This Japanese American Had Avoided Uchi in Denver, But I Did Not Mind Trying Them Out During Their Happy Hour

One does not remain a bachelor by taking on any commitment which is also why I only partially committed to trying Uchi during their happy hour.

April 15th, 2022, this is a pre-quarantine review, and I just never got around to posting this post. Content updates: Feb 15th, 23

Since I don’t have kids, I blow most of my money on food, alcohol, and my friends because not worrying about Greg Jr’s college tuition frees up the community college fund (I have low expectations for any future progeny). 

It has been several years since I tried Uchi (thanks, pandemic), and I need to make another visit because what I had the first time did not disappoint. Most of it has very little to do with Japan or Japanese cuisine, and it is a random mash-up of Asian influences, although they are no slackers regardless of their misguided marketing.

Sadly, many marketers in Colorado tout things under the guise of being Japanese. Even more culturally significant/offensive since it is in Five Points, Colorado which was once a prominent neighborhood that Japanese Americans were excluded to (my dad grew up in neighboring Skyland), especially Lawrence St.
Photo Description: the corner of Uchi with Altius Farms above it which they tout themselves as the urban farm aka green house.
Yup, that is a greenhouse above Uchi, owned and operated by Altius Farms.

I also don’t drop Benjamins on any Daisuke, Nobu, or Alize (she’s great on stage blue by the way), and I scrutinize the places I eat at like I do with my future baby mama. 

After living out of state for the last quarter of a century, I try to limit my exposure to Colorado’s Americanized con’fusion sue-she bars because a bad meal kills my vibe like the lack of ABG’s/K-town girls in this Asian deficient state (sorry for the Asian speak my Coloradans, I mean expensive dates), so I have learned to settle, like trying Uchi.

Luckily for me, Uchi has a happy hour, and after having a couple of happy hours of drinking, I decided to drop by Uchi for a quick bite. 

The restaurant naming game

Imagine an American restaurant named House (uchi/うち/ いえ), hand fan (uchiwa), Wrestler (sumo), Drums (taiko), Theater (kabuki), or Water (mizu). Well, imagine no more because that is how we Americans, especially non-Japanese, name Japanese restaurants because most Japanese use a surname like Matsuhisa.

Most Japanese spots will use their last name for the business name, like Sushi Nozawa, Matsuhisa, or my homie, who was just awarded a Michelin star for his spot, 715 Sushi which is a play off of his first name Seigo.

“715” is an abbreviation for Seigo’s name in numbers. 7 (“Se” from Seven), 1 (I from Ichi (meaning one in Japanese), 5 (five is “go” in Japanese).
Photo Description: the bar at Uchi which has a large shelf full of alcohol and a white marble top.
I like the interior which feels like every Japanese/Asian restaurant owner in Colorado’s aspiration to be like.

How deep are the Japanese roots

On my happiest of hours visit, I might have been the only ethnically Japanese person in the joint. When that happens, I feel I should get a free beer. Like when a Mexican is in Taco Bell, we both add a visual endorsement to diners. Although, I know any Asian in Colorado is assumed to be whatever the Asian the restaurant is touting itself as. So there goes my chances at a free beer.

Photo Description: the chopsticks and napkin at Uchi in Denver.
Uchiwa cuz the name Kaze seemed too silly, -10 points.

If it were Japanese, your hashi/ohashi (chopsticks) would sit on a hashioki (chopstick holder). In the case of Uchi, this is not a solution because this little strip does not provide you with an elevated place to rest your chopsticks when in use. In this case, it just appears to be all presentation.

Unlike other restaurants that do not disclose the type of Wagyu they serve, Uchi does. They cite in their menu “Australian Wagyu BMS 6-7.” It matters because most FOH staff never know, and most restaurants serve American Wagyu (a lesser version of Japanese beef) by Snake River Farms.

The BMS is the Japanese Beef Marbling System, and you can read more about why it’s impressive to see Uchi source Australian Wagyu via my The Truthc about SRF article. BTW, not a happy hour menu item, only the Wagyu tartare for $9.
Photo Description: the menu at Uchi Denver. I'm currently looking at the Happy Hour menu which goes from 5 - 6:30 Daily.
I LOVE their HH pricing, $4 for a Kirin (they get it). My menu also had the complexion of a 16 y/o teen.

Wow, where are they getting their myoga from?? It’s not easy to find, nor is it cheap even in Los Angeles. Regardless where they get it, I love when I see a chef make an effort to use actual Japanese ingredients (+25 points here if I am keeping score).

Photo Description: The negihama at Uchi is about half order at any other place, but it is is cut in half at a diagonal cut. Placed atop a small wooden board with a shoyu saucer dish.
Negihama, $6, the name means green onion (negi) and the type of fish (hamachi).

Solid *fist bump*, another +25 points.

Chef Tyler Cole mixes Asian cuisine altogether, but if you are Roy Choi, he does his iconic Kogi Truck, a Korean-Mexican fusion, which reflects Los Angeles. Also, in Beverly Hills, Nobu Matsuhisa does Peruvian-influenced Japanese food from his experiences living in Peru.

In Peru, there are Asian influences in popular dishes that some may not be aware are Asian such as lomo saltado, which is part of their Chifa (Chinese) cuisine.

It is too common to see Japanese cuisine with a fusion of other Asian influences in the US because most Muricans can’t tell you the difference between Thailand and Taiwan or if you are Chinese or Japanese.

