We Tried 10 Amazing Asian-Owned Restaurants During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

by Mer Norwood
Arts & Culture Community Food, Restaurants & Dining Spotlight Mer Norwood May 26, 2022

Photo: Kyle Niemier

About the author: Founder of the local food and lifestyle blog She Moves PHX, Mer Norwood loves to showcase all the city has to offer, from local spots to creative business owners, and everything in between. Follow her at @shemovesphx. 

This article was originally published in May 2022 and has been updated.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we were here for it. This month (and every month) is a great time to celebrate Asian-owned businesses in DTPHX, learn about each business’s story, why many of them chose to start in Downtown Phoenix, and go taste the flavors of Asia that have come to capture our hearts. Here’s what we discovered during this month-long culinary adventure.

The OG Chicken is a Filipino family recipe by John Cornelio, owner and chef at Toduken, and is flame-grilled over charcoal. (Photo: Franz Lazaro)

Toduken | John Cornelio

John Cornelio, owner and chef at Toduken, grew up in Alaska, and draws inspiration from its diversity as well as his Dad’s barbecue and Filipino heritage. After three years at the Uptown Phoenix Farmers Market and a stint at the Pemberton and Jobot Coffee, you can now find him creating Filipino-inspired dishes at popups in Downtown Phoenix. He describes his food as, “Filipino soul — but there are other ingredients from everywhere. I’m Filipino, but American too. I’m doing the same thing as Filipino cuisine, I’m just borrowing from other cultures and just making it mine — that’s the spirit of Filipinos.” Try the popular OG Chicken with Pop’s Citrus Teriyaki.

Details: Follow them on Instagram for the latest popup location @toduken_bbq.

Mondher Mahmoud aka “Mondo,” owner of Dog Haus Biergarten. (Photo: Mer Norwood)

Dog Haus Biergarten | Mondher Mahmoud

After eating at Dog Haus for three days straight, Mondher Mahmoud aka “Mondo,” was inspired to leave his corporate job and open up his own Dog Haus franchise here in Downtown Phoenix. “I had love for Phoenix, and especially for Downtown Phoenix – going to Suns games, D-backs games, Hanny’s, and I thought to myself, ‘man it’d be so cool to have a spot downtown!” he said. He made that dream a reality. Dog Haus is now locally owned by Mondo and his family. The craft-casual concept serves gourmet hot dogs, sausages and burgers, and the toasted King’s Hawaiian rolls are a nostalgic fan favorite. They even have an “Executive Chef” series with culinary inventions like the Bulgogi Dog (Korean bulgogi-styled hot dog with a fried egg on top) and new dishes with a K-pop flair. The secret to their success? “We’re the absolute würst!”

Details: 1 E. Washington Street. 602-607-5308.

Hot Havana Roll at Harumi Sushi. (Photo: Mer Norwood)

Harumi Sushi | Jessica Kim

Harumi Sushi is about preserving tradition, mixed with a modern flair. Founded by Young Choi, a “culinary vagabond and super-free spirit,” who thirty-five years ago, had a passion to bring Japanese cuisine to America, according to Jessica Kim, Harumi’s owner. Choi saw that sushi was either incredibly expensive, or the quality was sacrificed in many sushi restaurants, and so he sought to bring accessibility and authenticity to Downtown Phoenix. “There’s a lot of culture here. We wanted our flagship restaurant to be a statement piece. Here, there are the arts, the culture, the basketball. We wanted to be in a sphere where we were surrounded by different cultures,” said Kim. You can stop by Harumi for their special sushi, which includes signature purple rice, and fresh fish flown in from Tahiti, Nova Scotia and Scotland daily. Harumi Sushi just opened a second location in Peoria.

Details: 114 W. Adams Street. 602- 258-0131.

Ceviche Mixto at Kaizen. (Photo: Mer Norwood)

Kaizen | Kyu Utsunomiya and Troy Watkins

“Kaizen” is the Japanese concept of continuous change and improvement, and Kaizen’s story is indeed an evolution. It began with the founders, Kyu Utsunomiya and Troy Watkins, meeting as 18-year-old pool attendants at The Phoenician resort in the 1990s. The duo have come a long way since then — undertaking amazing culinary projects such as BE Coffee, The Dressing Room and The Larry. When developing the new concept of Kaizen, Utsunomiya’s half-Japanese heritage played a major role in developing Kaizen’s cuisine. “I’m half Japanese, and my father was issei, first generation. Needless to say, I learned to cook through my dad. I was never a chef, however with Troy and I, we’re smart enough to hire talented culinary people,” he said. That culinary talent is now put in the hands of Executive Chef Gustavo Muñoz, and his innovative flavors do not disappoint. The Alaskan King Roll combines lump king crab, king salmon sashimi, tempura-fried asparagus and butter — with each bite simply melting in your mouth.

