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Denver's fifty most essential restaurants, No. 45: Sushi Den

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What defines an essential restaurant? Several opinionated friends and I were recently discussing that topic during dinner at a trendy newcomer that's amassed a flurry of flattery since opening its doors. It's a restaurant-of-the-moment, but will it still be relevant in six months? Will the crowds continue to jam the doors? More important, will it have made an indelible mark on Denver's dining landscape ten years from now? As a prelude to our annual Best of Denver issue, we're spotlighting, in no particular order, fifty restaurants -- old and new, classy, cool and conventional, strip mall and belle of the ball -- that are the Mile High City's most essential places to eat. These are the places that every foodnik in Denver should have on his or her feed-me list.

No. 45: Sushi Den

Twenty-eight years after Toshi Kizaki opened the original Sushi Den on South Pearl Street, the revolutionary shrine to raw fish, which has since undergone both location and atmospheric changes, is still consistently ranked as among the best -- if the the best -- sushi restaurants in Colorado. And for that, you can thank Kizaki, a purist who procures his stupendously fresh fish and seafood from the famed Nagahama Fish Market, in Fukuoka, Japan.

See also: Sushi Den introduces new cocktail and sake lists

And the brigade of sushi chefs -- some theatrical, all of them personable -- make damn sure that every single sliver of fish, every translucent slab of toro, every delicate slip of scallop, every marbled slice of salmon is treated with integrity and reverence. There are no slapdash gimmicks, no silly names to describe the rolls, no roll that's tricked out with twenty ingredients. And yet, each roll, every masterfully cut swish of fish is ready for a candid close-up.

And so is the crowd, a catwalk of strut that's happy to wait, sometimes in excess of an hour, maybe two, for a coveted seat in the swanky space. Still, at the end of a mesmerizing foray into the sea, you'll understand why, nearly three decades later, exuberant masses continue to gravitate to Sushi Den. After all this time, it's still the sushi restaurant by which all others are judged.

Denver's Fifty Most Essential Restaurants

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