On the corner of Telegraph and Prince, in South Berkeley, Mokka, a local family-run coffee shop, recently closed, citing high rent. But folks in the neighborhood, of which I am one, tend to think that the Starbucks that went in a mere two blocks over, is what slowly did them in. Regardless, the sweet little café is gone, and in its place has arisen a promising new fast-food spot: Hashtag Poki or #Poki. Despite the implicit Internet reference in the name, the restaurant doesn’t yet have a website. Furthermore, it’s not clear what the actual name of the place is or how to search for it, which is either a really clever allusion to a post-Twitter universe or just a somewhat comical oversight.
But the food is a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s culinary landscape. Here’s the drill: You line up, choose a bowl size (mini=1 scoop protein; reg=3 scoops protein; lg=4 scoops protein), then tell the friendly crew what you’d like. Each bowl comes with your choice of a base (white, brown or sushi rice or salad greens), two sides (crab, wakame/seaweed or ika/squid salad or edamame), any combination of protein scoops (raw: salmon, tuna, albacore or hamachi (yellowtail) or cooked: tako (octopus), shrimp or tofu). Next, the fun part: all the mix-ins, toppings and sauce combinations you like.
We ordered two regular bowls, one with a base of sushi rice, crab salad and edamame for sides and tuna, shrimp and hamachi for proteins — the proteins all mixed together with jalapeno, green onion, masago and seaweed, tossed with a combination of ponzu and yuzu sauce. (Sauces are dashed out as “light,” “medium,” or “heavy"; we chose medium.)
The second bowl had a base of brown rice with tako, hamachi and salmon for proteins, and wakame and ika for sides, topped with cucumber, green onions, and seaweed and tossed with “original” sauce, which is just soy sauce and sesame oil, the closest you can get to a traditional poke dressing. (Another question is the spelling of “poke/poki.” The restaurant uses an “i” at the end, but the most common Hawaiian spelling uses the “e.”) The impulse of this place, though, despite its name, is more Japanese than strictly Hawaiian, more donburi bowl than traditional Hawaiian raw-fish presentation.
Both bowls were served in takeaway containers, which is not ideal if you’re planning to dine in. But since the restaurant doesn’t serve wine or beer, we took our bowls home to enjoy with a drink. For both of these reasons, lunch is probably a better choice here than dinner.