The toppings cover up the yellowtail, and the sweet sauce obscures the fish flavor.
8055 Armour Street, San Diego
Right on trend, I noticed a new poke shop is about to open on University Avenue in North Park, and it’s got a terrible name. Poki One N Half does use an alternate spelling of poke, but it’s the irksome grammar and terrible branding of “one n half” that hurts my eyes. So I’m just going to call it Poki One Half.
Branding should count, considering the ambition here is a new local chain. There’s another Poki One Half coming soon to Clairemont Mesa, and a first location opened this summer in Kearny Mesa. Though North Park is much closer to me, I decided to pay that one a visit rather than wait — unfortunate name aside, serving poke is enough to get me in the door.
At this point, the fast casual poke concept is getting familiar — choose your rice or salad bases, pick your fish, add your choice of sauce and toppings, and bam, you have your very own, made-to-order poke bowl. Poki One Half offers seven kinds of seafood — ahi tuna, albacore, yellowtail, salmon, scallop, octopus, and shrimp — which is a good start.
The first of three planned poke shops from the new local chain
Made-to-order bowls range from 8 to 11 dollars in small, medium, and large sizes. However, the actual size of the bowls doesn’t change, just the amount of fish added to it, measured in scoops. Small equals two scoops, medium gets three, and large bumps up to five.
Whichever you choose, you may add as many toppings as you like, and that’s where Poki One Half excels. Starting with a bed of brown rice and two scoops of yellowtail, I added white onions, avocado, cucumber, seaweed flakes, seaweed salad, masago, and sesame oil. I could have kept going with edamame, jalapeños, wasabi, or imitation crab meat, but even without these free extras, the small bowl was stacking up to be filling.
Toppings are nice, but good poke thrives on decent fish made better by tasty sauce and spice. Sauce choices here include original, spicy, hot, and fire. Spicy seemed a modest way to go, as I didn’t want too much heat to obscure what the fish was doing. So I settled for only a little kick.
Honestly, it might as well have been no kick at all. It wasn’t spice that covered up the fish, or even the litany of free toppings. It was sweetness. I tried to understand where this was coming from. Sugar in the seaweed salad? In the cucumber marinade?
It must have been the sauce. Rather than an umami shoyu sauce, this sugary form overpowered anything the fish might have contributed. Even the sesame oil couldn’t overcome it, and I’m not entirely certain wasabi would have fared better. I believe the only sweetness in a poke salad should come from sweet onions and the raw fish itself.
If you like dessert for dinner, maybe you’ll settle for this budget-friendly poke maker. But when it opens in North Park, I will pass.