Johnny Chu’s newest restaurant, Mifan Claypot Kitchen, has some of the chef’s old favorites on the menu, and we're not mad about it.
Chu recently — and quietly — opened the doors to his new spot, which is located in the Muse building at the corner of Central Avenue and McDowell Road. It didn’t take long for the word to spread: Follow the joint on Instagram, and you’ll see videos of excited fans jumping up and down, a testament to the popularity of Chu’s food. There’s good reason for the giddy behavior.
For more than two decades, Chu has peppered the Valley with delicious Asian dishes served in environments where cozy vibes and stylish décor are besties. Some of these include Lucky Dragon, Fate, Sens, and SoChu House.
Sadly, two of Chu's most recent eateries, like so many other businesses, fell victim to COVID-19 and had to close: Red Thai Southeast Asian Kitchen and its next-door neighbor, Shabu Fondue, in north Phoenix.
So was he nervous about opening another restaurant?
“I had cold feet because of COVID,” Chu admits, but there were other reasons, too: “The economy is rough right now; the price of everything is up. Staffing is hard right now, too.”
But even with these challenges, he felt that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. He loved the space: home to a Press Coffee location that relocated to the Arizona Center downtown. Chu worked for about six months to get everything together. The result matches his general aesthetic: sleek, yet homey.
Chu notes that his desire to cook healthy, consistently good food is what drives him, and he’s thrilled to be back at it, despite the risks. At Mifan, he’s crafted a menu that emphasizes the mingling of flavors for intoxicating results. “Cooking is in my blood. I’m an artist more than a businessman, so I always want to create,” he explains.
For example, a fresh vegan spring roll is loaded with tofu, carrots, mint, lettuce, and rice noodles, all neatly wrapped up in rice paper. It also includes a surprise bit of strawberry that, along with a housemade dipping sauce, is the TNT that makes this appetizer pop.
The steamed veggie gyoza is another appetizer that's easy to get addicted to. These delicate dumplings are filled with cabbage, carrots, noodles, green onions, and shiitake mushrooms. A soy vinaigrette lends the dish a welcome tangy note.
Mifan’s entrees are prepared and served in clay pots — hence the restaurant’s name.
Chu likens the technique to cooking in a brick oven. The pots can take heat up to 500 degrees, and he loves how the method maximizes both the freshness and the flavor of the food. Each option includes a combination of vegetables and sauce, along with a chicken or tofu protein of your choice. Rice and roasted garlic cauliflower and broccoli are served on the side.
The House Dynamite is a sweet-and-sour adventure, while HK Typhoon Style mixes Sichuan peppercorns with garlic, shallots, onion, and ginger for a savory sauce combo. There are a couple of shrimp offerings on the menu as well, along with a pair of soulful soups. It’s worth mentioning that the chef creates vegan broths and sauces, so this is a welcome spot for those who don’t do meat or dairy.
What Chu wants most is for people to feel the way that he did during meals when he was growing up. “My grandma was in the kitchen, and now I’m in the kitchen. I want people to come in and feel at home,” he says.
Takeout is an option at Mifan, but Chu would rather have you stop by.
“I want people to take a break from everything and come in and enjoy a beautiful lunch or dinner with someone they like," he says. "Not only does it taste better, in my opinion, but it’s also just important for people to take that time to be together.”
Find the menu and more information at mifanaz.com.
Mifan Claypot Kitchen
1616 North Central Avenue
Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Monday.