Details: 515 E. Grant Street. 602-432-0752.

Dragon Roll at Moira Sushi. (Photo: Mer Norwood)

Moira Sushi | Linda Nguyen

Moira Sushi is tucked away in an unassuming street in Downtown Phoenix, but has been thriving under the leadership of Linda Nguyen for the past 12 years. Bringing over 20 years of experience in the industry to this quaint sushi spot, Moira was one of the first sushi restaurants to open in Downtown Phoenix, all those years ago. Moira’s mission is simple and sincere, “We just want to be ‘that restaurant downstairs’ where our neighbors can stop in for a drink or bite after a long day of work, and somewhere with consistent good food that our customers can trust to help with stress. I know I would like to go out for a nice solid meal after a very long day,” Nguyen said. And what better stress reliever than a dish set on fire? Order their Hama Kama, a deep-fried yellowtail shoulder lit on fire, and enjoy the flames.

Details: 215 E. McKinley Street. 602-254-5085.

Diana Kang, co-owner of Paradise Hawaiian BBQ. (Photo: Fara Illich)

Paradise Hawaiian BBQ | Diana and Rena Kang

Since 2008, two sisters, Diana and Rena Kang, have been bringing the “Aloha Spirit” to Downtown Phoenix with their Hawaiian cuisine at Paradise Hawaiian BBQ. Hawaiian cuisine draws from many Asian influences including Japanese, Korean and Filipino, and nothing tastes better than their mom’s home cooking (she stops by occasionally). Try the Chicken Katsu Burrito which includes Hawaiian favorites like chicken katsu, macaroni salad and rice.

Details: 18 W. Adams Street. 602-254-7174.

Spicy Miso Paitan Ramen at Ramen Kagawa. (Photo: Lauren Potter)

Ramen Kagawa | Shunji Tohoda

“You could say ramen is almost like soul food in Japanese culture,” said Shunji Tohoda, owner of Ramen Kagawa. Ramen Kagawa is one of the newest restaurants in Downtown Phoenix and definitely experienced some challenges opening just prior to the pandemic in 2020. But Tohoda said they’re happy to make an impact in Downtown Phoenix. “There’s so many ramen restaurants to choose from in literally every city. California has a bigger Asian population, so there are more ramen and Japanese restaurants there, but Phoenix could definitely expand more on Asian restaurants. We’re very hopeful things will get better and better for the future,” he said. And the ramen is definitely delicious, offering multiple pork tonkatsu and vegetarian options, as well as offering the finest noodles Downtown Phoenix has to offer.

Details: 111 W. Monroe Street. 602-675-0833.

Green Curry at Vegan House. (Photo: Mer Norwood)

Vegan House | Sorada VanBlargan

Founded in 2016, Vegan House is popular among vegans and non-vegans alike. Sorada VanBlargan assumed ownership in 2017, going from Vegan House’s restaurant manager to business owner. She excitedly brings her Thai heritage to much of the menu “adding the spices of Thailand” to many of the dishes. For instance, Green Curry is a wonderful mixture of coconut milk, onion, bamboo, bell pepper, eggplant and basil. Vegan House’s mission is to not only provide healthier options to Downtown Phoenix, but to “incorporate the taste of Thai food into the vegan dishes.”

Details: 20 W. Adams Street. 602-258-3426

The Thai Basil Signature Dish. (Photo: Mer Norwood)

Thai Basil Signature | Patrida Fite

Thai Basil Signature has two locations, one in Downtown Phoenix and one in Scottsdale. Thai Basil has been family-owned and operated since 2008, with owner Patrida Fite at the helm. There’s a reason this corner restaurant has staying power on the block for over a decade. From tasty house-specialty dishes to happy hour and lunch specials, there’s lots of variety. Try the Thai Basil Signature Dish — the dish they named their restaurant after, for its fresh vegetables, spicy flavors, and the key ingredient, Thai basil.

Details: 114 W. Adams Street. 602-759-8737

Rachel McAuley, owner of Zen Thai Cafe pours a drink behind the bar. (Photo: Kyle Niemier)

Zen Thai Cafe | Rachel McAuley

Rachel McAuley works tirelessly to provide happiness to each and every one of her customers. “We’re very fortunate to have customers who are like family,” said McAuley, owner of Zen Thai Cafe. More than a Thai restaurant, it’s also a cozy café, because after all, “Downtown Phoenix needs caffeinated drinks! We do it the Asian way,” according to McAuley. In addition to the delicious Thai dishes she concocts and creates, Zen Thai Cafe provides many of the ASU population with everything from Vietnamese coffee to Thai and boba teas, as well as providing a local hangout spot. McAuley is wholeheartedly grateful for the supportive community of Downtown Phoenix. “There’s so many heroes! When you have people on your side, helping you with your business, it’s so touching,” she said.

Details: 110 N. Central Avenue. 480-420-8424