Food always brought us together. I grew up in a Filipino household, so not only was there always food in the fridge, but Mom always asked, “Did you eat? Are you hungry?”
When I moved to Phoenix after living in New York and Los Angeles, I quickly realized that good food here is very affordable and you don’t have to spend your entire paycheck to eat at some of the best places in the country.
And just like when I was a kid, food is community. May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which celebrates the stories and legacies of those whose roots lie on the Asian continent and the Pacific Islands, including Fiji, Hawaii, Guam and Samoa , to name a few.
The list of cultures is inherently diverse, and with that list comes a wide variety of ingredients, flavors, and dishes.
The Federal Asian Pacific American Council stated that this year’s theme for the month is “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.” True to this theme, we’ve brought together the driving forces behind Phoenix’s Asian and Pacific Island-inspired cuisine.
While we weren’t able to cover every culinary innovator, this select list of restaurants and small businesses have been bringing innovation to their plates and championing the culture and community in the Valley.
From purple rice and sushi burritos to Hong Kong-style desserts and Filipino suckling pig, these restaurants deserve recognition for their culinary prowess and ideas that have brought a variety of Asian flavors to the Valley. Together, they form a culinary community unique to Phoenix.
Harumi Sushi and Sake
West 114 Adams Street
Harumi Sushi & Sake first earned distinction for the purple rice it brought to its dishes. Black rice turns purple when cooked and was historically reserved for the aristocracy.
“Black rice is a staple food in Asian countries, and we wanted to bring a unique black rice, which is much healthier, to the Valley,” says owner Jessica Kim. “Our refined techniques for curing black rice to complement our dishes was a long process, but an innovation well worth the effort it took to perfect.”
Harumi is committed to a “sea to table” experience, shipping fish from around the world and creating affordable dishes so families can share a Japanese meal in downtown Phoenix.
“Harumi’s interpretation of Japanese cuisine is to stay true to authenticity and quality. Those two things are non-negotiable,” says Kim.
Order customer-favorite sushi rolls like the Oh My God Roll, which comes out on fire, or the H3, which includes spicy tuna and salmon flown in from Scotland. Harumi was recognized as a 2022 Women-Owned Minority Business by Yelp and just opened her second location in Peoria.
West Ray Street 3235
The West Coast is no stranger to burrito sushi. But it wasn’t until four young college graduates formed Pokitrition that the Phoenicians finally got a taste of this innovative take on traditional sushi.
“The inspiration behind the sushi burrito was to be able to provide a dining experience where bites of sushi meet a full meal, meaning one person can eat a bite of sushi instead of small pieces with a chopstick and ingredients. that you like,” he says. Jimmy Li, co-owner of Pokitrition. “We continually add new, unique items to our menu to play with different flavors.”
Choose the Spice-Sea Burrito or the Crispy Spam N’ Eggs Breakfast Burrito, and even add a Hot Cheeto Crunch on the outside.
Despite facing challenges as customers get used to its innovative menus, Pokitrition just opened a new location in Scottsdale and has expanded its menu, which now includes Hawaiian staples like pork katsu and Hawaiian macaroni. But the owners attribute their success to their community.
“Without our guests, it wouldn’t be us and we wouldn’t be recognized at all,” says Li.
PHX Lechon Roasters
659 main street east
PHX Lechon Roasters started out as a Filipino street food truck, but the purchase of a pig pit for a friend’s backyard barbecue would change the owners’ trajectory forever.
“When you’re roasting a whole pig, rotisserie-style, live at an event, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome,” says co-owner Brian Webb, who runs the business with his wife and partner Margita.
Roasting a whole pig is no easy task, and adding delicious ingredients is what puts PHX Lechon Roasters on the map. The couple admits that today, people know a lot more about Filipino cuisine than was the case a decade ago.
“More and more people are digging below the surface of lumpia and adobo,” says Brian. “Many people from different cultures have memories of roasting whole pigs. People from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, then Tennessee, Iowa, and more have all shared their experiences with us.”
But what makes PHX Lechon Roasters special, adds Margita, is their family recipe.
“We are unique because of our piglet here, but it is the same where I come from. In Cebu, Philippines, we stuff it with lemongrass and only use charcoal to cook it. We use charcoal here, not many other people do,” he says. “But most importantly, we always put love into our food.”
1832 West Broadway Road
In 2012, Harry Yu was an international student who longed for the likes of his hometown. What began as longing and nostalgia quickly morphed into a journey to bring Hong Kong dessert recipes first to Texas and then to the Valley.
“I saw many international students drive five hours from Dallas to Chinatown Houston to find the flavor they were missing, just like me. That’s why I went to build Miss Dessert with my parents together,” says Yu.
Since its opening in Mesa in 2018, Miss Dessert was immediately embraced by Chinese ASU students and has expanded its reach exponentially ever since.
On the dessert menu, choose from three bases: vanilla ice cream, sago, and yoji. The Mondo Mango, a crowd favorite, is a mixture of Thai sticky rice with mango in vanilla ice cream.
“We always make drinks and desserts in an authentic way. We want to use our drinks and desserts to spread our Asian culture in the Valley,” says Yu.
Miss Dessert just opened a second location in Phoenix.