I’m not going to lie. When I heard about the recent coupling of raw fish and a mini-mart at the 45th Stop n Shop &Poke Bar (2323 N. 45th St., 708-1882), I winced. But patrons in search of both Hawaiian poke salads and toilet paper are creating serious lines in front of Wallingford’s former Erotic Bakery space. (Maybe that space is just destined for oddity.) And, really, it’s not so unusual given that in Hawaii, poke is an everyday, common food, not reserved for fancy restaurants but available roadside, just like the ubiquitous acai bowls.
This Seattle family-run business churns out heaping bowls filled with dozens of glistening cubes of raw tuna, salmon, and snapper—so fresh you’d think you were at Shiro’s or Mashiko if blindfolded—rubbed lightly in sesame oil and a sweet and spicy house mayo sauce with a hint of pineapple. They’re layered over rice and pert lettuce leaves and surrounded by a small nest of seaweed salad, stray edamame, a smattering of masago (roe from the small capelin fish), a tiny scoop of imitation Krab salad, a smashed hunk of avocado, slices of pickled ginger, and slivers of nori. It’s kind of like you undid 10 of the best spicy tuna rolls, artfully placed their components in one big bowl, and added lettuce. And it’s brilliant.
The salmon is marbled and lush, wih an almost crème-brûlée kind of creamy decadence. The tuna is perfect. The snapper is chewier; it has some texture, a density that complements the pliancy of the other two fish. You can cherry-pick which fishies you want in your bowl, just as you can choose spicy or regular, but I recommend going for all three (it’s only $2 extra and a steal of a meal for $12). Also, for $2 more, you can get unagi (eel). Shrimp and tofu are options as well, but I wouldn’t bother with either (though at least vegetarians have a choice). The fish are delivered daily, and the owners know something about raw fish; they once operated a sushi restaurant in San Francisco, according to wallyhood.org.
The restaurant also plans to add poke burritos to the menu. They had them at the opening—the elements of the salads folded in a giant nori wrapper—but, staff told me, it was too hard to put together (the rolling was cumbersome, and they’re awaiting machinery that will wrap the contents quickly and uniformly). In the meantime, who cares? The bowls are enough; in fact, they may be the best meal and deal going in Seattle right now—and should appeal to health-conscious lunchgoers, poke connoisseurs, and stoners alike.
As for the locale, it’s smaller than a New York City bodega and offers only a small counter at the window with a handful of seats, accessed by stairs in the back. There’s no reason to stay, really, unless you dig the particular charms of a charmless gas-station-style convenience store and like thinking deep thoughts while gazing at a Pepsi machine or the rainbow of Gatorade colors in the drinks refrigerator. Or you’re just too impatient to get your gorgeous bowl home or to the office—which, given their quality, is a highly plausible and totally acceptable reason.