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  • Writer's pictureKathie Scalf

Chow Down at Juan Siao

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical on the idea of Asian-Mexican fusion by way of Johnson City Tennessee.

While hearing this kooky concept was being spearheaded by the successful Stir Fry Group was a bit of a comfort, I had my initial reservations; especially when they began construction which involved obstructing the historic Coca-Cola mural that had been lovingly restored at the end of Tipton Street. Since their opening happened in the time since I relocated to Nashville, I only recently had the opportunity to make my first visit to the restaurant, and from food to structure, I am more than happy to give my seal of approval on all accounts.

Stepping into the lobby, guests are immediately greeted by the historic mural I was so concerned with losing. Instead of covering up with drywall and studs, they just added on to the sturdy bricks that once marked the end of Tipton Street, showcasing the painting with twinkling starburst lighting that illuminates a gorgeous curved staircase leading to the main dining room. I was surprised to see the bulk of the dining experience is executed upstairs, with the kitchen being the showcase downstairs. I can only imagine they’ve installed an elevator or dumbwaiter somewhere in the building or their service staff must have legs like a team of Clydesdales from running up and down those stairs.

While the entire space is an eclectic expression of art, nowhere is that more obvious than the bar. Running the length of the left wall, the lucite bartop is up-lit with hundreds of sliced geodes. Arranged in every different color and shape, you can’t miss an Instagrammable moment with your cocktail at this showpiece.

While I was busy admiring the architecture, I can’t forget to mention the food. For starters we enjoyed the Thai Chicken Wings and Fresh Oysters. I’m not the greatest reference in terms of heat, as I only consider something hot if it results in tears the next day, but I don’t think these would be offensive to someone more sensitive to spicy food. Tossed in chili paste, garlic and cilantro, they were still juicy and bursting with flavor. (I did ask for a side of ranch because no matter how hard I try to escape, I am pure white trash at heart, but just know they are not typically served that way.) The oyster selection changes daily, but these were large and briney, just the way I like.

For the mains I was immediately drawn to the “Old School Stir Fry” section of the menu. Being a Johnson City girl who spent too many nights in the early-mid 2000s dancing to Lil’ John at the original Stir Fry Black & Red parties before going to The Planet, I was hungry for some nostalgia. These noodle and rice based dishes are huge and easily shareable, which means I need to go back 5 times to try them all. The Pad Thai was delicious, as was the Curry Basil Noodles. You’re given the options of proteins and add on’s, and we personally added chicken to ours, as well as a piping hot Miso Soup.

For the “Juan” selections on the menu, there appear to be some tasty and unique tacos, which I will have to try on another trip. Following my Asian feast, there was no way I had room for anything else!

The bar menu had some cool and refreshing cocktails that are sure to compliment the spicy, flavorful dishes. You can never go wrong with a classic Ranch Water or Margarita, but I was most intrigued by the rotating flavors of frozen libations. I’ve heard from a few friends they are dangerously delicious, but unfortunately the machine was down on the evening I was there. Again, I’m just happy to have another mission to return and report back, because a frozen daquiri sounds like the perfect warm weather compliment to those tacos I didn’t get to try.

The wine selection was fairly straightforward and basic. The standard wine drinker would have no complaints, but of course I would enjoy seeing a few more interesting whites on the list. A budget friendly Vouvray, Picpoul de Pinet, or Albarino would be an excellent pairing for the cuisine here. I do think the focus of their menu is on their beautiful cocktails and that’s really where they shine, which is something I will never complain about.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience at Juan Siao and I’m actually excited to return. I’m sure their warm weather menu changes will aim to please, and it seems like the perfect place to beat the summer heat with spicy plates and icy glasses.


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