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 another important indicator of Flagstaff’s gastronomic success when one of the city’s eateries branches out to open a second location in the much larger and more competitive Phoenix market.
SoSoBa, devoted to Asian noodle bowls, shared appetizers, and creative cocktails, made the trip down I-17 several years ago to open a 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, 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 is decorated in a casual blend of natural wood furnishings and works from local artists. The front of the restaurant is full of counters and high-top community tables. Behind them lies a bar counter with a direct view of the open kitchen at one end, 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 dog-friendly patio facing Roosevelt Street. A cart full of bottled hot sauces rests against a pillar in the center of the space, providing a central stop for added spice.
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 “halfy hour” 50% off specials during the slower time between lunch and dinner. Popular starters include fried cauliflower, a clever combination of a currently fashionable cruciferous vegetable and a sauce based on the American Chinese classic General Tso’s chicken. Instead of poultry, cauliflower florets are flash fried and coated with a sweet, salty, and slightly spicy sauce before being topped with sesame seeds and scallions.
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 on SoSoBa’s menu. The tostada pairs a flat, crisp wonton-style layer with greens underneath and carnitas and fiery kimchi on top. Sweet chili tofu features crisp, seasoned bean curd, also served over a salad.
SoSoBa’s noodle dishes are filling meals-in-a-bowl with adventurous and sometimes lengthy lists of ingredients and some opportunity for customization as needed. While there’s a great deal of Japanese and Chinese influence, the restaurant does not claim to be 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 noodles, kimchi, and scallions in a tonkotsu 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, bok choy, sesame seeds, and scallions in a tonkotsu broth. Sweet chile udon packs a little less heat.The default protein for this dish is fatty pork belly, but the kitchen will substitute other choices upon request. The katsu bowl consists of a breaded chicken breast atop ramen with corn and fish cake, and the Hostile Takeover involves bulgogi in a kombucha mushroom broth with vegetables and rice noodles.
Lighter, less meaty options include the Mothra, 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 menu also offers alternative versions of several of its noodle bowls without meat, including a tofu katsu and vegetarian variants of the typically meaty udon and Hostile Takeover dishes. For those whose dietary preferences run in the opposite direction, SoSoBa also serves bowls of several of its broths without noodles or other adornments.
For dessert, SoSoBa offers a flight of mochi with one specimen of each of three flavors presented on a long plate. When sampled recently, black sesame, matcha, and vanilla were among the offerings. For more choices after a meal, pastry and ice cream are nearby. SoSoBa’s small bar offers a menu of original cocktails and an array of sake and Japanese whiskey. Creative drinks include the Honey and Knives with blanco tequila and a balance of sweetness from ginger simple syrup, tartness from grapefruit, and spice from serrano tincture.
Four tap handles typically offer a choice of an IPA, a lager, a stout, and a sour in terms of draft beer. There are also numerous bottled and canned craft brews, and a limited selection of wine is available. The best beverage without alcohol is the house lemonade, muddled with fruit or infused with juices.For winter skiers and summer hikers, Flagstaff has long been an attractive destination. With the city’s food scene now matching its natural scenery and comfortable summer weather, it’s a pleasure to enjoy one of Flagstaff’s restaurants in downtown Phoenix.
214 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix AZ 85003