“I’ll take salmon,” I said.“What?” my server asked.“Salmon.”“Same one?”“Salmon!”From speakers all over the room, pop music blared and clashed with clinking dishes and shuffling feet. “Mfff muh fuff fuh ooo?” he asked.“What?” I said.Poki Poki Cevicheria is one of those hip, cafeteria-style places where you walk along a sneeze guard and direct a gloved employee on what to put on our plate. I’m not generally into Chipotle- and Subway-style restaurants. I hate lines, and I hate having to shout. But Poki Poki had lured me in with something those burrito and sandwich places don’t have: A poor man’s sashimi dish known as the poké bowl.Poké is a raw fish salad served in Hawaii. There, the raw, cubed fish is seasoned and eaten by itself or in a bowl over rice. Over the past few years, it’s become popular on the West Coast, where restaurants will put their own spin on the dish, adding different ingredients and seasoning.Poki Poki is Albuquerque’s first taste of the phenomenon, and they boast their own Latin fusion take on the dish. I’m a big fan of sashimi, anything Latin and good opportunities to make bad Pokémon jokes, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to try this place out. It’s right across the street from UNM, in the Brick Light District, and subsequently tends to draw a crowd of college kids. I wore a beanie in an attempt to fit in.Before ordering, my server gave me a handy menu that laid the process out for me in steps.Step 1: Bowl and Base—The bowls come in three sizes: “regular” ($8.95), “large” ($10.95) and “ultimate” ($14.95). Diners then choose between white rice, salad or corn chips as the base. I chose rice in a large bowl while my wife chose a mix of salad and rice.Step 2: Fish—For fish, I chose the “Salmon!” My wife picked spicy tuna.Step 3: Sauce—Poki Poki isn’t playing around when it comes to sauces. Each one is unique and offers whatever flavors you’re in the mood for, from sweet to tangy. I nabbed the pineapple mojo while my wife had the poki sauce (“Go easy,” because she says they put too much).Step 4: Toppings—Up next was a huge selection of super fresh veggies and toppings. I got avocado, pico de gallo, cucumber, seaweed salad, cilantro, pickled ginger, green onions, a dollop of wasabi and some more cilantro.Step 5: Finish—We both topped it off with spicy mayo. (“On the side,” this time, because she doesn’t love sauce the same way I do, I guess.)Somewhere around step three, I finally raised my voice to the right volume and didn’t have to repeat everything twice. What we ended up with were plastic bowls piled high and strained vocal chords. We ordered a lychee green tea with boba and a strawberry milk tea (sans boba). I couldn’t escape the excruciatingly loud Beyoncé song anywhere in the dining room, so I gave up and just sat by the window. My wife laughed. “How’d you know it was a Beyoncé song?” she asked. She was clearly less perturbed than me as she sucked a ball of boba up her straw.I stuck my chopsticks into my bowl and fished around for a cube of salmon. I tossed it in and was immediately rewarded with a near-perfect, melty piece of meat. It was almost buttery smooth. I gasped. “Shit,” I said, “That is good.” The music became noticeably less grating. I took another bite, and it seemed to fade out completely and be replaced by the sound of angels tuning up.It was exactly the kind of clean protein my brain was in need of, and I could feel all my synapses fire. I snatched a bit of my wife’s ground spicy tuna and was impressed, but it still couldn’t touch the salmon. I went back to my bowl and started digging into the toppings. They were all just as fresh as they’d appeared, and I happily began crunching on various bright veggies.All of this was layered nicely (despite my wife’s personal tastes) with a slathering of sauce. The mayo lattice on top was spicy and tangy, giving a perfect bite to what might have been a fairly plain experience. Deeper, I came across the pineapple mojo sauce and the “Latin fusion” part of the meal. Its sweet and tangy fruity flavor mixed surprisingly well with the spicy mayo. I poked at my wife’s bowl and managed to gather some of the poki sauce. It was an interesting Hawaiian-inspired sauce that was both sweet and salty. I had the feeling it would’ve gone better with the ahi tuna, though.I rushed through the rest of the bowl hungrily and didn’t come back up until the end. A dance beat was reverberating through my skull and my belly was tight and round. At another table, a hipster shouted over the music at a young woman he was sitting with. “No! I said, ‘She wasn’t wearing shoes!’” I cringed a little.And that about sums up Poki Poki. It was busy. It was loud. There was fish. I enjoyed the food, but the atmosphere irritated my chakras and made me want to get out of there as quickly as possible. If you’re looking for an easy-going, laid back and relaxing lunch, you might want to wait on that bowl (or at least get a table outside). But if you’re looking for some delicious, fresh brain food that you can shovel in while you run between point A and B, then this place is perfect. Just make sure to take a deep breath and steel yourself before you go in.
Poki Poki Cevicheria2300 Central SE(505) 503-1077Hours: Sun-Sat 11am-8:30pmVibe: Hip and hecticAlibi Recommends: Salmon, spicy tuna, pineapple mojo sauce and lychee green tea