Boulder’s embassy of Japanese cuisine celebrates 20 years on Pearl Street
By Kate Jonuska
Sushi has made inroads across America, but landlocked Boulder’s passion for sushi and Japanese cuisine today must be credited at least in part to Japango, the Pearl Street fixture where for the last 20 years, generations of locals have received their delicious sushi educations.
“Even though it’s so popular, sushi is still foreign to a lot of people, so we strive to provide an environment where people can try different things and feel comfortable doing it,” says general manager Erin Banis, who likens Japango dining to traveling to a foreign land with a respected, knowledgable guide company. “We can keep them comfortable or we can guide them into some really fun, far-out stuff. It’s an environment where you choose your own adventure.”
“There’s never been someone we’ve not been able to make into a lover of sushi,” agrees owner Jon Banis, who with wife Erin, makes up the family at the heart of this family-operated restaurant. “We have a menu that’s quite unique.”
For instance, a traditional backbone runs up and down the Japango menu, evidence of the traditional approach of longtime head chef, Iwo-San. His skill is seen in his razor-thin slices of lightly seared Beef Tataki ($12), seasoned with a hint of garlic soy vinegar; his patience in the Miso Black Cod ($14), left to marinate until in falls into buttery layers in your mouth. His rolls are also on point, artfully composed. Despite the yellowtail and ponzu atop or the avocado inside, the tempura asparagus at the center of the Hanami roll ($17.50/8 pieces) still crunches, all the textures dancing together.
But then he’ll get creative, inspired by a certain fish or time of year, and create something truly unique like the Arctic Char ($18, 5 pieces), a rare sauceless sashimi served with a lemon slice thin enough to read through, daikon radish and yuzu tobiko. The bright, cold-water fish and the citrus are a fresh one-two punch and truly unique.
“He sees the response when people try something that pushes the boundaries,” says Erin. “It’s also great when he does something really traditional, something really foreign that we think there’s no way anyone in Boulder will like it. Then people love it.” She cites a recent special featuring tiny, crunchy ice fish, eaten whole — and eaten until 86’d.
This passion for food, shared from front of house to back, is surely the reason Japango has anchored its choice spot on the Pearl Street Mall — including two patios — for two decades. That passion makes Japango a place Stanley Usinowicz, creative beverage director, is proud to work.
“We give guests the opportunity to enjoy edible art that’s also incredibly healthy — and healthy from every angle,” he says, emphasizing the restaurant’s commitment to offering not only the freshest but the most sustainable seafood possible. “We’re about being adventurous and clean living.”
On his bar side, Usinowicz translates adventure into the largest selection of sake, shochu and Japanese whiskey in town, in addition, of course, to an impressive selection of beers, wine and mocktails that reveal why Japango’s is one of the hottest Happy Hours in the area.
“We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary in December,” says Jon with wonder and pride, “but it’s not really about us. It’s all about the guest. At Japango, we’re providing an experience, a vacation, an adventure, all those things, to our guests when they come in. And it’s always guests first.”
Japango (303-938-0330) is located at 1136 Pearl St. in Boulder. They’re open daily for lunch from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. and dinner from 5-10 p.m., and Happy Hour runs also runs daily, 3-6 p.m. For more information, visit boulderjapango.com.