Photo Description: a close up of the negihama.
When it’s good, I don’t mind it all up in my face.

Time for the close-up shot aka money shot.

Photo Description: the bar to ceiling shelf of alcohol at Uchi. It is filled with glasses, sake, Japanese whisky, Japanese beer, and all sorts of, a variety of all types of liquor.
The liquor shelf is a “tell” about the restaurants knowledge of the cuisine, and I like what I see (Hitachino to Japanese whisky like the Suntory Yamzaki and Nikki Coffey grain, although I will take that bottle of Jameson cuz cheap).

Time for more alcohol, especially at HH prices, +100 points.

Photo Description: this is their strawbery and pork dish with basil and myoga.
Balanced bruuuuh, +25 points.

Ok, this is where things made another turn for the good (but not Japanese) because I really enjoyed this dish, except do not think it has anything to do with being Japanese. Not like everything has to be, but it is implied throughout the menu although what dishes are supposed to be Japanese? Just the makizushi or a few ingredients here or there?

Photo Description: another shot with a close up of the myoga, strawberry and basil.
It could have worked with myoga and a nori tsukudani, but you have to know Japanese cuisine to know about those ingredients.

What part of this dish would make it Japanese? The black garlic tahini (Middle Eastern), spicy honey, pork belly, to the currants (btw, isn’t it, strawberries and basil), to the pickled shallots? Nothing, but I enjoyed it, and when I saw it, I thought the black ingredient was a nori tsukudani (a seasoned nori paste made with shoyu, that I used to eat on rice as a kid), but naaawwww, I was wrong, it wasn’t.

Everything I had was on point, but to say it is Japanese or even Japanese inspired is as silly as saying chef Tyson Cole identifies as Japanese (EDIT: May 15th, ’23, I will have to go back because it looks like the menu seems to be switched up for the good).

I’m a dolphin (EDIT: I still am).
Photo Description: a close up of the black garlic tahini spread all over the silver metal bowl.
I Jackson Pollock’d it.

Every fusion spot seems to eff with Japanese food, yet there are 51 other Asian countries that restauranteurs can mess with, yet you never see Chinese, Thai, or Korean fusion. The reason for that, well, the majority of these businesses are not by Asians (I would love to see how many Asian countries they can point to on a map).

I have a full list of my top 10 sushi restaurants in Denver, and my top spot is a family owned and operated sushi spot in Cherry Creek. By a Japanese chef you hear about in rap songs, “Nobu” (Matsuhisa).

Nobu’san’s family of restaurants, “Matsuhisa,” are only in Beverly Hills (his first location in the United States), Aspen, Vail, and Cherry Creek. His partnership with Robert DeNiro and other the dude is ‘Nobu’s,’ and those restaurants are located all around the globe.

A whole lot of implying to Japanese culture

The menu has Japanese words scattered about, but the dishes and their preparation of the ingredients are mostly just random ingredients and flavors. The menu is more of a reflection of chef Tyler Cole’s understanding of Asian culture than a fusion, like Nobu Matsuhisa or Roy Choi. That does not take away from the place because everything is on point and tastes like a taste of Austin, Texas.

Photo Description: the beef tartare gunkan egg yolk custard (2-pieces).
Beef tartare gunkan, egg yolk custard, $8

One example of their menu items is their Sasami Yaki to the Suzuki Yaki (btw “yaki” just means grilled), both of these dishes are more on par with being a Thai dish due to the use of coconut milk to cilantro (SE Asian ingredients) – two ingredients not associated with being Japanese and the dish itself has no Japanese connection like many others.

My mom’s side of the family had a family farm in Weld County, and they did not get interned (imprisoned) due to Governor Ralph L. Carr during World War 2 like so many other Japanese Americans. Due to him, a large community in Denver developed off of Lawrence.

Sakura Square is the last remnants of that history, and you will find a bust of Governor Carr in Sakura Square.

I could go on and on, but like I said before, I don’t think it matters because I bet it all tastes good, and if they need to market their restaurant as Japanese over being just Asian (Korean, Thai, Chinese, etc.), to get people through their door, have at it brah.

Yes, uchiwa mean “fan” although unchi means something totally different (small tweaks can change a meaning).

I won’t be “hitting It and quitting It”

If you do try fusion, I would say only about 10-15% of the “chefs” out there could do it correctly. The other 85-90% are hacks who just do not have the ability, and I place them in the con”fusion” category. Their inability or lack of understanding of the cuisine is what they end up trying to pass off as fusion.

Uchi implies it being Japanese, but like most non-Japanese owned/operated businesses, they are a blend of Asian influences (mostly Thai, Korean, and Chinese) under the guise of Japanese fusion cuisine.

This is silly because when do you see an Italian restaurant with a bunch of European influences all mashed together from Spanish, French, Russian, to German, all under the guise of being Italian?

In the case of Chef Tyson Cole and his crew in Denver, it is one of the very few restaurants that I think understands flavors. It’s unfortunately all too often that foam, gold flake, foo foo flowers, and over sauced and overdone food is touted as Japanese although, in the case of Uchi, I luckily did not have that initial experience.

I only tried the happy hour menu after several happy hours of alcohol, but everything I had made me only happy to want to try the rest of Uchi’s (not unchi) menu in the near future. My next gamble, to try their nigiri sushi.


2500 Lawrence St
Denver, CO 80205


The Uchi Denver menu



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