Fujiyama owner Denny Kang thinks big is better, and he proves it by offering sushi that's much larger than you get at other sushi bars for the same price -- and just as tasty. Enjoy your fish while sitting at the red-topped sushi bar decorated with cute little aquariums, right near a massive, lavender-hued mural of the Japanese mountain that the eatery's named for. A meal here isn't quite as massive as Mount Fuji, but it's a culinary high point nonetheless.
At Fontana Sushi, it seems like almost every hour is happy hour, since the $1 sushi special runs from 6 to 10 p.m. weekdays and 7 p.m. to midnight on weekends. The low price doesn't mean low quality, though, and while the sushi chefs can be a little slow, and the sushi isn't always flawlessly assembled, it's unfailingly fresh and flavorful. Put your money where your mouth is at Fontana.
Domo
A visit to Domo has become a cultural tour of Japan, complete with a Zen garden, an intriguing museum, a jumping sake lounge, an appealing dining room and, now, an extensive sushi selection. Still, chef/owner Gaku Homma continues to focus on creating the most healthful, authentic versions of provincial Japanese foods -- yakimono, tojimono, curry, udon -- along with saishoku vegetarian items and Wankosushi, Homma's trademarked take on the country-style sushi of his childhood. Arigato, Domo.
Little Ollie's woks the walk. The kitchen produces dishes that are incredibly polished, not to mention filled with the best Chinese cooking in town. The steamed fish, stir-fries, sweet spare ribs and black-bean sauces evoke the streets of Hong Kong, but the delivery there surely leaves something to be desired when compared with the gracious, efficient service at Little Ollie's. The wine list is startlingly well chosen for a Chinese restaurant, too.
When we want to Thai one on, we head to Thai Bistro. The dining room is sweet and simple, with greenery for color and just a few Thai touches here and there -- but in the kitchen, it's all Thai, all the time. Chef/owner Lek Phromthong knows his way around sweet-salty-sour-spicy, and he balances those elements to good effect in his multi-layered, deeply flavored dishes. The appetizers, including sumptuous steamed dumplings and deep-fried tofu, are admirable, and the main courses, particularly the curries, are truly a main event. Those curries are heavily, and deliciously, sweetened with coconut milk; Phromthong also has a way with fenugreek, which gives his curries an even more exotic taste. Tell the servers your tolerance for chile heat -- they're happy to adjust dishes to match.
Owner Sue Smith goes above and beyond at her simple but spiffy Asian restaurant in the 'burbs. In dishes such as lobster and crab pot stickers and Vietnamese seafood paella, New Orient presents the flavors of Vietnam in a fresh and innovative way. Don't expect noodle-house prices: The macadamia-sesame-encrusted walleye or two-mushroom beef tenderloin will set you back a bit. But you won't find these preparations on any other Vietnamese menu in town.
Masalaa
You won't miss meat at Masalaa, an all-vegetarian Indian eatery, because everything is so well seasoned that there's no shortage of flavor. In fact, the name Masalaa means "spice" in Hindu. The kitchen specializes in southern Indian dishes that you rarely find in Denver, as well as superior versions of traditional favorites from all over the South Asian subcontinent. Masalaa spices up such standards as mulligatawny soup, samosas, curries and saag, and makes dosas -- crêpes of rice and lentil flour -- that are just right for soaking up its fiery mango chutney. Masalaa's most interesting offerings, though, are the idlys, especially the miniature versions that look like little flying saucers made from rice, and the uthapams, bubbly breads topped with fresh vegetables or cheese. Both come with Masalaa's superior sambar (a stew made from several types of dal, or legumes, cooked down with many spices). The servers are ready to explain the unfamiliar items that abound at this restaurant, and they are as gracious and welcoming as a warm cup of chai.
The laid-back Ali Baba Grill cooks up the usual Middle Eastern favorites, but the difference here is that these dishes are absolutely packed with flavor. Creamy, smooth hummus carries a fresh lemon-juice-and-garlic punch, and the baba ghanouj contains eggplant that's been roasted until it's nearly caramelized, so that the dip has a deep, sweet quality. The just-made tabbouleh is always tip-top fresh; the kabobs are charbroiled, giving the meats that crunchy edge of extra flavor; and the chicken shawarma is coated in a garlic paste before it's rotisserie-broiled. Save room for dessert: The housemade baklava and a cup of freshly brewed mint tea make for a relaxing finale.

Best California-Mediterranean Restaurant

Mizuna

Mizuna
Joni Schrantz
The name, which refers to a Japanese green, is your first clue that Mizuna is all over the map, pulling from international flavors and ingredients to make dishes so stunning, they're over the top. Still, most of the items at this charismatic bistro are inspired by the New American sensibilities of California cuisine, with a heavy reliance on Mediterranean components to pull everything together. The hallmark of chef/part owner Frank Bonanno's cooking is fresh ingredients, with plenty of butter and cream to carry the flavors; dishes such as crème-fraîche-bolstered mashed potatoes and lobster-enriched macaroni and cheese are perfect examples of this philosophy. Bonanno's partner, host-with-the-most Doug Fleisch-mann, manages to keep the needy audience pampered and entertained while diners wait for the next delectable dish to come out of the kitchen.
Panzano
Linnea Covington
Italian food is more than spaghetti and meatballs. A lot more. And Panzano, which is named for a small wine town in Chianti, proves it with inspired, well-executed dishes that evoke what you might find at the finest inns of Tuscany. Panzano is lucky to have chef Jennifer Jasinski do the translating: She relies on bold flavors, rich sauces and just the right touch with herbs to create such elaborate dishes as mezzaluna pasta stuffed with roasted Kabocha squash, mascarpone, three-nut brown butter, Amaretti di Saronno cookies, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fried sage. If that doesn't grab you, how about chicken breast rolotini with currants, pine nuts, pancetta and Parmigiano, accompanied by a salad of grilled figs, pecorino and arugula? Match the culinary masterpieces with one of Panzano's well-chosen Italian wines, and you have a meal that isn't just Italian -- it's delicious.

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