U Poke Spot: Quality poke bowls arrive in Tampa near USF

Full disclosure: I was invited to try the menu at U Poke Spot in exchange for my opinion about their food. These opinions are my own and do not reflect U Poke Spot.

U Poke Spot opened recently just a block away from USF across from MOSI by Einstein’s and Qdoba. It’s a fast-casual Hawaiian-style poke restaurant.

Despite the national popularity of poke, it hasn’t quite taken off yet in Tampa. Many restaurant have tried to use poke as a marketing tactic to upsell their typical fish without offering real poke. Often times the sauces will be downright awful or the fish doesn’t taste good.

Poke Rose at The Hall on Franklin was the first serious take on poke in Tampa, but unfortunately it does not allow you to customize your bowls. The Poke Cafe may be good to the people in Dunedin, but to me it was a disappointing example of poke.

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U Poke Spot resembles more of what I expect in a poke restaurant. The owners background ties back to sushi restaurants, so the fish and toppings reflect that and they go well.

They have salmon, tuna, spicy salmon, spicy tuna, octopus, and even chicken for people who are trying to avoid fish all together. Some toppings include masago, edamame, tempura flakes, seaweed salad, guacamole, mango salsa, crushed nuts, and more.

The main sauce is poke sauce but there are at least 4 other available. The eel sauce and spicy mayo sauces I tried were also great and just what you would find at any sushi restaurant. To be honest, this is the best poke I have had since I last went to San Francisco.

Some things I hope to see added to the menu are tamago (Japanese egg) and eel.

I went with the spicy salmon all the way and added a bunch of toppings and I found all of them to be fresh and flavorful. I built my bowl the same way I would build a sushi burrito or a sushi roll and modern poke is pretty much that.

The guacamole was flavorful, but I would be interested in seeing the guacamole mixed with some other things perhaps in the future. I’a Poke in San Francisco has sun-dried tomato guacamole which sounds ridiculous, but is actually ridiculously amazing with poke and sushi burritos. The cool thing about poke bowls is you can constantly re-invent the menu for customers.

The key to a good poke bowl will depend on how you mix the fish, toppings, and sauces. You have to think about how the flavors all complement each other. There are pre-arranged bowls to help those who might struggle with that.

The prices seem a little expensive for the college area it is situated in with 2 proteins at $10.95 and 3 proteins for $13.95, but it is actually comparable to other poke restaurants. The price will mostly increase when you add higher end toppings such as guacamole or avocado which is expensive pretty much anywhere.

On average I think a typical for me would probably run around $13-15 which isn’t unfair for the bowl portions in my opinion. The truth is quality fish is never going to be cheap without something else to make up for the margins lost such as alcohol or events.

The owners could mitigate that feeling for students by providing a rewards program, student discount, or flash sales that will draw them in even if they are reluctant. Although students claim to be price-conscious, they are willing to spend extra for the right brands. See Chipotle, iPhones, electronic music festivals, etc.

I was also a fan of the drink selection with numerous drinks from Japan available including various green tea brands, Japanese Ramune sodas, and Calpico which I love.

This selection was also available at poke places I visited in San Francisco and the owners of U Poke Spot told me much of their inspiration came from poke restaurants in New York that they visited.

The interior is modern with digital screens and clean and to me makes a good case of probably a franchise one day if U Poke Spot is successful.

The owners indicated they will be adding sushi burritos to the menu as well which I look forward to trying in the future.

I really enjoyed U Poke Spot and look forward to coming back again soon. It is the first time I have felt like poke is being done how I imagined it in Tampa. I recommend giving them a look.

Restaurant name: U Poke Spot

Neighborhood: USF, Temple Terrace

Cuisine: Poke

Address: 5001 E. Fowler Ave., Unit F, Tampa, FL 33617

Phone Number: 813-533-3707

Hours: 11AM-10PM Sunday-Thursday, 11AM-11PM Friday & Saturday

Menu: http://www.upokespot.com/menu-2/

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Poke’ Cafe’ in Dunedin could use some changes

This past weekend I visited Poke’ Cafe’ in Dunedin with a family member for a bite to eat. I hadn’t enjoyed a sushi burrito since I visited I’a Poke in San Francisco. Indeed, I have grown accustomed to avoiding poke or sushi burritos in Tampa because of the sheer lack of effort people seem to put into the product.

Poke’ Cafe’ definitely gave me the impression that it is trying to be a stand up poke restaurant, but overall it wasn’t to my taste. It bills itself as a “fast food concept to ensure super fast service and the lowest price possible”. Poke is sold by the pound. Prices range from $7.50 for 1 scoop to $13.50 for 3 scoops.

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They offer a ton of options for fish and the menu seems to tilt toward Korean-inspired flavors and dishes. I wanted to try the sushi burrito which they call a “poke burrito” so I went ahead and ordered it.

It comes with two scoops of “poke, rice or noodles, kale, avocado, kimchi, scallions, crunchies, togarachi, choice of sauces and non-premium toppings. With a side of pineapple-mango salsa.

