LOCATION: 2270 Town Center Avenue, Suite 115, Melbourne, FL 32940
For the most part, poké bowls are a relatively untapped market out on the Space Coast. There are only a handful of restaurants that serve them, so I got very interested when I heard that a new poké place was going to be setting up shop up at The Avenue shopping center in Viera.
It was a little while ago that I was on a break from my traveling and the opportunity arose to go check out PokéBao with my friends Kevin and Ed. I had talked with my friend Jared at work about the place, and he had been hearing some comments about the complexity of their menu. He wasn’t kidding. I had to stand off to the side to take in all three pages of the menu to try and figure out what I wanted.
I could see how the menu could become overwhelming very quickly. In addition to all the options provided for the build-your-own bowl, a number of the “signature” bowls were also listed out that had a pre-set line-up of ingredients getting mixed together. Throw on top of that listing the various options of bao buns that you could get as well. That’s also only accounting for food, as boba tea had its own page on the side as well. It’s unfortunate that the menu isn’t online for people to look through, to possibly mitigate that feeling of getting put on the spot when you first walk in.
To help get a complete picture of the food, it made sense to go for both items in the namesake of the restaurant: poké and bao. I’m typically a fan of the build-your-own bowl, especially at a place that offered as many options at PokéBao did. Out of all the bao buns that were listed, the Porky Pig Bao resonated with me the most that particular day: roasted crispy pork belly with cucumbers, Asian slaw, scallions, cilantro, crushed peanuts, and Hoisin sauce.
For my bowl, I went with a white rice base, with salmon and tuna being my main proteins. Toppings-wise, I got masago, corn, cilantro, shredded carrots, avocados, seaweed salad, krab salad, scallions, edamame, fried onions, and sesame seeds. I also asked for the fish to get tossed in some spicy mayo and citrus ponzu before they dropped them into the bowl. All things considered, it ended up being a pretty sizeable mound of food when everything got put together.
First step after sitting down was stirring up the entire bowl to get things mixed up nicely. From a taste standpoint, I thought that everything in the bowl was good, with all of the ingredients tasting relatively fresh. I’m a bit of a textures guy when it comes to food, so adding in some of the crunchy elements like the crispy onions and sesame seeds into the bowl definitely helped to provide that contrast as you were eating through it.
The Porky Pig Bao, on the other hand, I thought was only okay. The key to a bao is, well, the bao itself. In this particular case, the bao ended up being pretty dense, as opposed to the more pillowy texture I expected it to have. I did like the overall ingredient combination of the savory pork belly with the sweetness of the Hoisin sauce, coupled with that fresh burst from the cucumber, Asian slaw, and cilantro. The crushed peanuts were a nice finish to add on there as well for that earthy crunch.
The one thing that did take me aback slightly was the price of all the food combined: $23. Avocados were considered an extra for a $1 upgrade and then a small scoop of the spicy krab salad ended up being $3 extra. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if the value was there at that kind of price point. While the fish is going to be one of the more expensive ingredients in the bowl, the remainder being mostly vegetables should not drive the ingredient prices that high. I probably would have been happier if the bowl and bao together came out closer to $18 or $19.
Even if the poké bowl market is rather exclusive for the area, it’s the price point for the food that has me thinking it’s better suited as a place to satisfy a craving every once in a while, but not a frequent place to stop in. I didn’t have any issues with the food quality, and there were certainly a lot of options to choose from. If you’re a fan of poké, I would say give PokéBao a try to see what you think. Just be ready to shell out a little bit more than what some of the other local options could also provide.
Let’s now take a look at the PokéBao Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** Salmon and Tuna Poké Bowl **
Salmon and tuna tossed in spicy mayo and citrus ponzu, with a white rice base, scallions, edamame, seaweed salad, corn, shredded carrots, cilantro, masago, avocados, and spicy krab salad. Topped with crispy onions and sesame seeds.
And finally, here are my rankings for PokéBao:
Food: 4 / 5
From a food perspective, I didn’t really have any issues with the food quality or the variety of options that were offered. Granted, there were a large number of options provided, which might have made it hard to choose from initially, but once you got a chance to look over the menu, it wasn’t too bad. For the bao, however, it was the buns themselves that mostly detracted from my experience.
Atmosphere: 3.75 / 5
Most of the wall décor was a peculiar juxtaposition of the local Florida geography (there was a painted highway map of the Space Coast) and a New York City subway theme that gave things a bit of a weird vibe. It kind of left me scratching my head as to what the restaurant was going for. I also found the use of outdoor furniture inside in one area of the restaurant a bit odd as well.
Service: 3.75 / 5
The people working behind the counter seemed a bit distant; one person that ended up helping me didn’t actually greet me. She walked up and kind of stared at me until I started to place my order. On the other hand, the speed going down the “assembly line” was a pretty good pace, just as fast as you could make your decisions on what you wanted.
Price: 2.5 / 5
Even if the pricing on the bowls themselves started at a reasonable rate, the steep upgrade charges were what really got me. $3 extra for a scoop of spicy krab salad that was a little less than one tablespoon’s worth? That just had me shaking my head.