Pokeria: Not My Fathers Poke!

If you read my review of Boudin’s Sourdough Bread at the Main Place Mall, you’ll remember that Pops and I sat in front of a huge plate glass window while we waited for a phantom waitress that would never show up. We kept busy by watching the line grow in the restaurant directly across from us….Pokeria. Pokeria is to sushi and ceviche what Chipotle is to tacos and burritos. Like Chipotle…you wait in a long line for your turn to list off the numerous ingredients you want in your order, shell out more money than you should and then hope you can find a table to enjoy your food.

And that’s where we found ourselves for lunch following another one of Pop’s numerous doctors appointments. I shouldn’t complain…as Pop’s chauffeur I usually get a free lunch and even a little out- patient surgery couldn’t ruin my fathers appetite. So remembering our discussion to try out Pokeria, I turned the car in direction of Santa Ana and headed to Pokeria’s 17th Street location.

It was a little after noon when we arrived and we took our position in line behind customers far better schooled in the Pokeria lingo then we were. The customers in front of us rattled off combinations of seafood, sauces and condiments that rivaled the most complicated Latte ever created at Starbucks! When the seafood “barista” looked at me for my order….I mostly grunted and pointed my way through the ordering process. After all my stammering…I ended up with a small Ahi, Shrimp and Ceviche bowl with the mild house dressing and all the condiments the barista could load up. Pops went with a Spicy Tuna, Yellowtail and Octopus bowl with the spicy house dressing with all the condiments. They were out of a couple of items…scallops and red snapper…so we’ll try those on another visit.

We quickly found a table and wasted no time diving into the poke bowls. My first concern was quickly put to rest as everything tasted fresh and clean. Absolutely no fishy taste or smell whatsoever. My father nodded his agreement as he fought with an octopus tentacle. The sauces were tasty and the variety of condiments added a crunchy desirable texture. The only criticism was the Spicy Tuna. Pops confirmed what I noticed while standing in line. The Spicy Tuna looked over processed and too finely ground. I’m not sure if it’s always that way or just happened at this location but it prompted me to order the regular Ahi instead.

As we worked our way to the bottom of our bowls…Pops began a dissertation of what real “traditional” Poke was. Those of you who have read the “about us” section on this website know that Bud (affectionately referred to as Pops) spent over 20 years managing restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii. He’s eaten Poke at hotel luaus, private parties and at some of the finest restaurants in the aloha state. To Bud…Poke is a much more simpler dish of ultra fresh Yellowfin Ahi Tuna dressed with a little soy sauce, sesame oil, green onion, dried seaweed, sesame seeds and a little wasabi. Acceptable options may include some chili peppers and fish eggs. His traditional mindset had no room for roasted Peruvian corn, spicy mayo or sweet dressings. That said….he still had to admit he enjoyed this “Poke-like” creation and would do so again.

I may have been a little hasty to suggest that Pokeria is too expensive. Chipotle is over priced for beans, rice, chicken, beef or pork and some tortillas! At Pokeria…you can get a small Poke Bowl filled with fresh Tuna, Shrimp and Yellowtail for $9.00….$12.00 for the large bowl. You’d be hard pressed to find this value at any sushi restaurant in Orange County. Overall….we gave Pokeria four out of five stars. We’ll be back to try the snapper and scallops….but hold the Peruvian Corn for Pops!