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Desert Companion

Kitchen Remix

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Paid in Full
Photography by Sabin Orr

Where hip-hop spirit meets Japanese tapas, that’s Paid In Full

Japanese tapas restaurant Paid In Full is named for the 1987 album by hip-hop originators, Eric B. & Rakim. The sound system often plays the New York City duo, as well as a little Run DMC, a little Public Enemy, a dash of De La Soul. And the chefs at Paid in Full are creating their own culinary beat, taking Japanese street food and throwing in a sample from Mexican cuisine, a hook from a French bistro, a riff from a Midwest county fair.

Takoyaki are traditionally dough balls filled with minced octopus; Paid In Full does it old-school style, but also offers a few other renditions. One that pops in an escargot with salsa verde and garlic aioli is like biting through a bubble to a center of heat-hinted creaminess. Their Kurobuta corndogs are peppery, piquant pork sausages wrapped in fluffy batter to dunk in spicy mustard and sweet bulldog sauce, while panko-crusted crab croquettes are moist little clouds well-accented with shishito peppers. Sweet corn with miso butter and farmers cheese is reminiscent of Mexican street corn, but chunks of Netsue bacon adds salty-sweet richness — I wanted to devour the whole bowl, like Goldilocks’ most-right porridge.

Paid In Full offers a solid selection of beers and wines — the Yoho Brewing Tokyo Black Porter is a standout, with a smooth hint of coffee — which include Colt 45 Malt Liquor and Mad Dog 20/20 fortified wine “for real G’s.” There are also a few festive, non-alcoholic cocktails, including the addictive Wu-Tang punch, which is sparkling Tang with a hint of Thai basil syrup, garnished by a swizzle stick topped with a gold-painted rhino. It’s another example of the thought and care that’s been put into every aspect of Paid In Full, from the disco ball in the tiny, bubblegum-pink ladies’ room to the sparkly gold $ medallion on the good luck cat by the register. If this place was Downtown, it’d have a line of hipsters out the door, but, in the wilds of the southwest, it’s a mixture of couples and families, lingering over a procession of small plates beneath the vivid mural of a tattooed Geisha girl flanked by a squid with a spray paint can and a wolf in a hoodie.

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Paid In Full’s wide-ranging flavors may be accessible to those unfamiliar with Japanese food, but it’s also appreciated by fans. I took a friend who had lived in Japan, and, after taking her first bite of the Triple Garlic Yakisoba, a heap of noodles with mushrooms and pork belly, she threw down her chopsticks and clapped like a girl at a birthday party. When Eric B. rhymed “put it together/it’s simple, ain’t it/but quite clever,” he could have been describing Paid In Full’s kitchen remix.

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