Mt. Fuji Hibachi & Sushi Bar might be one of the best-kept secrets in Denver dining despite its highly visible location as the cornerstone of a strip mall between two busy intersections — where Sixth Avenue and Speer Boulevard funnel hundreds of cars daily. Step inside and there’s not much to write home about, either. The front dining room is crammed with tables piled nearly on top of one another, while the walls are haphazardly strewn with unmemorable art: weird Japanese kabuki scrolls of the kind you’d expect to find in the bedroom of your awkward teenage neighbor who’s just a little too into anime. No, it’s not a place to go for the ambience. But ignore all that and grab a seat at one of the hibachi tables in the back, where the real fun lurks.
The daily all-you-can-eat sushi for $25.95 is a killer deal on its own, but what really sells Mt. Fuji is the Sunday and Monday hibachi special, which offers any two entrees for $29.99. Go with a partner with whom you don’t mind sharing, because the combo must be ordered on the same check, which can get awkward if you have an odd number in your group (and, yes, the other diners are mostly in groups; you’ll hear many spirited renditions of the “Happy Birthday” song).
The menu lets you choose a protein — chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp or filet (for a $5 surcharge) — and the chef will prepare your meal as you watch. I usually convince my dining companion to go halfsies on surf and turf, sometimes upgrading depending on how fancy we’re feeling. Then it’s off to the races as the appetizer salad and clear onion soup arrive, both flavorful without distracting from the main event.
While the chef is prepping the table, get ready to lean back, because as soon as he yells “Fire!,” it will feel like your eyebrows are being singed off. The burst of flames from the grill will instantly awaken you, but if that doesn't grab your attention, the chef's method of dousing the fire will: a stream of water is squeezed from a small plastic doll in a way that's smile-inducing, if not exactly family-friendly (despite the presence of many little ones running around in addition to young adults and couples in search of a cheap date night). To get the group even more riled up, the chef squirts sake into the mouths of the guests around the table (thankfully this bottle isn't doll-shaped), with a boisterous countdown as each person is heckled and cheered on to see how much they can take.
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SHOW ME HOW
While all of this is going on, the veggies and rice are cooking away. The chef makes sure to include a few signature hibachi tricks, making an onion choo-choo train and flipping an egg around, either catching it in his pocket or hat, depending on the chef. While it’s annoying that the fried rice comes with a $2.95 up-charge, you really can’t pass it up when it’s made fresh in front of your eyes. Once the zucchini, onions, carrots, broccoli and rice are done, everything is dished up with two sauces — ginger and a spicy mayo — and the proteins are set on the grill. Bad jokes interrupt the cooking and eating procession (like “Japanese ketchup” when the chef squirts the soy), but it’s all in good, interactive fun. The food is well seasoned and the portions are so big that they're likely to last for multiple meals, so nearly everyone ends up with a to-go box. Once you’re sufficiently stuffed and you think there’s no way you could possibly take another bite, out come creamy cheesecake bites to put you over the edge. They’re too good to pass up, and your willpower is shot.
Verdict: Sure, performance hibachi is a little cheesy, with canned theatrics of questionable taste and a seating arrangement that means you’re forced to enjoy the company of strangers, but it gets all the more entertaining with free sake. A five-course dinner and a show for $15 each is the very definition of a real deal.
In this new bi-monthly installment, Lauren Monitz will be sharing awesome local gems to binge on a budget and helping you determine which Denver restaurants are truly the Real Deal.