Each week we venture to a new restaurant to check out what the spot has to offer during our favorite time of day — happy hour. Whether it's affordable appetizers, delicious drinks, jaw-dropping deals, or none of the above, we'll check out the situation and report back.
The Spot: The Clever Koi
4236 North Central Avenue
The Hours: Happy hour is Monday through Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m.
Perfect for: Excellent drinks and creative food — all under $10
Interior: The central corridor in Phoenix is full of hip dining spots, and The Clever Koi is one of the hippest and most delicious. Owners Joe Absolor, Nick Campisano, Joshua James, and Jared Porter have filled the airy, modern space with a mixture of contemporary touches and Asian flair and have staffed the restaurant with welcoming, friendly, and interesting employees. This spot is all about hospitality; the staff seems to look out for each other as much as the customer. One of the cooks was happy to step out of the open kitchen to deliver our drinks when our server was busy helping other customers. And everyone does their job with a genuine smile.
The Food: During happy hour, The Clever Koi offers five items ranging from appetizers to full-size entrées. Plus, everything is $8 or under. We decided to skip the Koi burger and pork ramen for the Kung Pao chicken wing ($5), edamame and corn fritters ($6), and spicy tuna chips ($7).
The spicy tuna chips arrived first with large chunks of raw, marinated yellowfin, a wasabi guacamole (which had a sinus-clearing kick), and pickled carrots and cucumbers. The flavors of this dish were spot-on and complemented each other well, but the airy, rice chips just couldn't stand up to the hearty toppings.
The wings had an excellent crispy skin covered in a sweet and spicy sauce, and came topped with peanuts for a pleasant crunch, dried garlic, and scallions. Thankfully we had a party of three, so there was no fighting over who got the last of the three wings.
The crunch that the kernels of summer corn gave were our favorite part of the edamame and corn fritters. The sweet chili sauce paired well with the salty fritters, but we liked adding a couple of drops of the housemade Sriracha to kick up things a little.
The Drinks: When Joshua James is mixing cocktails (and they all cost $6) it's safe to say you're not going to be disappointed. We went with the Michelada, a new addition to the happy hour menu, and the French 95.
While some Michelada can simply taste like beer and a bottled Bloody Mary mix, James' was clearly made with fresh tomato juice that wasn't saturated with salt. Gojuchang, a Korean chili paste, adds that spice you'll taste, and Four Peaks' Sunbru gives the slight bitterness. We enjoyed the nuttiness from the sesame seeds in the togarashi around the rim.
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The French 95 was light and refreshing but without the sweetness of a traditional gin-based French 75. The bourbon, lemon, and sparkling white wine perfectly combined into an interesting, drinkable cocktail.
Conclusion: If you visit the Clever Koi for happy hour, you won't be disappointed. From the hospitable, charming staff to the expertly crafted and creative fare, the Clever Koi has the whole social hour thing on lock. Plus, the reasonable prices ensure you won't break the bank. Our only change would be to make the rice chips more substantial so we can scoop up every last piece of delectable tuna and spicy guacamole. Even so, we'll be back.
Don't Miss: Any of the cocktails
Skip This: The spicy tuna chips