On a recent summer’s evening I embarked on an epic five-restaurant crawl in Denver, making tracks on the scorching pavement to well-known places like Linger and Cholon. I was surprised by the diversity of the offerings. Vietnamese wok-fired Brussels sprouts with pork and mint, apparently, is all the rage in a town better known for craft beer and Dave Matthews Band concerts.

But the biggest surprise was saved for the end when I took a seat at the counter of Washington Park’s Sushi Den. It was hands down one of the best meals of my young-ish fascination (slight obsession) with all things relating to Japanese sushi food and culture. You know that flick Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, the story of 85-year-old Tokyo sushi master Jiro Ono? Well, I found the Jiro Ono of Denver. Toshi Kizaki, 56, has been the head chef (and fish buyer) at Sushi Den for 28 years. That is a ridiculous run when you consider how relatively short a time Japanese cuisine has been popular in the United States.  

It starts with Kizaki’s dedication to products, an obvious tenet in running a successful sushi business. And by successful, I mean the place is packed all the time for lunch and dinner. He sources his fish from the little-known Nagahama Fish Market, located on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. The chef makes quarterly trips to the market and has an older brother stationed nearby. Also, Toshi and another brother, Yasu, run a state-of-the-art greenhouse on the city’s outskirts where they grow native produce like shiso, shishito pepper, komatsuna and kabocha. Here’s a rundown of some of the dishes I was served during an omakase feast.

Slightly pickled cucumbers.

Foreground: Scallop and smoked portobello mushroom. Background: River salmon (left) big eye tuna with a dollop of wasabi.

Tequila-cured salmon with local asparagus and farm egg mayonnaise.

Toro, mackerel, Spanish mackerel.

Aburi (grilled) sushi. Toro and Spanish mackerel.

It was my birthday and Yasu was nice enough to send me some tiramisu.