Available toppings include scallions, togarachi, wasabi Peas, masago, sesame seeds, wasabi, roasted peanuts, jalapenos, crunchies, crispy garlic & onions, house pickled ginger, cucumber salad, roasted pineapple-mango salsa, shaved coconut, radishes, tomatoes, seaweed salad, edamame, avocado, house-made kimchi, and roasted shittake mushrooms. Some toppings cost extra.

I took the sushi burrito or “poke burrito” ($10.50) as is. It is a little strange because they use a tortilla and then put the seaweed inside and wrap the sushi burrito twice.

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The tortilla was cold and didn’t really have any flavor to it. Being Hispanic I will judge the tortilla more harsh than an average American probably would. I understand the tortilla from a control point of view (sushi burritos are messy), but adding an extra layer between the fish takes away from the flavor and didn’t end up helping my experience.

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The fish was good, but I found the toppings included in the burrito to be both detracting in flavor and also lacking in appeal. The rice didn’t really leave anything worth writing home about.

The kimchi was by far the biggest detractor and heavily overpowered everything else in the burrito – it also was not to my liking in flavor and was neither spicy nor flavorful. Their spicy mayo uses gochujang which is Korean spicy paste and it also underwhelmed and left a strange aftertaste.

Overall, I don’t think Korean ingredients taste particularly good with fish (unless we’re talking octopus) and would be better with meat items such as beef or chicken. The eel sauce didn’t really taste great either, which was kinda surprising because normally eel sauce is a major plus on sushi dishes.

The pineapple-mango salsa was also a bust.

The restaurant outside says “It’s better than sushi”, but I think some elements of sushi would be particularly good with these dishes and should be incorporated better.

My overall impression was that they have a good idea and the fish was good, but they could fine-tune the toppings and sauces. I would also ditch the tortilla in the burrito and recommend building your own bowl or burrito.

The staff was really friendly, seemed like a family-run business, and overall I had a decent lunch. Service was definitely a plus. I still am not sure if I would visit again though.

Restaurant Name: Poke’ Cafe’
Neighborhood: Dunedin
Cuisine: Poke, Sushi Burrito
Address: 1140 Main Street Dunedin, Florida 34698
Phone Number: (727) 871-7653

I’a Poke serves delicious eats (San Francisco)

Poke (poh-keh) has taken America by storm over the last few years. Poke by definition is a raw-fish salad.

The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage states that poke first became popular in the 1970s in Hawaii. The trend spread to the U.S.A. in 2012 and at some point began appearing everywhere. Many places just started chopping up fish and selling “poke” to increase sales with no real focus on the history.

Much like “Kobe beef”, “poke” has become a strong sales buzzword without much meaning at many restaurants. Some restaurants actually stay true to the origins of the dish though and use attention to how the fish is prepared and served. Once you taste real poke, the knock-offs just aren’t good enough.

The sushi burrito seems to have come about in 2011 when Sushiritto was founded in San Francisco by Peter Yen. Sushi burritos are essentially a closed sushi handroll packed with tons of rice and ingredients. I tried Sushiritto last December in San Francisco and found the dishes to be rather dry and not quite what I expected and was quite disappointing.

I ended up at I’a Poke by accident this past July when I was looking for a sushi restaurant for lunch and found that most restaurants in SF close at 2PM. After trekking on the BART to the Castro to try Eiji, I ended up going to I’a Poke instead and was glad I did!

The restaurant takes Hawaiian-inspired poke and combines it to offer both sushi burritos and poke bowls. Large bowls and Burritos are allowed to have unlimited toppings, which rocks.

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I’a Poke allows you to build your own poke bowls or sushi burritos and also sells pre-arranged meals as well. The freedom to choose toppings was expansive and a great deal. I wasn’t ready for how delicious the food was going to taste.

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I’a Poke opened my taste buds to how amazing poke and sushi burritos can taste. There wasn’t any topping that did not pack full flavors. The fish was insanely good. I had a salmon burrito with spicy mayo, surimi crab meat, tamago (Japanese egg), sun dried tomato guacamole, masago, furikake, and it was incredible!

It absolutely blew Sushiritto away.

Never have I tasted better ingredients for a sushi burrito and the serving portion was fair.

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In addition, the attendants who made the sushi burrito were incredibly hospitable and the overall place brought me very good vibes.

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Cheers to all the poke lovers 🍻

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Watching the people around me eat their poke bowls stuffed with ingredients, it was clear I need to return one day for a bowl. Still, the sushi burrito itself impressed me enough to also recommend the poke bowl (the ingredients are the same after all).

I would recommend I’a Poke to anyone in San Francisco looking for an amazing sushi burrito or poke bowl. Here’s hoping that I quickly am able to return to San Francisco and enjoy I’a Poke again.

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Restaurant name: I’a Poke

Neighborhood: Castro

Cuisine: Poke, Sushi Burrito

Address: 314 Church Street San Francisco, California

Menu: http://www.iapoke.com/menu

Website: http://www.iapoke.com/

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/iapokesf/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/iapoke