Brothers Toshi and Yasu Kizaki, owners of Sushi Den, serve some of the best sushi in Denver by strategically overcoming the struggles of being a sushi restaurant in a landlocked state. Each day, their other brother, Koichi, on the ground in Japan, heads to the Nagahama Fish Market and picks out the freshest fish of the day, which is then cold-packed and shipped to Denver that day, where we get to enjoy it on our plates the next. This is what makes Sushi Den so great: the quality of the fresh fish as well as the vibrant ambience.
Sushi Den can be expensive because of that quality, but there is a way to dine on a budget here; happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. is the prime time to get in without a reservation and have a treat- yourself moment. The crazy hustle and bustle common at 8 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night has not arrived yet at 4 p.m. on a weekday, and a calmness fills the air. The restaurant has different sections where you can dine, and a sushi bar where you can sit and watch the chefs work their magic on the fish.
One of the best deals on the happy-hour menu is the buy-one get-one hot sake special. Start your evening with this warm beverage and order the crispy tuna appetizer for you and your guest to share. The rice has a crisp outer texture but is still soft and warm on the inside. Spicy tuna, finely chopped to almost a paste, is placed on top and then crowned with avocado, teriyaki sauce and jalapeño slices. Enjoy this appetizer while you ponder the sushi menu.
There are two sections you should focus on in the sushi menu: the nigiri and the signature Sushi Den rolls. The nigiri is discounted and served as one piece of fish on rice per order, so you get one per person. Order the hamachi (yellowtail) and shake (salmon) for nigiri options. For rolls, the negitoro roll (fatty tuna), poki roll (spicy tuna) and the firecracker roll are flavorful and amply sized.
The nigiri is a delicious mouthful of fresh fish with its own flavors. The yellowtail is as smooth as silk — your tongue will thank you for the treat because of the richness of the fish. The salmon is sweet, but balanced with a hint of spice from the wasabi between the fish and rice. I like to dip mine lightly in soy before consuming just for the salt factor.
With immediate hunger at bay, you can take your time with the three rolls. The fatty tuna is exactly that - fatty, so it is exceptionally creamy and has added tang from chives in the roll. The classic spicy tuna does not disappoint, and its warmth is cooled with balancing cucumber. The firecracker roll looks like the most fun with all of its colors, topped with chopped red onion, bell pepper, jalepeño and large cilantro leaves. The veggies are crisp and a perfect complement to the tuna on the inside. While the tuna and salmon don't come directly from the Nagahama Fish Market, the quality is still evident in the mild flavor and buttery texture.
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At this point, look at your guest with contentment and toast with your sake glasses: You just ate a five-star meal on a twenty-something budget.
The damage is $29 each for you and your companion. Here's how it breaks down:
Buy-one-get-one sake: $5
Crispy tuna appetizer: $12
Two hamachi (yellowtail) at $2.75 each
Two shake (salmon) at $2.75 each
Negitoro roll: $10
Poki roll: $8
Firecracker roll: $12