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

Tonkostu ramen is a hearty way to stretch your dining dollars.EXPAND
Tonkostu ramen is a hearty way to stretch your dining dollars.
Kelsey Colt
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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.

A draft bomb offers twice the fun for your money.EXPAND
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.

This roll is loaded with so much fish!EXPAND
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.

Tonkostu ramen is a hearty way to stretch your dining dollars.EXPAND
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.

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