Ahi Poke Bowl Brings Hawaiian Delicacy to South Arlington
By Kerry Pipes
A longtime Hawaiian culinary staple has been making its way to the mainland in recent years. This wave of fresh fish is something that must be experienced to truly appreciate. And South Arlington is home to the only restaurant in Tarrant county that is serving up this Pacific island-influenced cuisine, Ahi Poke Bowl on Cooper Street near the Parks Mall.
“Poke” (pronounced poh-kay) is essentially a raw fish salad that can be made with tuna, octopus, salmon or other kinds of shellfish. The fish is gutted, skinned, deboned and cut into chunks – then typically marinated or salted. A poke bowl is created by serving the fish atop a bed of rice or salad and then garnishing with everything from seaweed salad, onions and ginger, to jalapenos, cucumbers and sesame seeds. Then add soy sauce or wasabi.
Local entrepreneur Khang Vo just opened his first restaurant this past July. But this is not his first rodeo. The 44-year-old Vietnam native, who spent much of his youth in Hawaii before moving to Texas, has a lengthy history of working in Japanese restaurants and has been a Hibachi chef. “I know good poke because I grew up eating that in Hawaii,” he says. “So I decided I wanted to bring that to the people in our community.” He and partner Ronnie Lee financed the new restaurant and Vo set about remodeling and preparing to open the doors.
“Most Texans don’t know what poke is,” he says. “But often when they give it a chance, they usually like what they taste.” At least that’s been his experience so far. And judging by the steady stream of customers coming and going at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday, Vo seems to have brought a new favorite to town. “I have people from Arlington, Fort Worth, and a lot from Mansfield that have become regular customers,” he says. He’s even been approached to expand his concept but says he wants to perfect his first location before branching out.
You’ll be greeted with a warm “Aloha” when you walk through the door at Ahi Poke Bowl. You’ll also hear traditional Hawaiian music playing overhead. The décor is simple with dark grey tile floors and just a few wooden tables and chairs. It’s very clean and not a hint of fish smell to be found. Get in line and make your selections Chipotle style. All the ingredients are behind glass and an assembly line approach allows you to pick and create your own unique poke bowl (you could come here dozens of times and not have the same concoction). “Everything is fresh here,” says Vo. “We fly our fish in fresh from Hawaii.”
You’ll need to form the base of your bowl first, choose white rice, brown rice or salad. Next, choose from a dozen different fish offerings ranging from Hawaiian ahi tuna and spicy salmon, to yellow tail Hamachi and octopus. Then select your toppings. Try green or red onions, cucumbers, ginger, masago and more. A little soy sauce or spicy mayo and you’re ready to dig in. Use chopsticks for an authentic and exotic twist. There’s even dessert, tiramisu and several flavors of macaroons.
This is a textbook mom and pop business. Vo is here every day. He’s just as likely to be cutting fish and marinating it, as he is to be greeting customers or bussing tables. He works alongside his wife and three other employees. Their smiles and attitudes are contagious.
Be prepared to make a lot of choices when you visit Ahi Poke Bowl. On our visit we chose a mixture of the brown rice and salad. It was tough to choose which fish to try but a nice mixture of Hawaiian ahi tuna, spicy salmon, yellow tail Hamachi and tako (octopus) made the cut. We topped it all off with fresh pineapple, cucumbers, green onions and sesame seeds, with a little dab of soy sauce.
The fish was perfectly marinated and salted just right. There was no fishiness to be found, just tender chunks of succulence - soft with substance but never chewy. The spicy marinades were sharp without biting. For something light and healthy, it would be tough to beat a poke bowl. The simple concept is well executed and the flavors are fresh.
Ahi Poke Bowl is located at 3701 S. Cooper St, #169 in Arlington. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am until 9:00 pm, and Sunday from noon until 8:00 pm.
Visit them online at www.ahipokebowl.com or call 817-200-6418 for more information.
Khang Vo was born in Vietnam but spent much of his youth in Hawaii on the island of Oahu in the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. There he learned to cook and to appreciate local delicacies such as poke. After moving to Texas, he spent a few years working in Japanese restaurants honing his craft before deciding last year to strike out on his own. Along with his wife and three employees, they are busy serving up poke bowls with a side of smiles and “Aloha” greetings.
He is a happy and positive man who obviously enjoys what he does. We had a chance to meet with him recently where he told us about himself and his first foray into operating his own restaurant. Here’s what the 44-year-old married father of five shared.
What makes your food/menu unique?
It’s healthy, it’s good for you and it makes you feel good. You don’t feel like you ate a heavy meal when you eat poke. The fish we use is flown in fresh from Hawaii, never frozen.
Any new menu items on the way?
With the colder weather we are looking at serving miso soup, the traditional Japanese dish. I also want to try making a taco poke with crabmeat and wasabi.
What is the most popular or most requested dish you make?
The Hawaiian ahi tuna.
How do you want customers to remember their experience?
That we are a friendly casual place where you can mix and match to create exactly what you want to eat each time you come in.
What is your favorite type of food to eat?
This may sound funny, but soup. I love soup but it doesn’t go well with raw fish.
If you go out to eat, where do you go?
I don’t eat out much but if I do it’s usually when I take the kids out where they want to go. I love spending time with them.
What are your other hobbies?
I don’t have time for a lot of hobbies. But cooking has always been something I enjoy. And I especially enjoy seeing people eating my cooking.
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you’ve received or given?
I believe in honesty. A life of honesty can bring much peace and happiness.
What’s the last book you read?
I’m not sure, but I love reading about history.
If you had to choose another profession what would it be?
I would have to operate some other kind of business. Being in business is just something that I feel suits me.