Hapa Sushi's veggie options roll past beginner tastes

"Hapa" is "a Hawaiian term that describes a harmonious blend of Asian and American cultures," according to the Hapa Sushi menu. And this homegrown, four-restaurant chain is devoted to making moving between those cultures easy -- and delicious. Those unfamiliar with sushi will find Hapa a comforting jumping-off point, with sushi offerings clearly labeled "beginner" and "intermediate" -- and just in case you're not willing to commit to seaweed and rice, the menu includes Hawaiian ribs and an ahi sandwich. There's a gluten-free roster, too, and vegetarians aren't left out of the mix: Hapa also has a sushi menu dedicated to herbivores.

See also: Sushi Sasa rolls out vegetarian and vegan delights

The Hapa chain got its start in Boulder, but the Greenwood Village location is popular among office workers seeking a quick but sophisticated sit-down meal. The interior has a very streamlined, minimalist look that complements the complex beauty of the food, and the tables are far enough apart that it's easy to have a private conversation. There's also a patio where diners can enjoy the outdoors during these last days of summer.

We grabbed an indoor table during one recent lunch so that we could focus on our sushi. Pictured above are four different kinds of vegetarian sushi. The natto maki (fermented soybean and scallions) is in front, with shinko maki (pickled radish roll) lined up right behind it. The vegetable roll (avocado, cucumber, shiitake mushrooms, pickled daikon radish, dried calabash and gobo, a root vegetable native to Japan) is arranged at the back of the plate, and the vegetable caterpillar roll (cucumber wrapped in avocado and drizzled in sweet soy) is on the side.

The vegetable roll and vegetable caterpillar roll were the first snatched off the plate; the creamy, perfectly ripe avocado was irresistible in both combinations, and the assorted fillings gave both rolls a satisfying crunch. The pickled radish roll was good but definitely more of an acquired taste, tart on the tongue. And the fermented soybeans and scallions are definitely an advanced pick, with a briny flavor that's not suited for most beginner sushi-tasters.

There are four Hapa Sushi locations in the metro area -- one in Boulder, one in LoDo, one in Cherry Creek and the Greenwood Village outpost. Visit hapasushi.com.

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