On any given afternoon, longtime locals can be found strolling into Sushi Hana to be warmly greeted by the owners, who everyone knows as Ivy and Larry.
Born Min Yang and Yi Jiang, the husband and wife duo met in New York after both emigrated from South China. Larry grew up in Lanqi, a fishing village near the Taiwan Strait. It was there that he developed what seems to be an inborn sense for assessing quality fish. “He can tell the freshness based on the scales. He’s got a lot of sensitivity,” says Ivy.
In 2012, the duo moved to Boulder on a whim. “We wanted to open our own small family business,” says Ivy. In May of that year they debuted Sushi Hana at the base of the Hill, complete with a solid chef’s counter and intimate dining room.
Larry had been working in sushi restaurants across New York, where his natural deftness with all things aquatic was married with solid chops. The opening menu at Hana had all the essential trappings of a fine sushi counter, with well-defined lists of rolls, starters, sashimi, and nigiri bolstered by sake and fish coming from Japan, Alaska and California.
Quickly, Sushi Hana became a university hangout. “Ninety-eight percent of our customers, they are college students,” says Ivy, noting that Hana has sold more than its fair share of California rolls and sake bombs.
In the summer of 2022, Ivy and Larry did a full revamp of the dining room, hoping to make the place a bit more hospitable to families and older patrons. “We wanted to provide a more peaceful environment. I don’t know how many families were scared away by the banging on the table,” says Ivy, referencing the traditional and garish preamble that takes place before sake bombs get chugged.
Ivy and Larry are both jovial hosts, and by no means have any intention of quieting the celebratory atmosphere that has become a fixture at Sushi Hana. So they’ve been making updates carefully and gradually with a firm sense that a strong drinking culture can coexist alongside increased refinement. “We’ve opened the doors for the residents,” says Ivy.
In the last couple of months, the duo began to introduce a series of Cantonese-style dim sum items including succulent crystal shrimp dumplings and classic cheese wontons with crab and celery.
This comes alongside more traditional Japanese starters including takoyaki — fried balls of dough and octopus covered with teriyaki, mayo and dried bonito flakes — sushi tacos with spicy toro, spicy scallop, unagi and tamago and beef tataki, which sees thin slices of rare beef covered in a citrus-soy dipping sauce. “We’re planning to combine modern and traditional cuisine, adding more creative items into it,” Ivy says. Sweeping changes to the list of rolls are set to begin appearing on the menu throughout the summer. “We’re also planning to have seasonal seafood,” Ivy adds. “Some more additions are rare finds in Colorado, such as oysters, Kanpachi [baby yellowtail], and uni [sea urchins]. We will also later add ramen into the menu because of how many people love it.”
While there’s plenty of creativity to be found across the Hana original rolls — take the Orange Blossom Roll with white tuna, salmon, chives and mandarin oranges — some of the best items on the menu are the most simple. Larry’s knack for picking prime fish comes across best in the nigiri and sashimi. The sushi entrées are affordable and well-stocked, with combos beginning at just $21. The blue fin toro nigiri should be a part of any complete meal. It’s also a great drinking snack that goes nicely with a fine list of cold sakes.
No visit is complete without trying the Ninja Fruit Roll, a dessert roll that combines thinly sliced strawberry, kiwi and mango with bites of crunchy cheesecake all wrapped up in rice and chewy rice masago.
Sushi Hana’s ongoing transformation has situated it nicely in that happy in-between that has all the excitement of a back-alley sushi dive while still serving food fit for discerning palates. This is now a place where bombs and flights ungrudgingly commingle, with options fit for the penny-pinching student all the way to the lavish gourmand. “We opened the sushi restaurant to make a living in the beginning,” Ivy says. “After 11 years running the business, we are ready for the next level.”