There is much to love about the new poke spot, Laki Fish, from restaurateur Mike Tran, the mastermind behind Chinatown favorites Tiger Den (its direct neighbor), Mein, Night Market and Ohn Korean. It's actually in its soft opening phase, as they say, and will have its grand opening next week, according to staff.
That means the full menu isn't available yet. But even with a temporary menu the cafe is already off to a great start, serving smoothies and acai bowls on top of what could be the best new poke offerings in Houston.
The poke experience here is a touch more unique than its competition in town, and that makes this new eatery a standout, even if it is a tad late to the raw fish bowl game. Sure, it's still the same fast casual drill. You order at the counter and build up your own poke bowl for $12. But there aren't any wacky toppings of the Flamin' Hot Cheetos variety. Here, you can grab two scoops of a base, two different types of pre-mixed and marinated poke (or two scoops of the same poke) and two sides, all served in a simple aluminum takeout container that is the antithesis of every other poke shop's clear plastic to-go orbs.
The sides alone are pretty impressive. Take for instance the imitation crab salad, creamy (hello, mayo) and mildly sweet, mixed with shell pasta and bits of corn and celery. It's the type of side dish that you'd expect to be a standout at a church picnic. Same with the macaroni-laced potato salad, though sides do venture into Asian territory with both Korean kimchi and cucumber kimchi and sushi-standard seaweed salad. I also got the Japanese-influenced hijki seaweed and quinoa salad, which complimented the crab salad with tart and umami flavors, a hint of shitake mushroom also cloaked in the citrus dressing.
For my double scoops of protein — yes, I just said double scoops of protein because I am now a poke-bot — I opted for the wasabi salmon, nostril-clearing and oniony, and a spicy salmon with creamy aioili and bits of limu and green onion tucked into the mix. The heat sneaks up over time, never overpowering the fresh, tender fish. It's some of the best poke I've had in Houston, though on the safer side among the selections.
There's also a sambal tako— that's chili marinated octopus — along with salmon ceviche, garlic shrimp, and a classic shoyu ahi (the original Hawaiian variation). I washed it all down with a can of Hawaiian passionfruit juice, watching The Voice on mute as a dance club-type track blasted throughout the restaurant, something I've heard the youths sing along to at Genji. Something carefree. Something to eat poke to when you forget your festive hot pink ear plugs.
Laki Fish, 9889 Bellaire, Suite D228
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Facing Bellaire in the Dun Huong Plaza, the new build-your-own-bowl spot Wiki Poki is now open as well, as first reported by Eater Houston yesterday. This place is fast and efficient, which is good because after five minutes inside and hundreds of grackles will alight on your vehicle like an homage to Alfred HItchcock out front. That's probably only at the grackle witching hour though, post-dusk, beware.
Here you'll find the classic build-your-own style with a base of sushi rice or greens, numerous toppings including the Flamin' Hot Cheetos, fried garlic and shallots, and seaweed salad, and salmon/ahi/yellowtail for protein.
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The poke is marinated and mixed before you, even if you go with a house special. The shoyu yellowtail is a good bet, and served with an abundance of pineapple, cilantro and onion. I also added a scoop of imitation crab, edamame and seaweed salad. Toppings, as far as I could tell in my pre-poke stupor, are unlimited. The entire serving was just $10, which is a tad less than the going rate among the competition in town.
If you're in this neck of the woods it's a safe bet for lunch or dinner, with a clean, if not fairly small, no-frills interior and friendly service.
Wiki Poki, 9889 Bellaire Blvd, Suite E205
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.