Chef Miki Hashimoto, who previously helped make Japon Sushi one of Colorado's top sushi restaurants, wants Tokio to feel like a neighborhood restaurant in Tokyo — Photo courtesy of Tokio
When it comes to innovative dining venues, Denver is hot. Tokio, which opened in downtown’s Prospect neighborhood in late 2014, proves that point by offering diners an intriguing take on Japanese cuisine – one not duplicated elsewhere.
To start, throw out what you think you know about ramen, yakitori and other staples of Japanese cuisine. Ramen, a national dish of Japan, is not the over-salted, dry stuff you doused with hot water and called a meal when you were a student.
“Having moved here from Japan, and after returning on a regular basis, I know that Tokio offers the most authentic ramen in Denver,” says Chef and Owner Miki Hashimoto, whose goal with the restaurant is to bring a slice of the traditional Japanese lifestyle and ambience to Denver.
Ramen Air is a fragrant combo of vegetables in a soybean milk broth — Photo courtesy of Tokio
Ramen noodles in Japan have a heartier taste and texture than what is typically served in this country. Hashimoto uses authentic chukamen noodles, but also offers rice noodles for gluten-free diners.
Tokio’s specialty ramen dishes include Tonkotsu, a pork broth with soy, pickled bamboo and soft-boiled egg; Spicy Shoyu with fish cake, dark soy sauce, bok choy, bean sprouts, green onion and pickled bamboo; and a curry version with a pork and chicken broth, spicy curry and green onion.
What also separates Tokio from other Japanese eateries is a traditional binchotan charcoal grill. The cooks fire it up with Japanese oak-wood charcoal, which imparts a distinctive, smoky flavor to yakitori and meat dishes that gas grills and other woods can’t duplicate.
Hashimoto uses high-quality Kobe beef and locally sourced Berkshire pork and natural chicken, which ramps up the quality of the grilled dishes even more.
“Binchotan grill stations are traditional in Japan,” the chef says. “And I believe Tokio is the first restaurant in Denver to ever serve binchotan yakitori.”
Assorted sashimi is presented almost as artwork — Photo courtesy of Tokio
Hashimoto, a sushi chef for 30 years, works with top seafood suppliers in Colorado to serve the freshest sushi and sashimi, as well as American-style sushi rolls. Typical sushi varieties are available by the piece, including yellowtail, tuna, salmon, crab, shrimp and sea urchin. There’s also flying fish, octopus, egg custard and a tofu pocket piece for something different.
Shrimp tempura and Philadelphia (made with salmon and cream cheese) are among the rolls that might appeal to sushi newbies. There are creative specialty rolls, too, and sashimi-lovers won't be disappointed.
This is the place to try sake if you haven’t yet become a fan or if you’re a connoisseur. Tokio has an extensive selection of imported sake – more than 16 varieties, in fact. There’s also wine, Japanese and domestic beer, spirits and cordials.
Tokio restaurant was designed by Kanji Ueki, who also designed the Apple stores; he wanted to capture the feel of a Japanese Sakaba bar, where people come together to eat and drink as a community — Photo courtesy of Tokio
Certain dishes pair best with certain types of sake, and Hashimoto is happy to make suggestions for diners. He recommends pairing the Diablo roll with Kuroushi Omachi, for example, a sake that’s medium-dry and smooth, but with a bite.
As for ramen, his preference is Hakushika Junmai Ginjo sake, which he calls "smooth and clean."
From start to finish, Tokio is designed to be inviting. The simple yet artful interior invites community and congeniality and evokes the restaurant's namesake city.
“Dining at Tokio is the most authentic Japanese experience one can have in Denver,” Hashimoto says. “Tokio transports diners to a small house in Japan, where only the freshest, highest quality delicacies are served. And we know that our patrons will taste the difference.”