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Poke Don delivers deep-water delights

Amanda Su and Armaan Rashid

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Hawaiian fast-casual restaurant Poke Don offers fantastic, quick poke bowls for a low price — like Chipotle for seafood, but better.

In fact, Poke Don sits behind the Chipotle on San Ramon Valley Boulevard. The restaurant opened in February of this year and has been wildly popular, with high Yelp ratings (a 4.3 average) and a near-constant crowd. It serves poke bowls: small bowls of rice, raw seafood and other toppings — like deconstructed sushi. We went to see if it lived up to the hype.

Ambience:

Poke Don is fairly tiny, tucked into a corner plot of a larger complex at 2491 San Ramon Valley Blvd. Regardless, it’s an inviting space, with a clean look and subdued lighting. Most people order to-go, but the tables outside and inside are clean and spacious — despite the small size of the restaurant, it’s not packed.

Service:

Ordering at Poke Don is a bit like ordering at Chipotle, except a little  more complex, with many more stages and options to go through. It can be overwhelming ordering the first time, but the staff are friendly and quick to provide help if should you need it. Despite the frequently long lines, the many staff they have at the ordering line makes the process go fast, so the wait is quite reasonable even when it is crowded. Even when ordering four different bowls at once, the staff still managed to get every order completely correct.

Food:

As you walk through the line, you first need to choose the size of your bowl; the choices are small, medium, and large. Afterwards, you choose your base (rice or salad) and first protein (crab or tuna). In addition to that, you need to pick your proteins. You get a certain number of scoops of protein depending on your bowl size. There are typical protein choices like tuna and salmon but also more exotic options like ebi (dried shrimp) or tako (octopus) but there are special proteins you can add for an additional cost. After protein, you choose your sauce. There are eight different options, some of them being Ponzu sauce, Poke sauce (spicy or mild) and Unagi sauce (wink wink at “Friends” watchers). After the sauces you choose your sides, which include cucumber and seaweed salad, and then your toppings, which include various seasonings and other miscellaneous choices such as edamame and avocado.  

Armaan Rashid (Food): 5/5 stars

I ordered a small bowl with brown rice, salmon and spicy crab, with avocado and mango as well as the spicy poke sauce to top it all off. The avocado and mango cost an extra $1.50 but were totally worth it, adding just the perfect balance of flavors needed to complete the rest of the dish. This was my first time trying a poke bowl, and it lived up to the hype indicated by the long lines. Fish and rice might seem bland, but the toppings and sauce made the dish tangy and flavorful. The mango in particular complemented the cubed salmon perfectly, of a similar texture but a contrasting flavor. The shredded crab was just the perfect amount of spicy, and blended nicely with the rice, while the avocado handily neutralized the complex flavors to make it very, very tasty. It should be noted that the quality of the ingredients was sublime; the rice perfectly cooked and fluffy, the fish fresh and not “fishy” smelling at all. The spicy poke sauce was also excellent, subtle but adding a slight spicy boost that really made the fish complete — I didn’t need any other condiments, even as a person who usually douses their food in hot sauce. It was oddly engaging to eat because there was so much going on in the dish, even though the portion was fairly small, which meant that it’s quick to be gone, but despite this it was extremely satiating. Even though I ordered a seemingly random collection of things, they all came together well, indicating that it’s difficult to go wrong no matter what you order. Highly recommended.

Amanda Su (Food): 5/5 stars

I ordered a small bowl of white steamed rice and romaine lettuce, spicy crab meat, salmon and tuna, Ponzu sauce, which tastes a little bit like a citrusy and tart light soy sauce, cucumber, corn, red onions, edamame, lemon, sesame seeds and avocado, which costs an extra dollar. As a recent poke enthusiast and Poke Don frequenter, I can honestly say that my meal was perfect. Each different part of the bowl was absolutely essential to the overall flavor and experience. In the dish, the Ponzu sauce and the lemon formed the perfect dynamic duo and gave it the necessary tartness in an overall light and for the lack of a better word, raw-food filled meal (i.e. raw vegetables, raw fish). The romaine lettuce added an additional crisp texture to the dish, which perfectly complemented the soft rice on the very bottom. And with avocado, which like I said costs extra, and the other various sides like cucumber, corn, edamame, etc. The meal had a nice balance of healthy and diversely textured and flavored components. As for the protein, the tuna and salmon literally could not get better. They were cut into small cubes and coated in the sauce along with the sides in a bowl, and then poured on top of the base. The fish were the perfect firmness and size to chew. Although of course on their own they don’t really have much flavor, once they were coated with and soaked in the ponzu sauce, they were a flawless seafood experience. For those apprehensive about eating raw fish, I can guarantee that after eating at PokeDon around 20 times, I have never had any issues. And that’s coming from a person who regularly greets unfortunate food poisoning visits like an old friend. If I had to force myself to give a single complaint, I would say that I don’t really care for the “choice of one” option of spicy crab meat. Maybe it’s the texture of the “faux-crab” or the spicy flavor, but it felt out of place in meal that otherwise felt very fresh and easy to consume. Overall, the meal was filling and tasted amazing. My recommendation is that you have to familiarize yourself with the various menu items before getting there since there may be a lot of words you don’t know.

Price:

The small bowl starts out at $8.50 with two scoops of protein, with each step up in size to medium and large costing an extra $2 and including one more scoop of protein. It should be noted that, besides the increase in actual volume of food, the increasing sizes allow more variety in your dish, because each scoop of protein can be of a different type. Some toppings and protein choices cost an extra $0.50 or $1, but regardless it’s a great value, considering that even the small portion can totally comprise a full lunch or dinner, and the food is so high quality and tasty. Poke Don also offers a stamp card, like many boba places, where after buying 10 bowls you get one for free.

Tips:

Definitely check out the menu before you head to Poke Don, because it can be overwhelming to choose what you want on the spot. Also, if you can’t make it out there, Poke Don also delivers through website and app DoorDash to almost all households within the Tri-Valley.

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Poke Don delivers deep-water delights