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The local poke craze has finally made its way to Fresno’s east side.
Over the past year or so, I’ve witnessed this newfound trend emerge on the north side of town with the popularity of PokiLand and Butterfish California Poke and have wondered when, if ever, my neck of the neighborhood would ever see a restaurant offering the Hawaiian-style, sushi-grade-fish dishes.
Now, thanks to Poki Bowl Express, which held its official grand opening Friday, June 30, this trendy and healthy cuisine is available just a mile from my Sunnyside residence.
A sushi fan and general foodie, I had wanted to try poke (pronounced poh-keh) for some time but never quite got around to it since I so often opt for Chick-fil-A when on the opposite side of town. With Poki Bowl Express so close to home, I was out of excuses. It was time to give poke a try.
How Poki Bowl Express Works
The atmosphere at Poki Bowl Express is fast casual, so I stepped up to order just as I would at a Subway or Chipotle.
First, I had to choose a base for my bowl. The options were white rice, brown rice, spring mix salad or nachos. I opted for the healthier carbohydrate of brown rice.
Next was the daunting decision of what seafood to select to protein pack my lunch. Though shrimp and scallops would be obvious choices for me, I decided to go traditional with tuna and get a little adventurous with the exotic yellow fin tuna—a premium choice that comes with a dollar upcharge—and some tofu.
Then it was time to sauce up. I’m a fan of spice, so I sampled the chili sauce before lathering it on my fish—a good choice since it was just a tad too spicy for me. Instead I went with a mix of spicy mayo and sweet Thai sauce—a perfect combination.
Lastly, for my veggie toppings I went simple, choosing some cucumber, onion and, California girl that I am, avocado (also a premium choice).
At the table, I tossed all the ingredients together and took my first bites, and wow was I missing poke in my life. I especially enjoyed the regular tuna, and the sauce was absolutely amazing.
The First of 10 Planned Restaurants
Before I could finish, I had to give a hand to general manager Brian Sanchez. Sanchez has a history of managing and working as a chef for some of the Fresno area’s most high-end restaurants, including Ruth’s Chris, Flemings, Cracked Pepper Bistro and, most recently, Colton’s Social House in Clovis, but his passion for poke prompted him to partner on the Poki Bowl Express venture.
Sanchez says the Sunnyside location, near GB3 on the southeast corner of Fowler and Kings Canyon, is just the first of a projected 10 locations he and his business partner plan to bring to the Central Valley. The next one is on track to open in October or November in Clovis near the Neighborhood Walmart on Shaw and Fowler.
The Sunnyside neighborhood, according to Sanchez, was selected as the mothership for the new franchise because of the demand for more healthy food options in the area.
“The closest competitor is Champlain and Perrin or Friant and Highway 41, so I feel it’s good to be in the Sunnyside area,” he says. “It’s thriving, it’s growing, and east Fresno is a nice connection between Sanger and Fresno. I figure 15 years from now, Sanger will run into Fresno just like Clovis. I’m from Clovis and the owner is from Clovis and both of us love poke and were driving across town to get it and the owner asked me what it would take for us to bring one to this side of town, and I said location, good leasing, and a good chef. We talked numbers and I thought his concept was great and this location was great.”
Being next door to GB3 is also a plus, Sanchez says, since poke is a healthy dining option.
“Poke is a very healthy alternative. It is very good vitamin-wise. It has high antioxidants. It has omega three fatty acids and fish oil. All those are all positive things for your body and leave you feeling really good with a lot of energy.”
Sanchez says there are two things that separate Poki Bowl Express from the competition—its sauces and its service.
“We do our own sauces and we went to our other competitors here in the Valley and did a comparison. I’ve been a chef for 15 years and have a lot of experience with sauces, so my thing was, ‘the sauces have to be better,’ and we did reviews and our sauces beat them out 10-to-1, and I think that is a big thing. The second big thing is our service. I come from a corporate restaurant background so I strive for good service and hospitality.”
Location: 6127 E. Kings Canyon Rd., Fresno
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Contact: (559) 353-2964
Find Poki Bowl Express on Facebook here.