Address: 4236 N Central Ave #100, Phoenix, AZ 85012
This place is nudged in the corner of two other restaurants.
Phone number: (602) 222-3474
Before writing this review, I’ve been to Clever Koi about four times. The first time was with a group of Asians, the other was to impress a friend from California, and another was because it became my go-to restaurant to catch up with an old friend. The fourth time I went with 10 people from the crew and that’s where the fun happens.
Overall, if you want good, yet unique food at a central place in Phoenix, this is a great place to get your Asian fix. There are a lot of very trendy restaurants around this area but I have not found a better Asian one than this one. You can really feel the hip-ness of the place, with its contrasting blue bar fighting with the orange, elegant dining room.
To iterate, the restaurant was made by three not-Asian owners which is perfectly ok. As much as I would love to judge authenticity, this place isn’t authentic Asian food but it doesn’t have to be. This place has great food and because Asian flavors are so unique and flavorful, I can see why they decided to go with an Asian inspired restaurant.
When waiting for a seat, enjoy the visually pleasing cook books that are placed near the front of the restaurant. They have nothing to do with the food, but they are a good read.
I’ve eaten the steamed buns, the ramen, the duck curry and the seafood soup over the course of the three times I’ve been there. I can remember food very easily if it’s truly exceptional.
Let me tell you, these guys nail pork belly so well. In both their buns and their ramen, their pork belly is textured, fried crispily on the outside yet can be torn down with a simple movement of a fork. Weird descriptions, but this is necessary for this type of pork belly. You want the outside to have a roasted feel and the inside to melt in your mouth. Think of it as really Asian bacon, but with a different goal: an amazing texture.
During the time we brought 10 people, we decided to chow down and order a lot of small plates.
We tried the:
Peking duck Croquettes – Little balls of duck with a few roasted squash pieces garnished with nuts and an aioli (fancy mayonnaise). These have the texture of chocolate truffles. I found them alright but I admittedly didn’t like the presentation.
Tuna Chips – I don’t know how they do it, but these tuna chips remind me of the shrimp chips I get from Asian stores. Either way, there were pretty nice. The garnished sauce which included tuna, a light salad and an aioli dressing made the dish very fresh but you have to eat it fast or the weight and moisture of the salad will sink into the airy chip.
Teriyaki Spare Ribs – My favorite of the small plates because they give you a good amount of meat and a nice bed of ribboned carrots. The meat is super tender and can be cut with a fork. The flavors are a very deep, rich teriyaki flavor which embodies a slight sweetness to it. If I had to choose one small plate, I would get this one.
Chicken Wings– About 8 chicken wings lay on a vertical plate. Nothing special about these wings. They are good wings and the sauce was sweeter and I don’t even think they were spicy.
Pig Face Dumplings – A great fresh dumpling/ potsticker. My favorite part is the distinct crunch you get biting into this dumpling. Most of these types of dumplings have too much onions in them but this was full on pork flavor.
Steamed Brisket Dumplings – Apparently, these were announced on their facebook page as their new dish. Not my favorite because I think the flavor and texture of the meat was not suited for a wet dumpling application. This is of course, my opinion. It was alright but the flavorful power of the meat really overpowered everything from the dish.
I ordered the three Steamed buns. These included the soft shell crab bun, the pork belly bun and the chicken and waffle bun. These are served in open-faced fluffy buns (except chicken and waffle which is replaced with of course, a waffle).
Soft Shell Crab Bun– Deep-fried crab with a tarter sauce. The crab was soft but cumbersome to eat so I recommend peeling off the legs.
Pork Belly Bun – As I said earlier, these guys know how to cook pork belly. Actually, these guys know how to slow cook and deep fry any type of meat where it’s crunchy on the outside and tender and flaky on the inside. This one is probably my favorite of the buns. The sauce they use complement the pork is a type of hoisin sauce.
Chicken and Waffle – Very inventive and not bad. The steamed bun is replaced with a waffle and has a chunk of fried chicken in there. It also has a maple sauce. Points in creativity and the balance of flavors was spot on. I wish the waffle had a bit more crunchy or fluffy as it was pretty soft. To do this, they will have to lose their waffle’s pliability.
