It’s a typical weekend night around 7 p.m., and there’s a long line spilling onto the sidewalk from an unassuming Wallingford convenience store. Inside, the queue moves quickly, snaking through rows of packaged snacks and bottled drinks, but the customers are here for something unexpected in a place like this: poke, the marinated fish salad that seems to be Hawaii’s most famous export these days.
Poke has become nothing short of a phenomenon in Seattle, where it seems a new poke joint is opening every month. 45th Stop N Shop and Poke Bar is one of the most popular of the fast-casual enterprises, at which customers choose from a few simple options to customize a mostly pre-made, relatively cheap experience. 45th Stop N Shop’s perpetual line is full of regulars as well as first-timers, and it’s definitely more grab-and-go affair than sit-down spot, but there are a handful of seats available indoors and out.
What makes the shop so popular? Maybe it’s the generous portions in the poke bowls, which are packed full of crab, ginger, seaweed salad, edamame, and avocado, in addition to the base of rice and marinated fish. Perhaps it’s the proximity to the U District and its University of Washington students eager for a quick, affordable, satisfying, and oh-so-trendy meal. Maybe it’s turnover, the way busy sushi restaurants sell out of raw fish and therefore boast the freshest stock each day, becoming more likely to sell out again. Maybe it’s the creative fusion items that go beyond the poke bowl, like the poke burrito or the newest menu item, the poke pocket.
The pocket is basically an enhanced version of inari sushi. Popular in Japanese culture, inari is a rice ball stuffed into seasoned, fried tofu pockets. It’s typically eaten as-is, with the slightly spongy tofu wrap exuding a very sweet flavor. 45th Stop N Shop loads up its inari sushi base with tobiko, green onion, fried onion, and a choice of poke. The result is a few messy, delicious bites of poke with a nice crunch from the onions and tobiko, plus an infusion of sweetness from the inari. One order contains three pockets, a nice snack or shared appetizer. Be warned that the toppings are piled high and will definitely make a mess.
In the photos above, see the crowd gathered for poke bowls and poke pockets, and get a sense of the unique character of this modern classic.
45th Stop and Shop & Poke Bar is open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.