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Now Open: Another Top-Notch Soul Food Joint Gets Cooking Downtown

Fried swai, rice, and collards from Rhema Soul Cuisine, now in Phoenix.
Fried swai, rice, and collards from Rhema Soul Cuisine, now in Phoenix. Chris Malloy
Rhema Soul Cuisine, one of the Valley's best fryers of fish and stewers of collard greens, has opened on 12th and Jefferson streets. Near the end of winter, the owners moved the restaurant from Queen Creek. The menu remains close to the same. So does the spunky nature of Rhema's and the wrinkles that separate it from other metro Phoenix soul food restaurants.

These wrinkles include barbecue, cakes like lemon-coconut and strawberry cheesecake, owners with New York roots, and some of the most honest, unalloyed hospitality you’ll ever meet.

With the opening of Rhema, Phoenix is starting to feel like something of a soul food town. Not a full-blown soul food paradise, but a place where there are many genuinely excellent places to choose from. The stretch of Jefferson Street from Mrs. White’s to Rhema’s feels like an epicenter, or, at the very least, a place where vexing lunch choices will be made.

click to enlarge The interior of Rhema's - CHRIS MALLOY
The interior of Rhema's
Chris Malloy
Via and Ron Childs, the owners of Rhema, have kept things just about the same. They’ve expanded the menu a little (more vegan choices). The orange has dropped from their vibrant color scheme. Through the move from the margins to the center, the restaurant has retained its warm vivacity.

The menu is small and tight. Fried foods abound. A chicken and waffles plate comes with fried thighs and a red velvet waffle. There is fried shrimp, six crustaceans per order. Fried swai is sheathed in thin batter with a hard crunch, the middle saline and light and molten, the $8 fillet so massive that it casts a shadow on itself.

Rhema’s offers a full barbecue program. Meats include chopped pork, chopped brisket, “brisket tips” (burnt ends), St. Louis-style ribs, baby back ribs, chicken, and links. You can get a single link for $4. There are also brisket sandwiches.

click to enlarge Window to the kitchen - CHRIS MALLOY
Window to the kitchen
Chris Malloy
Generally, Rhema’s sides are typical of what you might find in other Phoenix soul food joints. This being Rhema, there are a few flairs: smoked turkey in the greens. Rice cooked in a Caribbean fashion. Sweet potato fries “candy” style.

Rhema also smokes wings. You can score 10 wings for $10, 20 for $18. They come with one of four sauces, the options ranging from Buffalo to raspberry-chipotle and Jamaican.

If you’re looking for some long-stewed comfort or crisp-fried goodness downtown, we’ve got a great new option.

Rhema Soul Cuisine. 1153 East Jefferson Street; 480-987-1460.
Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Monday.
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy