Alibi V.27 No.37 • Sept 13-19, 2018 

Restaurant Review

When Fusion Cuisine Grows Up

Poki Poblano Fusion serves original, tasty dishes in classy atmosphere

Peruvian corn in crema sauce
Peruvian corn in crema sauce
Eric Williams Photography
“This feels too nice for us… I don’t think we’re allowed to be in here,” Val said as we walked into Poki Poblano Fusion Lounge, the new restaurant operated by the folks at Poki Poki. If we were there in the evening, our sneakers and t-shirts might not have been appropriate, but the lunch crowd was much more forgiving. I gestured at two people sitting at the bar dressed in scrubs to prove my point.

But she’s not lying: This place is very pretty inside, and it’s huge, too. The sprawling restaurant lives in the spot on Montgomery and Louisiana where South Bourbon Kitchen and many other short-lived culinary attempts flickered and faded. The seating is many and varied: there are tables and booths, plenty of patio seating, a bar and several half-circle couches with small tables, perfect for enjoying drinks or small plates. The focal point is certainly the bar, with color-changing lights underneath and an impressive wall of liquors behind. Adding to the glitzy appearance are several murals throughout the space, each nodding to the cultural fusion aspect of Poki Poblano’s menu. It feels like a very Downtown sort of restaurant, and it’s one of the few times I’ve really agreed with the term “lounge” being applied to a place of eating. I would lounge here.

Poki Poblano was fairly empty at 12:30 on a Wednesday, but more people started to filter in later into the afternoon—the happy hour crowd. Given the popularity of both the Poki Poki Cevicheria and the late Pasión Latin Fusion restaurant (Chef Elvis Bencomo of Pasion is now chef at Poki Poblano), it doesn’t surprise me that this place already has five stars on Yelp and what seems like a dedicated clientele, only two months after it’s opened. I was certainly excited to give it a try.

The waitress sat us in one of the couches by the bar, and we began speculating about whether we could have cocktails with lunch and still be productive humans at work afterwards. We decided to split one drink as we’re both lightweights, and settled on the mojito ($11) with dragonberry flavor, because when else are you going to have dragonberry besides in a cocktail? This was deceptively sweet and easy to drink, with the mint really playing second fiddle to the dragonberry. There are plenty of New Mexico beers and wines on offer as well.

Plantain empanadas in pickled peppers
Plantain empanadas in pickled peppers
Eric Williams Photography

The menu is huge and divided into six sections: “Shareables,” tiraditos, ceviches, tacos, poke bowls and sides—there’s also a short list of lunch specials. Val, who has a gluten intolerance, was pleasantly surprised at the number of gluten-free dishes on the menu, and the fact that they were clearly labeled as such (there are quite a lot of vegan dishes, too). Feeling gluttonous and excited at the breadth of the menu, we ordered two appetizers to share and a main dish each.

First to come out was the side of Peruvian corn ($5) and the plantain empanadas ($12). Peruvian corn is very similar to hominy—it has a much larger kernel than sweet corn with a starchy, chewy texture. This was served sautéed and swimming in a slightly spicy, slightly sour crema sauce with a little cotija cheese on top. If you like elote, you will love this dish. The plantain empanadas (both gluten-free and vegan) are cut in half and served prettily on a bed of sweet and vinegary pickled mushrooms and bell peppers. While one might assume that “plantain empanadas” means empanadas filled with plantains, one would be wrong in this instance: The empanada dough is actually made of plantain, fried crisp and crunchy, and the filling is housemade vegan feta (seasoned tofu), spinach and toasted pine nuts. Val, who doesn’t often get to eat empanadas, was very happy about this one. “I think I’m gonna cry,” was what she said, I believe.

I ordered the soy curl poke bowl ($10) from the lunch specials menu, and Val ordered the three for $10 taco special—one Korean BBQ, one jackfruit adovada and one carnitas. My poke bowl came on a bed of quinoa (rice or salad are other options), with tender, juicy soy curls, sautéed onions and spinach, fresh carrots, bell peppers and edamame, all covered with a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce and a really outstanding vegan crema. It’s a great lunch on its own; with a cocktail and an appetizer it’s material for a food coma.

The taco plate consists of three little street tacos on white corn tortillas, but served with so much filling that they’re both quite hearty and quite messy to eat. The Korean BBQ taco comes with the same marinated soy curls that are in the poke bowl, along with avocado, BBQ sauce, slaw and more vegan crema; the jackfruit adovada is lightly spicy with a vinegar kick and comes covered in grilled pineapple, red onion, cilantro and lime juice; the carnitas is tender and smoky, with crispy chicharrones and crema on top.

Poki Poblano has hit a lovely balance in this new restaurant: It not only has great food, but it also happens to be a very cool place to hang out. Chef Elvis Boncomo has outdone himself with eccentric, delicious fusion dishes that speak to Albuquerque’s melting-pot culture, and has seated it all in a very sophisticated setting. It all leads me to believe that the reign of Poki Poblano’s popularity is just beginning.

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6910 Montgomery Blvd. NE
369-1194
pokipoblano.com

Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-midnight, Sun noon-9:30pm

Alibi Recommends: Peruvian corn, Korean BBQ, plantain empanadas
Vibe: Chic and Downtown-ish.