Owner and chef Allen Yap began his culinary career in 1991, cooking alongside his mother and father at the family's first restaurant, which they founded after relocating to Tucson from Malaysia. Inspired by his childhood in Asia and driven by a desire to innovate, he took the reins at Neo Malaysian Kitchen and designed a menu that incorporates the spices, cooking methods, and flavors of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Malaysian cuisine. The resulting blend of sushi, spicy noodle dishes, and aromatic curries earned his restaurant the award for Best Asian Cuisine & Sushi from Arizona Foothills magazine in 2011.
Along with the inventive brand of fusion fare, bartenders keep spirits high by mixing potent cocktails, pouring glasses of sake, and disguising bottles of domestic and imported beers as adorable kittens. The wine cellar brims with hand-selected varietals from the vineyards of Italy, Washington, and Napa Valley, including the Uppercut cabernet sauvignon, which teems with notes of dark fruit, expresso, violet, and spices.
The restaurant's theme of updating the traditional carries over into its decor, which features stone walls inlaid with small statues. Towering bamboo shoots coil beneath modern, curved lanterns that hang from the ceiling and light the dining room as delicately as a beach ball hosting a firefly high-school reunion.