Johnny Chu's RedThai Southeast Asian Kitchen Turns Up the Spice in Sunnyslope

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: RedThai Southeast Asian Kitchen Location: 7822 North 12th Street Open: Less than a week Eats: Thai and Vietnamese cuisine Price: $10 to $15 a person

Hong Kong-born chef Johnny Chu has been serving his modern Asian cuisine at T. Spot (formerly Tien Wong Hot Pot) in Chandler for years and added Central Phoenix's Sochu House to the mix back in 2012. In January, we told you he had plans for two more restaurants this year. It's been just a few short months, but the chef opened the doors at RedThai late last week. If you're looking for authentic Thai, keep looking. But for Chu's signature modern Asian fusion cuisine, this spot definitely delivers.

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Fans of Chu's other restaurants (including the now-defunct Sens Asian Tapas) will see lots of familiar fare here. And if you're willing to venture beyond the tried and true favorites, you might stumble onto something seriously delicious.

The restaurant sports the same vaguely nightclub-ish vibe that Chu has going on at Sochu House in Phoenix, except this spot benefits from floor-to-ceiling front windows (that lead out onto a nice patio) and high ceilings. As a result, it's a bright, spacious, and impressive space that would be nice for a trendy dinner as well as a midweek lunch. You'll notice funky pieces of art on the walls, a large mural on the back wall, and anime projected onto the wall above the bar -- for a little extra touch of flair.

We started with a bowl of the truffle edamame ($4.98) and an order of shrimp spring rolls ($6.98). The rolls featured plenty of rice noodles, mint, and an acceptable amount of shrimp -- but were much improved thanks to the accompanying spicy plum sauce.

The restaurant offers an affordable lunch menu (dine-in only) with all items priced at $7.98. The options include several types of pho, two curries, a few salads, and pad thai. We went with the large serving of Thai noodle soup, which featured a spicy (but not too spicy) lemongrass soup broth. The dish comes loaded with sliced rib eye, noodles, onions, garlic, scallions, and cilantro, making for a super-flavorful and filling lunch. There were none of the mushrooms promised on the menu, but we didn't miss them in the slightest.

We also tried a bowl of the Hot + Sour Soup ($8.98), listed only on the dinner menu (which apparently also is available at lunchtime). It was hotter than the Thai noodle soup but not unbearably so; in fact, it was just the right amount to counteract the tang from the sourness of the broth.

Other familiar menu items (at least for those who have been following the chef over the years) will include sugar cane pork, ginger mint duck salad, green papaya salad, House Dynamite, and Black Dragon. If you've eaten at Sochu House, you might get the sense that the chef has simply opened a second location of the Phoenix restaurant. But the addition of dishes like pho, Thai noodle soup, and curries does differentiate RedThai, even if only slightly. It's probably more fair to categorize this an Asian fusion restaurant than a Thai one.

For more info about the menu, check out the RedThai Facebook page.

The restaurant also has a lengthy bar stocked with all kinds of liquor and a few beers on tap. There are also Asian beers available by the bottle, wines, and of course drinks like Thai tea and such. The cocktail menu focuses on vodka and gin-based martinis, so dark spirit drinkers are mostly out of luck there.

RedThai Southeast Asian Kitchen 7822 N 12th St. 602-870-3015 www.facebook.com/RedThaiPhx

Sunday to Thursday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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