One of the most interesting food scenes in Arizona isn’t anywhere in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. It’s nearly 150 miles to the north of the state capital in Flagstaff. The mountain city of just over 70,000 people has recently garnered culinary respect for its homegrown restaurants and local purveyors. Beyond favorable media coverage and social media chatter, there’s one important indicator of Flagstaff’s gastronomic success — one of the city’s eateries branching out to open a second location in the much larger and more competitive Phoenix market.
SoSoBa, devoted to Asian noodles, shared appetizers, and creative cocktails, has made the trip down I-17 to open its second location at the north end of Downtown Phoenix, just two blocks west of the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. The restaurant occupies a storefront in the ground floor of the Roosevelt Square apartment complex. Grid Bike Share is located at the rail station, and bike racks are found in several locations nearby. Look for one just around the corner on Second Avenue and another larger one behind SoSoBa’s neighbors, Lola Coffee and Pita Jungle.
The Phoenix restaurant’s space, previously home to the under-appreciated Centurion, has been decorated in a casual blend of natural wood furnishings, small works from local artists, and some deliberately kitschy decor featuring movie monsters like Godzilla and deadly despots like Chairman Mao. The front of the restaurant is full of counters and high-top community tables. Behind them lies a bar, and off to the side is a more traditional dining room with lower tables and a long banquette against one wall. Outside is a shaded patio facing Roosevelt Street.
SoSoBa touts its status as “the non-stop noodle shop,” a reference to late night hours. There’s one menu in effect all day with some happy hour specials during the slower late afternoon hours between lunch and dinner. Starters include General Tso Tso’s cauliflower, a clever combination of a currently fashionable cruciferous vegetable and a classic American Chinese dish whose purported inventor was among the many notable lives lost in 2016. Instead of poultry, cauliflower curds are flash fried and coated with a sweet, salty, and slightly spicy sauce.
Great Balls of Fire are a riff on the fried mac-and-cheese balls found at many restaurants. The layers of contrasting textures are familiar to anyone who has had arancini, Italian risotto balls. With some sriracha squirted into their molten interiors, they have plenty of heat, although maybe not as much complexity of flavor in comparison to some of the other dishes. The tostada pairs a small crisp tortilla with greens underneath and braised pork and fiery kimchi on top. The Dump Truck Salad is quite hearty with tepary beans, sliced radishes, carrots, and corn over spring mix lettuces.
SoSoBa’s noodle dishes are filling meals-in-a-bowl with adventurous and sometimes lengthy lists of ingredients. The restaurant provides ample opportunity for customization, though. While there’s a great deal of Japanese and Chinese influence, the restaurant makes no pretense of being an authentic ramen shop. Instead, the dishes are designed to blend tastes across cultures. The restaurant’s signature dish, the Mic Drop, is a pig extravaganza with pork belly, carnitas, chicharron, bacon, and ham “fries” combined with udon, kimchi, and scallions in a tonkatsu broth.
For those who prefer a little pork and a lot of flavor, the tantanmen is much like Chinese dandan, only with more broth. The noodles are paired with ground pork, kale, sesame seeds, scallions, and a soy-marinated egg in a mix flavored by hoisin sauce. Sweet chile udon packs a little less heat into its broth. The default protein for this dish is fatty pork belly, but the kitchen will substitute other choices upon request. Mr. Karl Katsu consists of a breaded chicken breast atop ramen With corn and narutomaki spiral fish cake, this items comes fairly close to traditional Japanese noodle bowls.
Lighter, less meaty options include chilled soba noodles with al dente vegetable and sesame seeds. The Mothra, another nod to old-fashioned Japanese monster movies, is a green curry concoction with a slow burn.The combination of firm broccoli and fresh herbs with fried tofu creates an engaging balance between hot and cold. The S.U.V. (So You’re a Vegan) is a filling bowl full of tepary beans, potatoes, and soba in a Japanese curry sauce. In keeping with the dish’s name, there’s no meat-based broth or eggs in the dish, but proteins can be added by request.
For dessert, SoSoBa offers two choices. One, the Grasshopper, is a clear success. It’s a mint and green tea cheesecake, presented more like slices of butter than a traditional slice, topped with cocoa nibs and crumbled Oreo cookies. The generous portion is easily shared among three or four at a table. The other dessert, a hatcho miso carrot cake sounds delightful but ultimately fails due to excessive saltiness that overpowers the other flavors one would expect based on the menu description. For more choices after a meal, Lola Coffee’s pastry selection is on the same block.
SoSoBa’s small bar offers a menu of original cocktails and an array of Japanese whiskeys. Four tap handles, along with some bottled and canned selections, provide a good selection of craft beer, and a limited selection of wine is available. The best beverage without alcohol is the house lemonade, muddled with raspberry, cucumber, or ginger. For winter skiers and summer hikers, Flagstaff has long been an attractive destination. Now, with the city’s food scene matching its natural scenery, it’s a pleasure to enjoy one of Flagstaff’s restaurants in Downtown Phoenix.
214 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix AZ 85003
Roosevelt / Central Station