Destination Dining: Take a Trip to Japan While Eating at Domo

BY Linnea Covington

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Though Denver is a great place to be, it’s exciting to travel, even without ever leaving the state. Through food, drinks, and space, places transport guests beyond the Rocky Mountains and into, in some cases, a whole new world. All without leaving the metro area. 

There’s nothing new about Domo Japanese Country Restaurant, it’s been around since 1996. Opened by Gaku Homma, Domo is the next-door sister to Nippon Kan, the sensei’s aikido dojo that opened in 1978. In fact, Domo opened as a way to support both the dojo and the training for international students.

The Vibe

bushes with domo sign
Enter Domo through here, then explore the Japanese garden on the other side. | Photo by Linnea Covington

Over the decades Domo has been a place to find true Japanese country cooking, all in a setting that transports visitors to rural Japan. The minute one passes through the wooden gate the garden opens up, perfect in its simplicity. There’s a small pond, large gray rocks, evergreen bushes, and hedges filling out the space. In the spring the large cherry tree blooms in all its pink glory, a small nod to Japan’s famous sakura season and centuries-old festivals. 

Then you go in. The dim room quickly comes into focus with thick wooden panels and rustic wooden tables dominating the area. Decorations adorn the walls from a traditional oni mask to lines of giant sake bottles to delicate paper fans. Hanging from the ceiling a bundle of origami cranes sway with each entry, and sacred omikuji drape a make-shift shrine. 

plate wit Japanese food udon
Kimchi udon comes in a giant bowl with small side dishes. | Photo by Linnea Covington

That’s just the first room. If you’re lucky enough to get there early and not have to wait long (there are no reservations), the server will whisk you away to the other side. Here the tables are made from giant, irregular pieces of wood. Simple, polished tree stumps work for chairs, not the best spot if you’re bringing squiggly kids or someone with back issues. The idea isn’t to get cozy and stay long, you come for your food, maybe a little chat, and then move on. 

It’s quiet at Domo too. The servers don’t say much, and the diners appear subdued as well. But instead of the lifelessness one might associate with this vibe, it feels more like respect and gratitude to be in the space. Then there’s the outside seating, a truly special place to give the guests the sensation of dining alfresco in an overseas Japanese garden.

However, due to social media, we almost didn’t get to experience the subtle joy of Domo, inside or out.

Closing Shop

japanese room domo
One of the rustic tables found inside Domo. | Photo by Linnea Covington

After a rough time during the pandemic, Homma considered closing Domo for good. Then, in 2021, a 40-second TikTok video depicting the restaurant’s gardens went viral. At around 70-years-old, Homma didn’t want to handle the huge crowds and lines around the corner. Domo was meant to move slow, with patience. So, he closed. 

Around September 2022 Homma still had Domo shuttered, stating he wished to retire. During that time he traveled the world, visiting countries where he operates orphanages, schools and aikido dojos. While touring, Homma stopped in Tako Lang province in Thailand to visit the Bilay House, a home for refugee children who escape the violence and political turmoil of Burma that he helped fund.

Back in Denver the true fans of Domo pleaded to get the restaurant back. They wrote wishes on chopstick wrappers and hung them on a string in the garden. There were hundreds. 

Finally, at the end of 2023, Homma reopened the doors to Domo, but with a few changes. One, the menu got a lot smaller. And two, at first only lunch was served, but now diners can enjoy the casual Japanese fare for lunch and an early dinner six days a week.

The Food

Piles of japanese food
The Japanese curry is a staple at Domo, and delicious. | Photo by Linnea Covington

Finally, sit down and enjoy the meal, just don’t ask for any modifications beyond having a cutlet on the side. The idea for the menu, said Homma, is to showcase Japanese food that’s not just ramen and sushi. This cuisine is rustic country fare, stuff the chef and sensei grew up eating. Dishes come out huge and hearty, almost too big to eat. Each one also includes a plethora of okazu, or small plates, featuring pickled vegetables and little salads, which change frequently. 

Spice lovers should absolutely try the Japanese curry. It’s more like a thick brown stew filled with vegetables and topped with either fried pork or chicken. The kimchi udon, which also comes in a giant bowl, wasn’t as spicy as the curry. Though, it had plenty of kick, even when paired with bites of cool fish cake and crisp daikon. Add on the nabeyaki udon too, it sings with shrimp tempura, kamaboko fish cake, mushrooms, fried tofu, and long, thick noodles.

Overall the food is rich and flavorful, the stick-to-your-bones type of meal one craves, especially in the winter. There’s nothing like it in Denver. But of course, when going to Domo, it will feel more like you left the Mile High City all together, rather than having lunch downtown.

Visit Domo Japanese Country Restaurant Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 1365 Osage St., Denver, domorestaurant.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linnea Covington

Linnea Covington is the managing editor of DiningOut. She comes to us with a long background in food, restaurant and drinks journalism. Over the last two decades she’s written for tons of publications including Denver Post, Washington Post, Forbes Travel Guide, 5280 Magazine, New York Magazine, New York Times, Time Out New York and more.

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