I found the sauce they gave me unnecessary but it was a vinegar and sweet sauce combo.
Usually when I go to Clever Koi, I’ve gotten a lot of soup and stew dishes. My most recent one I got was a waiter recommended one, the Spicy Seafood Hotpot. Honestly, I don’t like the name that much because it was basically seafood udon. However, it was still delicious. The broth was very deep and flavorful, they give you a healthy amount of mussel, shrimps, and scallops. My only slight complaint was that it was a bit salty for my taste. Spice is decent for both the Ramen and the Hot Pot.
The Ramen is probably the most popular dish and it should be. It has everything a proper bowl of ramen needs: a savory, filling broth with a perfectly cooked egg, a slab of crispy pork on top of authentic ramen noodles. When my friend and I were dining out, we had the ramen and a buck or two more, you can add more pork and noodles..
I tried some of my friend’s lemongrass chicken ramen and it was basically a milder version of the pork ramen. If you like subtle flavors, I recommend that one.
I don’t remember what was in the duck curry but when talking to the waiter, they recommended this dish and the seafood hotpot.
I’ve only been to Clever Koi at night but I think the night fits the ambiance. I dislike where it’s located, scrunched in between other restaurants with little signage space, and I kind of not like the see through walls, but you can’t really change that. However, it’s a very popular space and sometimes all you need is good food and good media to be noticedThe color scheme at night is hip yet cozy. The bar highlights blue light while the red painted walls emit warmth. The lighting really blends in well with the glass windows as the moonlight shines through.
Clever Koi could do better serving plastic chopsticks as I feel the quality of the restaurant is too good for wooden chopsticks. The cheap wooden chopsticks detract from the feel and flavor of my food and it didn’t match the scene at all. Especially when next to it is a velvety table napkin and silverware. I think overall, they really need to invest in some sleek, sexy $1 dollar black chopstick sets. However, I admitted their chop stick sleeves which has their authentic “Clever Koi” name on it. Great emphasis on branding there.
Service is fast and overly friendly. At least every time I’ve been there, the staff has been overly friendly. I don’t find this a bad thing at all and I do wish more people were like that. The staff wears normal people clothes so it’s hard to tell who’s who. Now I’m just being picky, huh? Well, from what I did notice, most of them do wear flannel if that helps. The staff is very knowledgable and know their alcohol there.
In terms of large groups, they can have big issues because their payment system is kind of incomplete. From what I saw, it’s an ipad nailed to their wall. Separating things out as groups will take a long time so it might be better to separate your bill into small plates and then your actual entrée. Either way you did it, I feel like the slowest part of the meal was the fact that it took a long time to get our separate checks but that was a mistake on our part.
A bit pricier than most Asian restaurants but the quality is worth it. A very nice dinner place if you need to show people that Phoenix is hip and happening. Most dishes stretch out at $13 dollars a plate but I think you’ll get your money’s worth spending $20 per person. Their appetizers and steamed buns are worth the price and their selection of alcohol is good.
If you want quality food, the small plates will give you that unique quest for new flavors but if you want an affordable meal, most if not all of the noodle soups are good enough stand alone.
When I talked to the waiter, he told me that they had two new dishes on the menu. You can tell that means the chefs and owners are creative and innovative and really care about the creativity of their food. I’m more of a “give me your best dish” person myself.
Clever Koi has a balanced selection of things for everyone. What’s cool about the menu is that it is fashioned like a high end tapas menu. It showcases the title and then gives you three or four key ingredients that are in the dish. I personally think the small plates have too much innovation but I do love their entrees a lot. Their steamed buns are always worth a try as well.
They have an excellent alcohol selection with a few, but good, selection of craft beers, some cool looking cocktails, and other stuff on their long drinks menu. I really just pay attention to the beers.
Clever Koi is my go-to Asian restaurant if I want to meet one-on-one and they happen to be in the center of Phoenix. I think it’s a difficult restaurant for groups more than 5 because it’s small, compact, and it takes a while to get the check in large groups. Go here for business one-on-ones, showcasing good restaurants, popular happy hours, or a date night.
Great food for either the adventurous eater or the traditional “I just want a good bowl of noodle soup” person. The ambiance is comfy, the service is fast and friendly and the selection is simple yet abundant.