Twenty-Something for Twenty-Somethings: Thrifty Dining on Japanese Pub Grub

Kelsey Colt
Tonkostu ramen is a hearty way to stretch your dining dollars.
With so many great restaurants to choose from, cash-strapped Denver newcomers — challenged with rising rents and skinny paychecks — are finding it hard to have a fun night out without blowing the bank. Twenty- Something for Twenty-somethings will help you find hot destinations where you can enjoy cutting-edge cuisine in a stylish setting — all within a  twenty-something budget (less than $30 per person). And you don't need to be under thirty to take these recommendations; just be ready for a great eating adventure.

On the busy corner of 16th and Boulder streets in LoHi sits Mizu Izakaya, a Japanese gastropub that has been around for a little over a year in a spot that has previously worn several hats. Over the past few years the building has welcomed diners for pizza at Cibo and pub grub at the British-style Churchill’s, neither of which found the right formula to keep the doors open. While running a successful restaurant here looked tricky, Mizu owner Hong Jian Lee seems to have figured it out, because his place is consistently packed.

click to enlarge A draft bomb offers twice the fun for your money. - KELSEY COLT
A draft bomb offers twice the fun for your money.
Kelsey Colt
The pressure can mount when trying to find a spot to spend your precious dining dollars; you want someplace fun and delicious — where the pressures of the week melt away rather than grow in proportion to your bill. Mizu Izakaya offer plenty of options, whether a weekend special occasion is in your budget or you're just looking for a way to relax during a weekday dinner. Like traditional Japanese izakayas, Mizu offers a pub-style setting for partaking in food and drinks, but it also has a large dining area divided into distinct pockets, each with a slightly different experience.

The menu covers a lot of ground and is divided into small plates, fried foods, grilled dishes, ramen, large plates and sushi. Picking a path to create a meal is no small feat, especially while on a budget. To ease the decision-making process, I suggest two routes: sushi or ramen as your main.

But before focusing on food, start the night with a "Draft Bomb," a beer (Sapporo) and sake (the smooth, floral Momokawa Diamond) combo for $6. Even on a budget, a good meal should start with an appetizer; a vegetarian spring roll is a great way to prime your appetite. The fried shell is crackly and slightly sweet, with a dense, steamy filling. A dipping sauce on the side adds a hint of tang and heat.

click to enlarge This roll is loaded with so much fish! - KELSEY COLT
This roll is loaded with so much fish!
Kelsey Colt
If you're craving seafood, go big with the $18 Tokyo roll — the garlic butter listed on the menu as one of the ingredients was enough to sell us on this one. It's a tuna-forward roll, with spicy tuna in the middle (done "tataki" style — chopped snd mixed with seasonings and avocado) and more tuna on top. Add ponzu and that garlic butter, of course, to make this roll filling and worth the money. It's a bold mix of rich flavors and spices, but the lightness of the tuna still swims through.

If you go the ramen route, the tonkotsu is a filling option. Mizu uses both chicken and pork for its tonkotsu broth, and marinates its classic soft-boiled egg for added soy-sauce saltiness. Wood ear mushrooms are a little surprise bite and add an earthy taste to cut through the salt of the broth. Mizu uses very thin ramen noodles — almost like angel hair pasta — making slurping even more fun. Atop the noodles you'll find bok choy and slices of tender pork.

click to enlarge Tonkostu ramen is a hearty way to stretch your dining dollars. - KELSEY COLT
Tonkostu ramen is a hearty way to stretch your dining dollars.
Kelsey Colt
The damage: $27 or $28, depending on which route you take.

Option 1: $27
Draft Bomb: $6
Vegetable spring rolls: $3 (split)
Tokyo roll: $18

Option 2: $28
Sake and draft $6
Vegtable spring rolls: $3 (split)
Tonkotsu ramen: $17

Mizu Izakaya is located at 1560 Boulder Street and is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Call the restaurant at 720-372-7100 or visit the Mizu Izakaya website for more information.