Poké (pronounced POH-kay) has recently been growing in popularity, as restaurants offering the Hawaiian dish have begun popping up across the (continental) United States. Typically made with cubes of raw fish, poké started gaining mainland popularity in Los Angeles and is becoming more prevalent on the East Coast. Now, one does not have to go further than Davis Square to try out this light but filling alternative to sushi. Pokéworks, located on Elm Street, features satisfying poké bowls that are full of fresh ingredients and won’t break the bank.
Pokéworks runs similarly to a place like Chipotle. There are “signature works” for those who find the vast number of ingredient options too overwhelming, but one can also just choose their own ingredients as the meal gets moved down the assembly line. At Pokéworks, diners can get their toppings as a bowl, served over rice; a salad, served over lettuce; or as a burrito, which is wrapped in sushi rice and a seaweed wrap.
Pokéworks opened on Dec. 1, and on opening night, there was a steady line that extended out the door. Because it was the first night, the line moved pretty slowly, as workers behind the counter were still getting the hang of the process. The restaurant is a small, unassuming and simple space with just a few long communal tables. By 8 p.m., there was already a shortage of some toppings, but most of the basics were still there.
Once customers reach the counter, they begin the process by ordering a base. When getting a traditional poké bowl, options include sushi rice, brown rice or quinoa for an extra dollar. Diners can also choose between regular or large sizes. The only difference between the two is that for a large, one must pay a few more dollars for three scoops of protein instead of two. The regular size, however, is probably filling enough and, therefore, not worth the extra charge for a little more fish. The regular is filling because the bulk of the bowl is rice at Pokéworks, so it is not necessarily the best value, but diners will still feel satisfied.
Then one continues through the assembly line and chooses a protein. Along with raw salmon, tuna, shrimp and scallop, the restaurant also offers chicken and tofu for non-fish lovers or vegetarians. After that, there are mix-ins, which include ingredients such as cucumbers, mangos and edamame. Then there are several sauce options like a classic soy-based sauce, ponzu or a spicier, creamier sriracha aioli. The sauce is combined with the fish and mix-ins, and the plate is set to be topped off with items like seaweed salad, ginger and wonton crisps.
The process of going through the assembly line took longer than it should have, as workers dashed back and forth from the kitchen in confusion, and a manager frequently had to come out and assist with a variety of seemingly simple problems. However, they proved to be very accommodating with diet restrictions, which was a plus.
After getting through the nearly 40-minute-long line of excited trend-followers and the chaotic ordering process, it is finally time to feast. Ultimately, it turns out that poké — as few things rarely are — is worth the hype. Both the tuna and salmon were tender and fresh. The sauces were flavorful, and the sushi rice was perfectly sticky. Poké is a good midpoint between a customizable salad place and a place like Chipotle. This was more filling and substantial than a salad, but is still a healthier alternative to a burrito. At $10.95 for a regular bowl, it is by no means “cheap eats,” but that being said, it is a much better value than one would find trying to order a comparable amount of sushi.
If in the coming weeks the line dies down and the ordering process runs more smoothly, Pokéworks has the potential to be a perfect fast-and-casual addition to Davis Square.