You may have noticed the trend in the Corpus Christi restaurant scene: storefronts with the word “Poke” in their name.
The culinary trend arrived in Corpus Christi in recent years and has exploded recently, particularly on the south side of the city where no fewer than five poke restaurants have opened.
For the uninitiated, poke (pronounced poh-kay) is a healthy, customizable dish that is served in a bowl. Customers choose their base, protein, toppings, and sauce from several options.
Think Chipotle, made with only Asian-inspired ingredients.
Traditionally, the dish is a fish salad, which is usually served as a starter in Hawaii.
But poke has become a lot more than that since it gained popularity in the United States in recent years. Restaurant owners have given the entree their own American and Asian twists, said Neal Zhang, co-founder and general manager of Hanaya Poke.
Hana Poke – now called Hanaya Poke – opened at 6113 Saratoga Blvd in August 2018. The restaurant’s second location in Corpus Christi opened Thursday at 4938 S. Staples St., Suite, E5.
Hawaii Poke also opened at 5521 Saratoga Blvd last year. Suite 110. This company opened Hawaii Poke & Ramen in June at 4002 S. Padre Island Dr., Suite 108.
PokiYaki opened at 3823 S. Staples St. in January.
Padre Poke is slated to open on North Padre Island in November around 14493. S. Padre Island Dr.
Zhang (35) and Cici Zhai (33), both from Corpus Christi, opened Hanaya Poke together. They visited over 50 poke restaurants in California and then developed their own concept.
“We want people to eat clean – maybe not every day, every meal, but more often than before,” said Zhai.
The two friends met in another Corpus Christi restaurant, Takeniwa, in 2012.
Zhai has been in the restaurant industry since 2008 when she moved to the United States from China. Zhang moved to Corpus Christi from China to study at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, where he completed a Master of Business Administration.
They are working together to develop new concepts for their business and plan to open restaurants in several other locations including Rockport, Laredo and College Station.
They already opened one in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Hanaya Poke also offers customizable Asian-inspired sushi burritos, as well as tea and coffee drinks.
“We get fresh ingredients every day,” said Zhang. “Our tea supplies – they come straight from Taiwan.”
Jessica Chappell, 39, of Corpus Christi, wants to open Padre Poke on North Padre Island because she said they needed healthy fast food there.
She moved to Corpus Christi four years ago and is a private chef. Her poke cups will also be customizable, and she plans to offer more than 20 toppings.
Chappell also plans to add Mediterranean flavors as options. Some examples are her own recipes for succulent chicken, shrimp and grits, and lobster etouffée.
“We’re trying to market visitors to the island outside of the city,” she said. “You could order a chicken bowl and salad and have hot, hot Cheetos on bacon and ranch dressing.”
Kathryn Cargo follows store openings and developments and reports on the effects of the decisions made by the city government.Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Caller Times.
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