When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Pho King Kitchen
Location: 8018 E. Thomas Road, Scottsdale
Open: About a week
Eats: Vietnamese/Southwestern fusion with a few traditional Asian offerings thrown in
Drinks: Selection of Asian and domestic beers, full bar
Price: About $15 per person
Many a food-truck owner dreams of one day opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, though it's relatively rare for one to actually succeed. But that fact didn't deter Mike Baum, owner and operator of the Great Pho King food truck, a Vietnamese fusion truck we told you about a couple of months ago, from giving it a try. At that time, Baum told us about his dream of opening a traditional restaurant, and now, with a space at 8018 East Thomas Road, those plans have come to fruition.
Baum opened the restaurant, called Pho King Kitchen, about a week ago. As we told you, the new space has a bigger menu than the truck, as well as a full bar and a patio. The building used to house an Italian restaurant, from which Baum inherited both a liquor license and a pizza oven. Baum and his chefs use the pizza oven to slow-roast their own meat, which has led to an increased focus on protein compared to the truck. Diners can now choose, fast-casual-style, a type of dish — say, pho, stir fry, or a burrito — and then choose a meat to go inside it.
The expanded menu also includes a list of appetizers, including a variety of pot stickers, spring rolls, fried plantain chips with mango-chili salsa, as well as chicken, beef, pork, and shrimp tacos.
As far as decor, the restaurant retains the feel of its food truck cousin. The bright colors and graffiti-style branding are present in a big way, and diners order at the counter and pick up from a window to the kitchen, just like at the food truck.
We started with the fried plantain chips with mango-chili salsa. While the chips were a little bland and a little too greasy, the real treat was the salsa. The sweet-and-spicy combo worked really well, and helped give some kick and flavor to the banana chips. For $6, the portion wasn't huge, but overall it was a pretty good appetizer.
Next came a more traditional take on spring rolls ($6) with pulled chicken, cabbage, greens, carrot, cilantro, and a peanut sauce. They were fresh and tangy, and the peanut sauce was a perfectly sweet counterpoint.
We forged ahead through the menu onto a Sriracha-ginger braised pork taco ($3 each) with cabbage, pickled apples, cilantro, and more mango salsa. This was far and away the best thing we had during our visit. The pork was tender and sweet, and the Sriracha and ginger really worked together to create tangy flavors with a hint of spice.
Next, we tried three pot stickers ($1.50 each, $8 for 6): Sriracha buffalo chicken, sesame chicken, and ginger pork. Baum says the buffalo chicken is his most popular, and it's understandable. It's fun, tastes convincingly like Asian-infused buffalo chicken, and is encased in fried dough — a tough combination to beat. We thought the ginger pork tasted the best among the three, and came with the mango-chili salsa that we like so much. The sesame chicken was a good, though less creative offering.
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The follow-up was beef brisket stir-fry ($11), our second favorite dish of the day. The brisket was tender and rich, and made for a noticeable but subtle American influence to the dish. The veggies tasted fresh and flavorful, fried shallots added some nice textural variation, and the noodles were well prepared.
Our final taste was of a pretty straight take on beef pho ($8). And, as it was when we tried it at the Pho King truck, it was a pretty solid bowl of pho. Admittedly, you can get better pho at a regular Vietnamese restaurant — but, a traditional Vietnamese restaurant probably won't have tacos or a banh mi burrito to go along.
Overall, with solid food and reasonable prices, we're big fans of Pho King Kitchen, and excited for its future — we just hope Baum is able to figure out a direction and stick with it.