including agedashi tofu, fermented soybeans, green mussels and many more beautifully presented delicacies, some of which are made up on the spot -- that show the depth of the cuisine. Last year, Nao-san brought on new chef Mune Taira, who's added more modern and flashy flourishes to the menu.
Izakaya Den, 1518 South Pearl Street
Toshi and Yasu Kizaki are responsible for Sushi Den, the decades-old sushi house that was the first restaurant in town to prove not only that sushi could be done here, but that it could be done at a quality that rivals any spot on the coast. And for their second venture, the brothers aimed to do the same with broader Japanese cuisine at Izakaya Den. At this restaurant, traditional Japanese items are definitely on the list, but the menu also bends the limits of exactly what Japanese food is, integrating New American flavors and other influences where the kitchen sees fit: Korean short ribs, duck in udon, buckwheat gnocchi, even crepes made with pork and brie. But rather than viewing this as a diversion from authenticity, these items are better considered as creative variations on a theme -- and an indication of where a skilled chef can take this cuisine.
Sachi Sushi, 7980 Niwot Road, Niwot
Nestled in a corner of the Niwot Market, Sachi Sushi is one of the best-hidden spots on the Front Range. Owner Tsukasa Hibino worked as a sushi chef at Sushi Tora for years after relocating to Boulder from Japan, and when he struck out on his own, he employed his skills with tuna, salmon and octopus at his little counter. He also expanded his offerings: His regular menu includes a few other dishes from his home country, and he cooks up specials, too. The most notable of these is the ramen he makes every Sunday: The big, brothy bowls of Kyushu-style noodles are the best you'll find in at least a 100-mile radius.
1221 Spruce St., Boulder, CO