Fresh, quick, and healthy fast food – that’s the mission for Tommy Wong and Ting Yang, owners of Poke Box, the latest restaurant to open on the Outer Banks.
For them, this has been a dream two to three years in the making. After previous locations fell through and quarantine delayed its opening, the duo was finally able to debut the new eatery May 25.
Located in the old Tropical Smoothie space in the Plaza del Sol shopping center in Nags Head, Poke Box is the place to go to get a healthy post-surf, grab-and-go meal. But first, you might be wondering: What is poke?
Poke, Hawaiian for "to slice" or "cut into pieces,” and pronounced “poh-KAY,” is a common main dish on its Pacific Ocean archipelago homeland and traditionally made with marinated tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil and onions. As the dish has become increasingly popular, modern versions with a variety ingredients and flavors, including different kinds of proteins, rice, and an assortment of vegetables have become available.
“It’s like sushi in a bowl, custom made. You pick your own ingredients. You pick what you like, and we put it together for you,” says Wong.
It’s like Chipotle for sushi bowls. You get to choose a base of white or brown rice or spring mix, or a combination of both, proteins – they have selections for raw fish lovers, meat lovers or vegans/vegetarians – a whole assortment of vegetables and fruits, including things like crab salad and seaweed salad for the more adventurous types, to things like pineapple and mango for those who want to keep it simple. And then there’s the 10 kinds of sauces to choose from. Because you know its all about the sauce.
A regular bowl with two proteins, up to four mix-ins and up to four toppings will run you about $10.95, according to the Poke Box website. A large, with one additional, protein, mix-in and topping is $12.50.
“Our poke is more of a modernized style of poke from Hawaii, where we’ve added our own flare to it,” says Yang.
Owners of the beloved Taiko Japanese Restaurant in Nags Head since 2012, Wong and Yang say even though poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish, there are many similarities between it and sushi; they wanted to mold the two together at Poke Box. They also saw a need for something quick and fresh on the beach.
“We’ve got a lot of fast food down here, but I mean, not one is healthy, ya know? I mean if you talk about fast food, it’s like McDonald’s or something. That’s it,” says Wong.
According to Yang, it’s been popular with the younger generation on the beach. People will go surfing for a few hours, get hungry, and then stop by on the way home to pick up a bowl.
And Wong and Yang say it’s not just about the raw stuff. They have something for everyone, even steak and chicken. This makes it great for couples who have different eating preferences, like Amanda Binder, health coach and former body builder, and her boyfriend Jennings Smith.
“It’s great because I’m not really into the sauces so I just load mine up with veggies and then he can load his up with all of the good tasting sauces and steak,” Binder says. “There are other places where we can both find things, but what stands out about them is that its so easy and quick to go by and grab something.”
Local physical therapist Gillian Stewart picks it up a couple of times a week on her drive home from work for a quick and healthy dinner for her and her boyfriend. She first discovered Poke Box when she was on a cleanse and loved that she was able to customize the bowls to fit her needs.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I bet I can tailor it to meet compliance with that,’ so I went in on the second day they were open and I was like, ‘Oh wow, you have brown rice and spring mix and all of these veggies!’” Stewart recalls.
If you are looking for something quick, fresh and convenient that has options for everyone in the family, this will be your new favorite spot. They even use tuna and shrimp fresh from Wanchese. Go check them out and support a local business bringing a healthy fast food option to the beach.