The staff at Smilefin Poke stayed busy at lunchtime this week, filling guests’ bowls of rice with chunks of tuna, edamame, corn and red cabbage, and topping it off with a special sauce.
Of course, there are a lot of possible combinations: Brown rice or white?
Chicken, shrimp, salmon, ahi tuna or spicy tuna?
Ponzu, wasabi, coconut ginger or sweet chili sauce?
Sesame seeds, cashews or coconut flakes?
Opened recently at 8196 Tourist Center Drive, the new restaurant and the seemingly endless number of ways that a bowl of rice can be dressed up has steadily been attracting diners.
One of the popular dishes is Crazy Tuna, which includes spicy tuna, cucumber, sweet onion, seaweed salad, masago, sesame seed, Sriracha ailolo and house sauce for $11.
All of the signature poke bowls sell for between $10 and $13. Also offered are meals from the hibachi grill, which are only available for lunch.
Tucked away off a connector road between The Home Depot and Ruby Tuesday near the northwest corner of University Parkway and Interstate 75, Smilefin Poke has been easy to find for guests hankering for a poke bowl.
Among them were rowers from Old Dominion University who were training at Nathan Benderson Benderson Park, and store employees from nearby shopping centers.
Collegiate rower Taylor Phy gave Smilefin Poke a thumbs up.
“It was really good. One time I went to Hawaii and had a poke bowl and it tasted just like that,” Phy said.
Asked to describe a poke bowl, one of her classmates said think Chipotle but with Hawaiian toppings rather than Mexican.
Owner Joe Jiang, 29, would approve of that description. His favorite is the Hawaii bowl, which includes salmon, crab stick, mango, cucumber, avocado, house sauce, Sriracha aioli, sesame seeds and green pepper.
Jiang comes from a restaurant family and has worked in the business most of his life. He also owns the Icesmile ice cream shop in the Mall at University Town Center and had been looking for a location to try out an idea he had for a new type of restaurant.
“We’re off to a good start,” Jiang said while taking a break from the serving line and resting in one of the new restaurant’s 43 seats.
“I want people to be happy eating our meal. Our primary guests work in the area. They work hard and we want them to be happy,” Jiang said.
“We think positive every day,” he said of the name of the restaurant, which incorporates smile and fish fin, a reference to the tuna and salmon served with many bowls.
Smilefin Poke is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on Sunday.
Takeout is also available; delivery is not offered.
For more information, visit smilefinpokebradenton.com/.