In Italian and Latin, the word palma describes a palm tree. The capital of the Spanish vacation island of Majorca is also known as Palma. Put these together, and it’s easy to see why the name might apply to a place designed for outdoor dining with a semi-tropical, balmy feel. The restaurant Palma in downtown Phoenix blends that kind of aesthetic with an Asian-inspired menu and creative cocktails. It might seem like an odd mish-mash at first glance, but the food, drink, and service generally reveal the establishment to be a successful experiment in fusion.
Palma is found on Second Street just south of Roosevelt near the north end of downtown Phoenix. The location is just two blocks east of the Roosevelt/Central light rail station, and bike racks are found near the corner of Second and Roosevelt. The host station is outside, as is most of the seating. True to the restaurant’s name, several palm trees tower over the patio. Of course, palm trees, for all their decorative value, provide minimal shade. That’s why Palma relies on canopies and umbrellas, as well as a misting system, to keep customers comfortable.
There is an indoor dining room with banquettes and a bar, but the large outdoor bar is often the center of the action here. The building that houses Palma’s kitchen and dining room is also home to Cham Pang Lanes, a bowling alley, and Ghost Donkey, a tequila bar. Both those businesses are under the same ownership of Palma. Flagship Restaurant Group, the company that has developed and now operates the three establishments, is based in Omaha, not Osaka. Nevertheless, the restaurant’s culinary approach focuses heavily on influences from east Asia.
Two themes on the all-day menu emerge quickly: fried chicken and sushi. The crisp, breaded chicken, inspired by versions found in Japan, Korea, and China, is presented in myriad formats. The best place to start may be with the chicken sandwich, a thigh piece served inside a bun with mildly spiced cabbage and gochujang mayo. Thin fries with a dusting of curry powder are included as a side. Another option is the popcorn chicken, which works as a shared appetizer with smaller pieces of chicken dressed with Kewpie mayonnaise, lime, scallions, and jalapeños.
The sushi menu is focused on an array of rolls like the spicy crunchy tuna maki, which combines spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, togarashi, quinoa, flying fish roe, and a sauce described as “atomic aioli.” The Roja maki take a lighter approach with tuna, yellowtail, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, and sriracha wrapped in soy paper. There isn’t much in the way of plain, unadorned fish, but a departure from rolls is offered via the cherry bomb nigiri, an assemblage of tuna on top of two slivers of crisp rice and adorned with serrano, sriracha, togarashi, and ponzu sauce.
Other categories include salads and “plates to share.” The Thai-inspired papaya salad is fresh and fiery; however, when sampled, the slivers of tropical fruit were yellow and sweet, rather than the expected green and savory. The heavy spice load somewhat offset the uncharacteristically ripe fruit. The Chicken Crunch and Thai Fried Chicken + Noodle salads leverage the restaurant’s fried poultry while the Bonito Salmon salad is almost like a Caesar with a slight Asian touch. The cucumber and tofu and butter lettuce salads are meatless and light in feel.
The shareables include successes like the Korean rice cakes, cylindrically shaped noodles served with minced pork, thai basil, sweet chili, chinese broccoli, and sesame seeds. The Sweet Potato Yummy Fries, despite their cringe-inducing name, offer an inventive take on smothered fries with toppings of spicy aioli, soy sauce, bonito, furikake, and ginger over waffle-shaped slivers of yam. The Beijing pork roll has a solid foundation with a chive pancake rolled around pickled cabbage and plum sauce, but it needs a bit more moisture to make it fully realized.
With its enticing outdoor space and an appealing location right off Roosevelt Row, Palma is a logical choice for brunch, and the restaurant has created a separate menu with dishes like matcha French toast with preserved fruit and fried chicken with a bubble waffle, both of which reinterpret classics. On weekend afternoons, these dishes and other creations like sesame avocado toast and bulgogi breakfast wraps emerge from the kitchen while brunch cocktails such as mimosas made with Mandarin oranges flow from both the indoor and outdoor bars.
Of course, there are many other beverage choices on the regular menu, many of them with a Latin American or West Indies theme, Cocktails choices include spicy drinks like the Cheech + Chong, which combines tequila and mezcal with jalapeño, charred shishito pepper, and lime. A sweeter, fruitier approach is found in the Caribbean Cowboy, a mix of rum and reposado with peach, pineapple, orange, and lime. The King’s Conch in a prickly pear margarita sized for a group to share and presented in a giant seashell of the type described in the drink’s name.
For dessert, there’s one choice: soft serve made with ube, the purple yam that is growing in popularity in the United States. The soft serve machine seems to be working only some of the time, but when it is in order, it turns out a banana split with peanuts, cherries, and coconut mixed into the ube and a slightly smaller sundae topped with preserved fruit and pistachios. Palm trees are not native to the Sonoran desert, but neither is bulgogi or yellowtail. Nevertheless, this meeting of Asian foods and tropical cocktails is a success on Second Street.
903 N. 2nd St., Phoenix AZ 85004