In life, we often write off whole categories of experiences when they don’t jibe with our personalities. Afraid of heights? You’re probably passing on roller-coasters at every theme park you visit. Nut allergy? No pecan pie, trail mix or turtle candies for you. Hate exercising in front of strangers? Gyms aren’t your jam, and likely never will be. There’s something refreshing and clarifying about knowing yourself well enough to know what suits you and what doesn’t, but there can be a sadness about closing these big doors.
As a recovering picky eater, I have often experienced this with food. I don’t like caramelized onions, so French onion soup is a no-go. I don’t like the texture of whole fruit, so I’ll never take down an Edible Arrangement or snack on a banana. I don’t like raw fish, so sushi and poke places aren’t for me. At least, I thought they weren’t.
I was shocked and excited to learn that Koibito Poke, the rapidly expanding Valley poke chain co-founded by former MLB pitcher and World Series champion Todd Stottlemyre, had some cooked protein options. And not just any cooked protein options, but two of my favorites: chicken and shrimp, along with Asian chicken, spicy crab and tofu. Giddy at the thought of digging into my own “poke bowl” (can I call it that if it’s not poke? probably not, but let’s pretend), I asked my fish-loving pal Kristy from WhereShouldWeEat to join me for a media happy hour. She could eat the raw ocean-dwellers for me, and I could stick with my own personal surf-and-turf heaven.
Like most poke places, Koibito dazzles with its plethora of DIY options. You choose your base (white rice, brown rice, greens), your protein (regular tuna, Hawaiian tuna, spicy tuna, salmon, shrimp, yellow tail, octopus, spicy crab, grilled chicken, Asian chicken, tofu), your sauce (nine to choose from), and toppings (veggies, herbs and premium options like crab mix and cucumber salad).
Save your experiments for another day and zero in on the signature bowls, which are $2 off during happy hour. All come with your choice of rice – white or brown – or greens. Options include The First Timer Bowl (Hawaiian tuna, house sauce, cucumber, edamame, green onion, pineapple, crab mix and sesame seeds) and the Koibito Bowl (salmon, Hawaiian tuna and regular tuna mixed with Sriracha aioli, topped with cilantro, edamame, cucumber, seaweed salad and sesame seeds).
Kristy chose the Tuna Trio Bowl: spicy tuna, Hawaiian tuna and regular tuna mixed in sweet chile-lime sauce, topped with edamame, cucumber, red onion, pineapple, sesame seeds and masago, all on a mix of white rice and greens. I was mesmerized by the rainbow hues of her order, the glistening tuna punctuated with pops of green, orange, yellow and light purple from the accoutrements. She loved the freshness of the fish and the brightness of the overall mélange, both aesthetically and from a flavor standpoint.
Obviously, I beelined for the Chicken & Shrimp Bowl: chicken and shrimp mixed with Sriracha aioli and Champagne butter, topped with cucumber, edamame, red onion, shaved Brussels sprouts, cilantro and crispy onions, all piled on a bed of perfectly steamed white rice. Wowza! So many interesting, contrasting flavors, textures and temperatures. The spiciness of the Sriracha threatened to make me sniffle (I’m telling you, I’m a spice wimp) before it was cooled by the bits of plain white rice, grassy edamame and super fresh cilantro. The red onion provided punchy allium bite, the Brussels sprouts were pleasantly chewy, and the crispy onions added welcome crunch. The Champagne butter made everything feel luxurious, dahling. I’d like to stock that in my fridge alongside my cache of salted and unsalted sticks.
As I sat with Kristy at Koibito Arcadia’s little bar abutting a huge window overlooking the parking lot, I felt a swoosh of contentment throughout my being. Not long ago, I thought I would never be able to find anything to eat in a poke place. Not long ago, I thought I’d never get to spend time with my friends in person, thanks to this plodding pandemic. What a joy to experience something wholly new with someone so wholly familiar and beloved.
Happy hour brings $3 beers and seltzers and $5 glasses of wine, sake and cider. Drink specials are offered for dine-in guests only. We both went with the Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc, which came in individual-serving bottles with clear plastic cups for pouring. The crisp, citrusy wine paired perfectly with the seafood (and chicken). I’ll definitely be ordering this combo again. (Real-time post-script: I have since been back twice for the Chicken & Shrimp Bowl, which has become a constant craving.)
Happy hour runs weekdays from 4-6 p.m. and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.
4280 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-368-2222, koibitopoke.com
Koibito won our Best of the Valley Celebrity Taste Test a few years ago! Check it out here.