Poke bowl

Poke Alakai brings Hawaiian cuisine to Harrisonburg. Each bowl is made to order

As a sushi lover, there’s not much that beats a traditional sushi roll. However, restaurants are getting creative and innovating new concepts for the classic Hawaiian dish. This past summer, I tried my hand at the sushi burrito trend and instantly understood what all the hype was about. It took two of my favorite cuisines and fused them together in one delicious meal.

After falling in love with what was technically a giant sushi roll, I never imagined I’d discover a sushi dish I liked more. On March 23, Poke Alakai had its grand opening and changed my mind. 

Located on Reservoir Street along the same strip as J-Petal, the restaurant is serving up poke bowls with a punch. Think of a poke bowl as a deconstructed sushi roll or a raw fish salad. It’s taking all of your favorite ingredients of a sushi roll and placing it in one big bowl.

I walked into Poke Alakai with little knowledge of the menu or ordering process. I scanned the lengthy menu and was positively overwhelmed by the customization and control I had over my bowl. Since there were so many options, the menu followed an order through steps.

Step 1: Choose your bowl size

Customers can get a small, which comes with two scoops of protein, or a large, which comes with three. There’s also an option for extra protein for an additional price if a person is inclined, but I went with a small. 

Step 2: Pick a base

Customers choose between sushi rice or brown rice, fresh romaine or a spring mix. In other words, this is the step that determines if your bowl is more of a salad of greens or grains. I decided to stay traditional and go with the white sushi rice.

Step 3: Where all the mix-ins come into play

The list of options is long, but I decided to go with cilantro, edamame, sesame seeds, green onions and, after some convincing from the person preparing my dish, diced mango. 

Step 4: Where protein comes into play

There’s a selection of either tuna, shrimp, organic tofu, salmon, yellowtail or eel. I decided to stick with what I know and love and got two scoops of fresh tuna. I considered trying something new, but rationalized that the variety and mixture of toppings added was the equivalent of trying something new. 

Step 5: Choosing the sauce

This was the second-to-last step. For me, this step was a no-brainer. Out of the nine sweet-sounding options, I settled on sesame ginger. 

Step 6: Choosing toppings

This is where a customer can completely alter his or her bowl. There are over 15 additional toppings that can add new elements to a bowl. I pushed aside my less-is-more motto and ran wild with toppings. I added corn, cucumber, sesame seeds, peppers, lettuce and shredded beets to the finalized bowl. 

By the time the bowl was complete, it looked too pretty to eat. All the ingredients were meticulously placed into a work of art. Once I got past this fact, I went in for my first bite and the flavor combination was unlike anything I was expecting. 

The sesame ginger sauce drizzled on top added a sweet element that tied the entire dish together. It was the perfect ratio of soft to crunchy elements that all worked so nicely in combination. I could taste the freshness of both the tuna and the vegetables. The contrast from the cold, melt-in-your-mouth tuna paired with the warm, steamed rice was an unbeatable duo. 

Plus, the add-ins I initially questioned working together were delicious. The only one I didn’t care for was the lettuce, but I easily ate around it. I wasn’t crazy about the combination of rice and leafy greens, but I’m still glad I tried it out. Once I finished my bowl, I immediately started considering other ingredients and flavor combinations for next time. Maybe by my next visit I’ll be brave enough to try the eel, but we’ll see. 

Contact Ali Gips at gipsar@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.


Ali Gips is a senior SMAD and SCOM double major with a passion for storytelling and bad puns. When she’s not writing, she can be found singing, enjoying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s "Phish Food" ice cream and laughing at her own bad jokes.