When customers stumble into the new Poke Express, they occasionally do so thinking it's still a Subway, says co-owner Leo Zheng.
He has one thing to say to those disappointed faces, ready to devour a sub: "It's not Subway. It's something better."
Zheng urges everyone to give poke a try.
Poke, pronounced "poh-kay," originates from Hawaii, where the name means slices or chunks. In this context, it's essentially a salad of cubed, fresh, raw fish.
Originally, Poke Express was planned to be a second location for the also newly opened Yummy Ice Cream Rolls, but Zheng and co-owner Evan Ke, a former hibachi chef, decided to make poke the focus of their second eatery. (Poke Express does, however, also serve Yummy's rolled ice cream.) Zheng believes Spokane could have more diversity in its food options, and this is his way of contributing to that vision.
My own poke journey started in Hawaii when I was introduced to these savory cuts of fish on menus at almost every shop and restaurant. Later, when I moved to Portland, I tried several places emulating the Hawaiian poke I first had. Since then, I've been ordering poke from various menus in Spokane in hopes that it would parallel what I first tried. What I really desired was a designated poke bar, and I guess the poke gods heard me, because Poke Express so far has delighted my taste buds.
Poke Express serves a menu of four signature bowls ($13/each) featuring a blend of complementary ingredients and topping flavors. These bowls come with base proteins of salmon, tuna or unagi (eel), along with the tofu-based Buddha bowl, which has onion, red pepper, avocado, cucumber and seaweed, topped with house seasoning, sesame seeds and yuzu sauce. The other signature bowls are also mixed with fresh veggies and seasoned sauces.
As is the style with Yummy Ice Cream Rolls, there's an option to build-your-own poke bowl in five steps. First, select a base of white rice, brown rice, a spring greens mix or tortilla chips. Next is the protein: salmon, ahi tuna, tofu, chicken, octopus, albacore, unagi, spicy salmon or spicy ahi tuna ($11 for a two-scoop protein bowl or $13 for a four-scoop protein bowl).
My favorite was selecting three out of 18 possible sides (extras beyond three are $1 each), which include fresh fruit and veggies like mango, avocado and yellow radish, and then dressing up the bowl with sauces like ponzu or yuzu sauce. Zheng says their sweet and tangy house poke sauce is the most popular.
All sauces, with the exception of the eel, teriyaki and spicy mayo sauce, are house made. Toppings choices include crispy onion, garlic chips, sesame seed, shredded nori and wasabi peas.
If driving across town for poke is keeping you from trying it, you're in luck, since Poke Express is also bringing this Hawaiian treasure to a couch nearby through Uber Eats. 905 S. Grand Blvd., Spokane • 960-7739
My Fresh Basket Poke Bar
My Fresh Basket in Kendall Yards was the first to bring a poke bar to Spokane. While you may not usually think about eating dinner or lunch at a grocery store, you may want to do just that at this upscale grocery store that features an in-store dining area, and in the summer an upper level veranda with river views. The bar usually features about 20 types of poke and rotates between 75 recipes that span from spicy tuna, ahi wasabi, to salt and pepper poke with shoyu. Try the stuffed avocados — the shells are filled with minced tuna poke (two for $7). 1030 Summit Pkwy., Spokane • 558-2100
The Wave Island Sports Grill & Sushi Bar
You'll have to visit the Wave multiple times to exhaust their poke offerings. This island-inspired eatery features regularly four different poke bowls on its menu. The Lomi Lomi Salmon ($8.95) is made with fresh chunks of salmon, Hawaiian sea salt, tomatoes, onions, and scallions massaged together by hand (lomi lomi is Hawaiian for massage) to expertly blend the flavors. Of course, you'll also find a traditional ahi poke bowl ($15.95) on the menu, along with the tako poke ($11.95), which features octopus slices and your choice of sauces like haole, kim chee, creamy or spicy. 5252 W. First Ave., Spokane • 747-2023
Grab a poke bowl to go or stay for a casual lunch at Coeur d'Alene's Fisherman's Market. Their basic poke bowl features raw ahi with a spicy Asian dressing ($9.95). 215 W. Kathleen Ave., Coeur d'Alene • 208-664-4800