Alibi V.26 No.22 • June 1-7, 2017 

Restaurant Review

Ride the Wave

Hello Poké is cool, fresh and filling

You’re off work, you’re hungry, and you’ve got squat in the fridge. Nothing’s thawed for dinner, and your stomach is howling. We’ve all been there. And if ever there was an underrepresented niche in Albuquerque’s dining scene, it’s healthy food … only fast. We either opt for lean protein and veggies at a sit-down spot, or grab a sack of something quick through our driver’s side window. Rare is the joint that delivers take-away that is focused on a vibrantly fresh and healthy meal.

Enter Hello Poké, riding a giant wave of foodie enthusiasm for poke, one of Hawaii’s proudest dishes. Traditionally it’s cubed and marinated fish, though fusion cuisine and innovation have certainly expanded the otherwise workman-like dish as it has traveled. Poke shares some flavor profiles with sushi and other Japanese cuisine, but I don’t agree with the “sushi-in-a-bowl” oversimplification that’s often offered as explanation. In scale, temperature and texture the dishes just don’t share that much. But what they do share is a sturdy and light yet satisfying approach to a meal that leaves you full while patting yourself on the back for such a wise and intentional choice.

Through the utterly simple, straightforward door is an equally utilitarian space, light and inviting, with tables and chairs for about 30, should you want to sit and eat. Build your bowl from a base of either rice or organic greens, followed by scoops of protein in your choice of sauce, then top it to your heart’s content from a varied list of Asian Pacific possibilities. The “regular” is two scoops ($9), and the “large” is three scoops ($10), plus another $1.50 for every additional scoop of protein—not that you’ll need many by the time your bowl is built. The whole vibe is as low-key and friendly as the islands themselves even if your first time ordering can be a bit daunting. It might help to emulate some familiar flavor profiles when deciding—as we did.

For instance, for the first bowl I wanted a cheapjack crab Louie corner—with crab, avocado and some spicy mayo—while saving my other corners for tuna (both spicy and marinated) and gambled on some tiny scallops, too. The seafood was cool, and delightfully fresh, quick-tossed with the tang of soy and that earthy sesame note that so often signifies Asian cuisine. Throw in a little edamame, some cucumber and some seaweed salad, and color me happy. I built it all over greens and went with the house spicy sauce, which was bright but nothing to fret over heat-wise. I was happy I added some masago for that salty pop and sliced jalapeños to kick it all up a notch. The three distinct corners of my bowl each delivered exactly what I was hungry for, and I’m hard-pressed to find even the slightest misstep. I guess I’d want spicy to be spicier, but more jalapeños would’ve done it too.

In a bowl built a bit like a spicy salmon roll, we started with half brown and half white rice, then added three scoops of the smooth and luscious spicy salmon, which had a nice punch from the green onion and wasabi. The bowl was finished with pickled ginger, more onions, avocado and jalapeños that perfectly pulled out a garlicky note in the salmon. Despite its simple design, the bowl would likely prove plenty for all but the hungriest eater.

For the vegan/vegetarian options—either build your own custom-made bowl, or just go with their “Hello Tofu Classic” ($9 regular/$10 large). It blends green and yellow onion with ogo seaweed, toasted sesame seeds and roasted sesame oil, with the house sauce—an easy and tasty go-to for any vegetarian friend who’s overwhelmed by the choices and options. The tofu holds up well to the marinade and sauce, and, again, the add-ins and toppings are as fresh as you can find.

I know not everyone has 10 bucks for a meal, and the argument for most fast food is basically an economic one. But with most places charging that for any ol’ plate of food, it’s hard to argue against the sheer quality Hello Poké delivers and the speed and ease with which you’ll get it. If there’s an case to be made in terms of cost, I think they might consider adding a small or even a kid size for future foodies. Heck, call it an 8-oz. “post-workout poké” and it practically sells itself, drawing a few curious diners at a price they’d be comfortable gambling on. But the fact that extra scoops are only $1.50, and any second scoop of either crab meat or avocado is a buck, suggests they work hard to keep hungry customers full and happy without gouging them. In their mission statement, Hello Poké advocates for sustainably-sourced seafood—a truly important step considering that, without deliberate choices and wiser policy, we may well see the end of the fishing industry as we know it sooner rather than later. And that, for this grab-and-go gourmand, would be heartbreaking.

Hello Poké

6300 San Mateo NE
(505) 508-5653
Hours: Sun noon-6pm, Mon-Fri 11am-8pm, Sat noon-8pm
Vibe: Form and function says Aloha to bluefin for blue collars to blue chips.
Alibi Recommends: Have a familiar flavor profile (California roll, spicy salmon, crab Louie, etc.) in mind, then jumping right in.