POKE SALAD BAR
ADDRESS: 1106 Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena, CA 91030
One difference between living in Florida and living in California has been just how much more accessible it has been to find a good poke spot to get my fix. In fact, it was typically any time that I would come out to California on business travel that I would try and get in a visit to a poke shop. My friends Nate and Ruby introduced me to the place that they like to frequent down in South Pasadena called Poke Salad Bar. A few weeks later, I went back with my girlfriend Emily since it was just so good the first time.
The shop inside is not too large, enough to accommodate some two- and four-person tables and then bar-style seating by the window at the front of the shop. The counter is set up that you construct your poke bowl as you move down the line, and you can see the entire process from start to finish. The large board illustrating all the ingredient choices is mounted on the wall behind the counter and is super helpful as you’re trying to decide what to get.
From a flow perspective, it goes bowl size -> base -> mixed ingredients -> protein -> toppings -> sauce. During my first visit, I had originally been thinking about going for a medium, but Nate mentioned that they really pack in the bowl, so I opted for the small instead. That was more than enough food for me in one sitting.
The second time around, I did a half-and-half base of white rice and salad greens, and then chose to have cucumbers, seaweed, onions, sweet corn, and cilantro mixed in with my proteins. For the scoop of crabmeat, they put that in the container off to the side. All of the mixed ingredients went into a bowl before adding in scoops of salmon and ahi tuna to that. Edamame and scallions went into that bowl next before adding in yuzu ponzu and sesame shoyu to the mix. All of the ingredients got tossed together and combined before getting laid out on top of the container with the white rice and salad greens. Sliced avocado went down after that, and the entire thing got topped off with sesame seeds, dried seaweed, and crunchy onions.
I’m still amazed at how much food gets packed into these containers. If you close the lid, there are legitimately no pockets of air at all; the space is all taken up by the food. Visually, all of the ingredients look bright and fresh. I also like the fact that there is such a nice diversity of colors as well, and it helps to make the dish more vibrant.
Because the container is packed to the brim, it’s tough to know where to start picking away at the food. A few bites in and everything from the fish to the vegetables definitely tasted very fresh. I also liked that there were some ingredients, like the edamame, crunchy onions, and cucumbers, that could provide a bit of a crunch to contrast with the softer textures of the rest of the ingredients. Sweet, savory, and umami flavors were very present throughout the dish, with some subtle hints of sour as well from the yuzu ponzu. As is typical when it comes to poke bowls, because there are so many ingredients mixed up together, no two bites back-to-back are going to be the same.
Definite shoutout to Nate and Ruby for showing me their go-to poke spot down in the Pasadena area, because this place is really solid. Generous portion sizes, quick service, very reasonable prices, and fresh flavors from the ingredients make it a place that I want to go back to more often. I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t live closer, since I might find myself in there almost every week.
Let’s now take a look at the Poke Salad Bar Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** Salmon and Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl **
Mix of white rice and salad greens base, topped with salmon, ahi tuna, crabmeat, cucumbers, seaweed, onions, sweet corn, cilantro, edamame, scallions, avocado, sesame seeds, furikake, and crunchy onions. Tossed in yuzu ponzu and sesame shoyu.
And finally, here are my rankings for Poke Salad Bar:
Food: 5 / 5
What more can I say about the generous portion sizes? That, coupled with fresh flavors and a great variety of ingredients to customize your poke bowl, really left an extremely positive impression.
Atmosphere: 4.25 / 5
Even though the dining area runs a little bit on the smaller side, there are still enough tables set up to maybe accommodate about 12 – 16 people. The only downside, however, is that if there are a lot of people ordering their food at the counter, it could make you feel a little bit crowded while sitting at the table.
Service: 4.25 / 5
The employees working behind the counter were very efficient in getting through our order. They also really hooked it up by packing in that container to the brim with food, too.
Price: 5 / 5
All things considered, my poke bowl ended up being $15, since I had some extra surcharges for “premium” ingredients. But even then, I think the value really stood out because of the fact of just how much food they give you for that price. (If my container is a small, I could only imagine what a medium or large portion would look like.)