The story: The izakaya trend, the Japanese gastropubs known for small bites (typically grilled) to go with the drinking, has spread east to Denver, as demonstrated in the popular Izakaya Den. The conceptual restaurant, opened by the same owners of Sushi Den (which is right next door) calls itself “a sake house with tapas” to explain the concept to locals.
Why I went: Happy hour is supposedly huge in Denver, so I had read about Izakaya Den as one of the more popular spots. But my family ended up getting to the restaurant late so we had a normal dinner at the restaurant found on the quaint South Pearl Street in Denver.
The vibe: I called the restaurant “conceptual” because the decor and lounge feel definitely pushes the concept of a fashionable Japanese izakaya, if something like this exist. But in a city with Asian restaurants called “Tokyo Joe,” Izakaya Den doesn’t put itself out there as an authentic izakaya, informing visitors that the menu is infused with global influences. The restaurant has a sushi counter and towering bamboo in the center pointing up toward the second floor dining space. We sat in the back on the first floor surrounded by the bar and a communal table.
The menu: As I mentioned, Izakaya Den doesn’t make any apologies for its fusion concept dishes, such as the duck confit steamed buns ($14) and shrimp and lobster won tons ($12). There are some traditional dishes like sashimi (raw fish) and sushi (selected from a check list), but the flavors are bold, often accented with global touches like jalapeno or even cheese. There are daily small plate specials, several noodle options (ramen), and sushi platters. We got an assortment of small plates along with several items from the sushi menu.
The booze: There’s a large sake, beer and wine selection, along with a page of specialty cocktails infused with Japanese flavors. I tried the Hibiscus Fizz ($12) because I love drinks topped off with egg white foam. The cocktail was satisfying and beautifully accented with an edible candied hibiscus flower. My sister tried the Kumquat Yuzu Mojito ($13), which was refreshing but light on the yuzu.
My favorite dish: The duck confit steamed buns (typically this dish is made as a crostini) was fun, with the buns coming out on taco holders. They were tasty quick bites that gave a nice blend of the tender duck confit shreds harmonizing with the crunchy shoestring potatoes, pickled vegetables and cilantro crema.
Insider tip: Happy hour starts at 4:30 p.m. but you can enjoy a more intimate happy hour at the upstairs bar, which begins serving at 5 p.m.
The last bite: Izakaya Den defies the image of a hole-in-the-wall izakaya in Japan, but the professional service, cool vibe, and creative menu makes it a fun way to get some Asian flavors in Denver.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Izakaya Den, 1487-A S. Pearl St., Denver. PH: 303.777.0691. Open for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday); lunch Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; and happy hour, Tuesday through Friday, 4:30 to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.izakayaden.net
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