Deez Buns are fresh: New Tempe lunch spot offers Korean Fried Chicken, Filipino Pork Belly, and lots of Bao
By Jeff Kronenfeld, March 2020 Issue.
The name of the
new restaurant Deez Buns may be cheeky, but its food is no joke.
Co-owners Justin Park and Kevin Rosales
are a breath of fresh air in Tempe’s lunch scene. Their playful and surprising
menu draws from Korean, Filipino, and other culinary traditions, without ever
being bound by convention. Whether thin slices of charred pork belly, Korean
fried chicken, Filipino cured sausage or even an impossible meatless patty, it
all gets stuffed into a heavenly pale bun popularly known as a bao. The food is
as affordable as it is rich in flavors and textures. The only reason the
restaurant isn’t completely overrun is its limited hours and location. Checkout
Deez Buns if you need a quick midday pick-me-up during the work week or are
just hunting for a fresh new flavor.
The co-owners and co-chefs first met while
working at Artizen Crafted American Kitchen and Bar, which is in the Canby
Hotel. Park cooked and Rosales served drinks at the swanky Biltmore-area
establishment. Then as now, the pair were always dreaming up new ideas for
dishes, drinks and restaurants.
Park left the hotel to start his own pub
in Mesa. He named it the Drunken Tiger. There he introduced Korea’s rich
heritage of bar food and Soju cocktails to the Valley. Like Deez Buns, the
Drunken Tiger is the kind of gourmet hole in the wall you could easily see at
home in LA, New York or Seoul.
Rosales also ventured off on his own. He
launched a pop-up restaurant and catering business called Good Fortune Kitchen.
He worked food festivals and other events, sharing the traditional Filipino
foods he grew up eating. The well-mustached chef described the archipelago’s
culinary heritage as being as diverse as its islands are numerous. For
perspective, the Philippines are made up of 7,641 islands according to the
country’s National Mapping and Resource Information Authority.
Rosales and Park rekindled their
friendship while working at the first PHX Night Market in 2018. The event
brought together culinary traditions from across the Pacific Rim and beyond,
plus over 10,000 visitors. Park was happy to see Phoenix finally creating
something like LA’s 626 Markets, which started in 2012. Phoenix’s 2018 event
was a success for both chefs, but it was grueling too. “The first PHX
Night Market was so rough on both of us that we were like, ‘if there’s a
second one, you want to collab together?’” Park said. “We reconnected
The pair joined forces for the second —
and as it turned out last — PHX Night Market the following year. Things got
creative with dishes that were “Korean food slash Filipino food,” according to
Park. They ended up with some leftover bulgogi mash. Bulgogi is a Korean
specialty which literally translates as fire meat. Fire it is, usually
consisting of thin cut beef combined with a variety of ingredients, everything
from onions to grated Asian pears. If you haven’t had the pleasure of Korean
barbeque, you really are missing out. Their bulgogi was used to make lumpias, a
Filipino food somewhat like spring rolls, for the festival. However, now they
wanted to try something different.
Park asked a server at Drunken Tiger to
grab some hamburger buns on the way to work. They grilled up the bulgogi in
patties and made burgers. The sandwiches turned out to be pretty good.
Afterward, Kevin mentioned that he was baking siopao, the Filipino equivalent
of bao and that it might be good to combine them. Never ones to waste food or a
good idea, the culinary experiment led to the idea for Deez Buns.
The soft opening for Deez Buns occurred in
mid-August of last year. A date for the hard opening isn’t set, but they are
open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays for now. This is partly due to
the location. Despite the light rail and a few apartment complexes, the
intersection of Washington Street and Priest Drive is mostly office parks. It
becomes a ghost town by sundown. Another reason is that Park dashes east after
closing to make it to the Drunken Tiger, which opens at five. They hope to
extend hours in the future, potentially opening earlier and adding a breakfast
menu. The interior is still in transition, like a restaurant that hasn’t quite
forgotten its past life, but Deez Buns isn’t about airs. It’s all about the food.
My first visit was in the morning soon
after opening on a Tuesday. Hungry workers came in steadily, but the small line
moved fast. I tried the longsilog, which is like an entire Filipino breakfast
wedged between a sliced bao. The base is a hearty portion of cured Filipino
sausage, which was subtly sweet and held together nicely. There is also an egg,
spicy mayo and pickled atchara, a kind of papaya salad, which added fruity
crunch. Light but filling, this was plenty to power a hungry writer deep into
the afternoon. It made me excited to see what they dream up for the breakfast
menu they may add. The price is right at only six bucks, the same for all the
bao sandwiches. You can add a big order of fries and a drink for three more, as
A New Year’s resolution for moderation got
quickly left at the wayside, an occupational hazard in food writing. I also
ordered the chicken satay, another bao sandwich. The huge chicken patty
cantilevered over the edge of the circular bun. A big slice of tomato sat on
top of the chicken, drenched in a hot tangy peanut sauce. Below was a bed of
pickled atchara and other goodies. This was a perfect blend of heat and sweet,
bringing my mouth to life without making my eyes water. It seemed to hit every
flavor group, including that umami savory note so often overlooked.
My next visit came a
couple of days later in the afternoon. The lunch rush had come and gone. A
mural of RenandStimpy stared down with gleeful joy. I
was excited to try the Korean fried chicken sandwich, naturally shorthanded to
K.F.C. I’m not sure how it works legally, but in terms of taste, this one
really hit the mark for me. They call the patty a homemade chicken nugget, but
I feel that hardly does it justice. Like the satay, it is actually bigger than the
bun and an inch thick. The breading was crunchy while the insides were soft and
moist. I could detect though not decode the unique savory spice blend, likely
inspired by an authentic Park family recipe. And we haven’t even got the
dressings. It comes with a not-too-wet slaw, pickled radishes and a red sauce
from the Drunken Tiger. There should be no surprise that this is the most
popular item on the menu according to Park, given the real cultural moment
chicken sandwiches are having. The bao really makes this one stand out.
I also gluttonously devoured a pork-belly,
lettuce and tomato sandwich, helpfully abbreviated as a P.B.L.T. The pork comes
in strips where two of the sides are charred black and two are nearly as white
as the bun. Every bite of the tender meat is rich with garlic, vinegar and
smoke. The swine is piled on a bed of lettuce, tomato and a house spread. The
meat on this sandwich really sings.
I also ordered to go
what is perhaps the least adventurous of the sandwiches, the American. Also called
the quintessential American Burger, I opted for the non-meat Impossible Burger
for this one. My usual dining companion had a tough day and this was a
guaranteed smile inducer. It traveled well, too. It filled them up. The balance
of sauce, patty and lettuce were just right, and all the better on the almost
If you’re like my hungry friend and can’t visit due to work, fear not. Park and Rosales bring their creative yet authentic style to a number of food festivals throughout the Valley. They may not always be under the Deez Buns banner, sometimes going as Drunken Tiger, Good Fortune Kitchen or some blend thereof. They’ll be at both successor events to the PHX Night Market, including the Asian District Night Market on Feb. 22 and 23, but also the Hawkers Street Market on April 24 and 25. Of course, they’ll be at the Bao and Dumpling Fest on March 21, as well the Arizona Matsuri on Feb. 22 and 23. Park and Rosales bring a fun new twist to the Valley’s culinary landscape, whether at the restaurant or a food festival. We will be sure to keep our eyes locked on Deez Buns for many years to come.