Though we thoroughly appreciate the sushi bars and seafood joints galore that line our sandy streets, our beach town has been pining for poke.
For folks not up on the trend, let’s get the enunciation out of the way so you don’t walk into the hip new eatery and ask to be poked. Poke (pronounced POH-keh) essentially means “slice of cut” in Hawaiian when referring to raw chunks of marinated fish, served over rice and topped with crunchy veggies and succulent sauces. Having personally been to Hawaii almost a dozen times, I can report from actual island experience there is nothing like downing a magnificently fresh concoction of crimson Ahi, dressed in a spicy, citrusy glaze, enjoyed on a sunny beach. The fact someone has finally brought the concept to Wilmington (we are a water town, after all), well, we have just one thing to say: mahalo.
POKE BOWL FRESHNESS: Build your own bowl at ILM’s only poke restaurant, featuring the freshest vegetables and fish in town. Photo by Ashley Wixon
Folks just need to hang a right off Eastwood Road—as if headed to the beach from downtown—to catch Nakedfin Poke Bowl. The restaurant itself mirrors the food: clean, simple, fresh. The small dining area in the tropical café is adorned with wooden walls and thin surfboards doubling as tables. There isn’t even an uninviting soda machine. Instead there are three crystal-clear jugs of freshly flavored fruit drinks, like lemonade and coconut water mixed with pineapple juice.
The menu is an uncomplicated mix of signature bowls and build-your-own offerings. Although there isn’t a great view of the vibrant mixtures being tossed behind the countertop, one peek at Nakedfin’s Instagram page (@nakedfinpoke) will tempt all hunger pangs with colorful creations of salmon, seaweed and summer.
Seeing as Nakedfin serves quick, counter-style meals, I decided to take mine to-go. The ordering process is as straightforward as the menu (and similar to what can be expects at a Chipotle/Moe’s/Qdoba). Someone handles the base and protein, another takes over with sauces and toppings, and then it’s checkout time at the register.
Final destination: fork-to-mouth.
I decide on a signature item: the large Heatwave. As a first-timer, the friendly and knowledgeable staff guide me through the different sizes and portions. The spicy bowl comes over sushi rice and is topped with tuna, salmon, jalapeño, cucumber, green onion, Sriracha mayo, avocado, and crispy onions. “Raw or pickled jalapeño?” the poke producer asked. Once again, mahalo.
It’s always a plus in my book when I’m prompted with a question like this instead of having to request it myself. Even with the sweeter peppers, the combination is righteously spicy in a good way. Both the tuna and salmon are exactly what I crave when I’m eating seafood in such a rare form. Neither has a fishy flavor and are simply scented by the salty ocean—particularly the salmon pieces, which can often be overly pungent. Big beautiful buttery chunks take on the chile flavor of the mayo like a pro.
The second order from my group becomes a “make-your-own” with similar ingredients to the Heatwave. The main difference: My husband wants seaweed. Word to the wise: be mindful of the ingredients for the bowl. There’s a “seaweed flake” topper and a “seaweed salad” splurge that comes toward the end. My husband expected a little extra freshness from a handful of seaweed salad and instead opened his dinner and exclaimed, “What the hell are these little black crumbles on top?” Regardless, we both think the briny flakes add a nice crispy addition to the overall texture.
I decide to customize my favorite Hawaiian flavors in one mouthful and go a little overboard with my build-your-own. Surf’s up, brah. I’ve never been a big fan of rice so being able to choose mixed greens or chopped kale as a base is a treat. Everything is made to order, so on top of my greens comes tuna, avocado, seaweed salad, pineapple, mango, toasted coconut, green onions, citrus ponzu sauce, and Nakedfin heat sauce. I enjoy being able to tailor the dish to my picky palate. The outcome: Everything melds together beautifully. The greens on the bottom soak up the bright ponzu sauce, and the tender tuna takes in the creamy, spiced white-base sauce. The nutty, toasted coconut flakes transport me right back to Hawaii. It is the perfect pre-beach bite (even though I ate it on my couch in sweatpants with 40-degree weather outside).
The woman ringing me up is kind and super helpful, which leads me to believe she may be the owner. My only grumble comes in the side of LOLO chips (multi-color tortilla chips she uses as their base sometimes and as a dipper), which never make it into my bag. To be fair, I wasn’t paying attention to if she put them in but sill disappointment set in a little. Again, though, Nakedfin is new, so the system isn’t perfect … yet.
As for the food, I give it high marks all around. Need a nosh to take to the beach? Any of Nakedfin’s bowls are a bodacious choice. For smaller appetites, they even offer an avocado boat “snack” with one protein, a sauce, and two toppers. Where else in town can I get that many high-quality ingredients for such a low price? Oh, and the freshly infused drinks? Addictive.
Once again: Mahalo, Nakedfin. I look forward to our summer romance, err, po-mance.