Whether they're unwinding from shopping in the Highlands art district, grabbing a bite before seeing a show, or just enjoying a night out with friends, groups flock to Sushi Hai for its fresh sushi and funky atmosphere. Local art flows through this popular Highlands stop, which has been a neighborhood staple for more than a decade. Along with nigiri and sashimi, menu features a vast array of rolls, including a veggie option filled with cucumber, pickled gourd, and sprouts. But chefs also splice together meaty entrees, such as the Hai pork chop served with smoked applewood bacon and savory bread pudding. For a more authentic experience, guests can visit one of the restaurant's three private Tatami rooms, where they abide by the traditional Japanese custom of sitting on the floor and resisting the urge to play Duck, Duck, Goose as full-grown adults.
Two private Tatami rooms are also located downstairs at the Hai Bar, a 3,000-square-foot martini lounge where patrons can either order standalone drinks or pair them with plates of sushi amid music, flat-screen TVs, and lounge seating.
By using only 100% vegetable oil and fat-free love, Masa Asian Kitchen's chefs are able to craft Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese entrees that are both flavorful and MSG-free—entrees such as lo mein noodles, green curry, and teriyaki salmon. They also create 20 sushi rolls, the seaweed casings of which pack in tempura shrimp, spicy crab, cream cheese, and avocado. To request adjustments to a dish, diners simply speak with their server, who can ask the chef to turn a meaty dish into a vegetarian entree or a spicy dish into just a bunch of napkins dipped in water.
Located on 15th Street in downtown Denver, Sushi Sasa blends traditional with “new style” Japanese cuisine. The restaurant has a sleek white and wood interior that merges modern touches with natural elements inside a bright, inviting room. The menu changes daily, so that chef/owner Wayne Cornwell can make sure to bring only the freshest and tastiest ingredients to the table. The restaurant serves unique sushi rolls like the Grilled Eggplant Roll and the Caprese Roll, and even offers an adventurous Otsumami (Japanese tapas) menu that includes the popular shrimp and lobster Atomic Dynamites and asparagus tempura with a spicy aioli on the side. They also have a wonderful sake and wine list. The downstairs is cozy, but can get a bit noisy during the busier hours, while upstairs seating is quiet and elegant.
Nearing the three-decade mark since opening its first store, Kokoro cooks up quick and tasty Japanese meals using fresh, never-processed ingredients, including Colorado-grown co-op vegetables whenever possible. Many of those meals feature a secret teriyaki sauce, such as the Kokoro Bowl—a fusion of juicy beef, teriyaki chicken, and veggies—which reigns as the restaurant's most popular bowl. Kokoro—whose loose translation is “heart” and points to the staff’s passion—also provides a drive-thru option, extending the same courteous, full-service experience even for the demanding task of accommodating the governor’s motorcade.
When to Go: For a more casual, slightly less expensive meal, swing by for happy hour (2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday–Saturday), when select appetizers, wines, and cocktails are served at a discount.
In the Press
Inside Tip: Do not ask for ketchup. Beyond the fact that it's a faux pas at upscale restaurants, Chef Lon Symensma just can't stand the stuff. As he told an interviewer for Westworld, one of his first apartments was next door to a Heinz factory, which permeated the air with the smell of tomatoes and vinegar. This experience left the chef with a strong aversion to the popular condiment.
Cholon: literally translates to "big market," and it's also the name of the largest Chinese market in Saigon, Vietnam.
Pandan: a fragrant, almost-floral herb used in Southeast Asian cooking. At ChoLon, Chef Symensma tosses it into his Singapore-style chicken and rice.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: Whet your appetite with a trip to EVOO Marketplace (1338 15th Street), where you can sample gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
After: Sip a nightcap at Mario's Double Daugher's Salotto (1632 Market Street), a dimly lit lounge with a Grimm's fairy tale kind of feel.
Inspired by the Hawaiian term hapa, which describes a harmonious blend of Asian and American cultures, the chefs at Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar strive to balance dynamic flavors with every dish. They follow traditional Japanese techniques but incorporate influences from American, Hawaiian, and Japanese cuisine to fill their lunch and dinner menus with original combinations. Kalua pork peking wraps fold around Hawaiian-style pulled pork and the Poke Don coats fresh ahi tuna or salmon in a house poke sauce and sesame seeds. Sushi rolls range from basic california and shrimp tempura rolls to original creations, such as the XXX Roll, a core of tempura asparagus wrapped in hamachi and jalapeños, seared with olive oil, drizzled with ponzu, and played by Vin Diesel.