First Dish: Clever Koi

Madison RutherfordMarch 11, 2021
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Vegan ramen | Photo by Madison Rutherford

Clever Koi has long been a favorite in the Valley dining scene for its fresh takes on Thai, Korean, Japanese and Chinese cuisine and inventive craft cocktails. In February, the Asian fusion hot spot unveiled four new ramen dishes at its locations in Phoenix and Gilbert, including updated versions of the pork and lemon chicken ramen and two brand new bowls – spicy kimchi and vegan shoyu.

Dreamed up by chef Jameson Araujo, the new bowls highlight both bold, new flavor profiles and fine tweaks on old favorites. “Ramen has always been a best seller for us, so we wanted to really up the stakes for 2021,” he says.

The restaurant also added a couple new cocktails to the menu, because what goes better with a steaming bowl of soup than a cold glass of hooch?

We eagerly welcomed an invitation to dine at the Gilbert location to answer that question for ourselves.

The Scene

Once a primarily agricultural community, Downtown Gilbert (aka the Heritage District) is now a diverse city center with more than 30 bars and restaurants, including outposts of popular Valley eateries such as Postino, Oregano’s, Zinburger and, of course, Clever Koi – all within blocks of each other. It’s a whimsical, walkable dining district sprinkled with public art and a couple cute mom-and-pop boutiques. I love the vibe and have vowed to spend more time exploring the shops and restaurants that Gilbert residents are lucky enough to enjoy on the regular.

Though I live closer to the Phoenix location, I jumped at the chance to dine in Gilbert. “Explore the East Valley” has been on my bucket list for a bazillion years, so I’ll take any excuse to venture out of my Midtown bubble. Plus, I get to try new food and drinks? Say less!

Steamed buns | Photo by Madison Rutherford

Walking into Clever Koi Gilbert is refreshing. Yes, it was a particularly hot spring afternoon, and I was grateful for the eatery’s AC, but the atmosphere is truly restorative. High ceilings and large windows give it an extremely airy quality. Even the way the tables and banquettes are situated give it an open feeling. The place just has good vibes.

I opted to sit outside on the adorable patio, where my lunch partner and I spent the afternoon nursing the new cocktails, chatting, grubbing and people-watching. Before we knew it, three hours had gone by in the blink of an eye. I wanted to sit and stay forever.


We started with a pair of steamed buns– succulent soft-shell crab with a yummy yuzu aioli and kicky kimchi cauliflower with crisp Fuji apple slices. They were both an ethereal cornucopia of textures and flavors. Next up: tangy Thai salad with Napa cabbage, red peppers, celery, carrots, little green pearls of edamame and a spicy peanut vinaigrette. Plus, more texture heaven: fresh cilantro and crunchy won ton strips to top it all off. The salad comes in a big bowl, so it’s perfect for sharing or taking home for a light bite later.

Thai salad | Photo by Madison Rutherford

Now, time for the leading light of lunch at Clever Koi – the ramen. According to Araujo, the early standout is the kimchi iteration, cooked in rice water with fatty chicken thighs and set off with house-made chili oil. The pork ramen offers acidity and umami with a tonkatsu broth (traditional Japanese stock made from boiled pork bones), and a signature lemon tare marinade scratch-made from the cocktail bar’s fruit rinds sizzles in the lemon chicken ramen. But the belle of the ball (at least in my estimation) is the vegan ramen made with citrusy lemongrass broth and topped with a colorful and toothsome arrangement of tender soy-marinated bean sprouts, bok choy, mushrooms, miso-roasted yellow beets and confit tomatoes, plus beautifully grilled tofu that somehow doesn’t get soggy. It’s a plant-based revelation.

Circling back to our inquiry about what pairs best with the soup – it’s 100 percent the new Desert Tea, which features smoky tropical tea-infused mezcal with a sweet aftertaste thanks to honey and lemon. If you don’t like the vegetal flavor of mezcal, opt for the Love Era (tequila, lime, agave and nopales) – it’s a southwestern sipper that goes great with the clever Pan-Asian fare.

Two Valley locations,


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