A taste of Hawaii has caught a wave in the desert.
Poke, long a traditional appetizer in the Aloha State, is becoming the fast-food entrée in the Old Pueblo.
It’s popping up on menus around town. There is at least one restaurant that focuses exclusively on the dish, and two more are slated to open soon.
Poke is sushi-grade fish cut into small pieces, doused in a sauce and served with rice and toppings, such as crisp white onions or edamame.
It was that tasty sushi-in-a-bowl that turned two Tucson pharmacists into restaurant owners. Kevin Tran had discovered it in California, where it’s been popular for years, and he introduced it to his business partner Mobeen Moslem.
“The more I ate it the more I fell in love with it,” Moslem said.
Nine months ago, he and Tran opened Tucson’s PokeZone, which allows diners to customize their own poke: several sauces, fish and toppings are offered so that diners can pick and choose. Bowls start at $10.25.
Tucsonan Scott Glener works downtown and makes frequent trips to PokeZone when he wants a light, quick lunch.
“I like the poke and I like the fresh fish,” said Glener, who said he likes to mix up his bowl every time he visits PokeZone. One topping he always gets is the crab mix.
Mobeen and Tran are equally happy that poke is wholesome.
“People want healthy, quick food,” Moslem said. “And it is customizable.”
Brandon Katz knew he wanted poke to be part of his downtown ramen and sushi restaurant concept, Obon, for the same reason. Katz said the high-protein, low-carb entrée makes the perfect healthy lunch or dinner option.
Obon’s menu includes three poke bowl options, each focusing on a different fish such as salmon or tuna ($14.25). Katz prides himself on using fresh, sustainable fish.
The poke bowls have a special, in-house sauce that combines sweet and savory flavors with the spicy, earthy tones of wasabi creating a flavor unique to Obon.
Soon Jesus Bonilla and Guillermo Gallegos will bring their own cool twists and bold flavors to poke when their food hall, American Eat Co., opens off South Fourth Avenue.
The food court style-dining hall will feature typical dining options including pizza and burgers alongside their venture, Dumb Fish.
Bonilla thinks poke is underserved in Tucson and he is excited to be part of changing that.
Dumb Fish — named because, Bonilla says, “smart fish never get caught” — will serve five poke bowls including a honey habanero cilantro lime bowl. There will be a variety of options including bowls on the spicier side, Bonilla said.