14866 Old St Augustine Rd #102
Jacksonville, FL 32258
I rarely get to the southernmost part of the city, but in January I took a class a few evenings a week at Baptist South. A friend of mine who works nearby has been telling me for months that I need to try Poke Cafe. It’s a fast casual spot in a strip of other stores on St. Augustine Road, about a block down from a Planet Fitness. I drove by night after night because while the sign for Poke Cafe is big and bright, I negligently believed the suburban surroundings…it couldn’t be that good, right?
On the evening of my last class in the area I stopped in to try Poke Cafe. It was my last convenient opportunity and who knew when I would be back down that way again. The space itself is spacious and bright with chalkboards detailing the menu on the right hand wall. The staff was friendly and welcoming. My friend had given me some guidance, but I wanted to give Poke Cafe a fair shake so I ordered a little bit of almost everything.
Poke Cafe’s menu consists of build-your-own poke bowls and sushi burritos(!), signature poke bowls, rice bowls, ramen, and udon, plus some specialty teas and desserts. I tried the Hawaiian Poke, Steamed Pork Dumplings, Katsu Chicken Rice Bowl, and Tonkotsu Ramen. One thing I appreciated immensely is that most of their food is served in black plastic containers that are actually to go containers. They have lids near the register, so when you are ready to take what you couldn’t finish and go you can do just that.
With a multitude of options for build-your-own poke and half a dozen signature poke options to choose from, I almost didn’t know where to start. I decided to hone in on the signature pokes because I figured those flavors already worked well together and there was no danger in me making a bad choice. I went with the Hawaiian Classic Poke ($11.95) which was tuna, salmon, onion, cucumber, avocado, edamame, seaweed salad, green onion, fish egg, furikake. Man, this was easily the best poke I’ve had in Jax. It was a generous portion so I felt like I got my money’s worth, and the flavors were fantastic together. The seaweed salad was an especially delightful aspect. It tasted good with everything in that bowl. I did order mine without fish eggs because I don’t care for the texture. The folks at Poke Cafe are happy to make any adjustments you need. They even have a tofu poke for vegetarian or vegan guests.
I am weak for dumplings, so I knew I would need to try some at Poke Cafe. You can get steamed or fried pork or shrimp dumplings. Because I didn’t have to share these with anyone (bwahahaha) I got my dumplings exactly the way I wanted them: steamed ($4.50). This was another generous portion- there were so many of those babies! They were piping hot and the tender dumpling dough nearly melted in my mouth. The pork filling was nice and meaty and salty. It’s true if you wrap some salty seasoned ground meat in some pastry and boil or fry it up it’s generally going to be good. But these were fresh and a great deal to boot. I took half the order home and ate them the next day for lunch.
Poke Cafe offers rice bowls- chicken or shrimp with teriyaki or katsu sauce. The rice can be steamed or fried, it comes with hibachi veggies, and is topped with the protein of your choice. I ordered a Katsu Chicken Rice Bowl ($8.95) to go, so it came topped with sliced breaded fried chicken and a to go cup of katsu sauce on the side. The rice bowls are pretty straightforward, but prepared fresh to order. You will enjoy them as much as you enjoy teriyaki or katsu. There is a lot of food packed into the bowls. You could at least eat a meal and a snack later with one bowl, if not leftovers for lunch the next day. It would even be a good option to split between your kids if they like teriyaki chicken and rice.
The last menu item I tried at Poke Cafe was the Tonkotsu Ramen ($11.50). This was the only dish that didn’t live up to or exceed expectations for me. Again it was a good sized portion. But the broth didn’t have the depth of flavor you expect from a good ramen. It was on the bland side. The ramen did have all the components you expect- sliced pork, nori, menma (bamboo shoots), fishcake, etc. It wasn’t bad, just not as good as everything else I ate. I would skip the ramen next time and probably try another signature poke. I did not try the udon soups on this trip.
Poke Cafe is a gem in south Jacksonville. The portions are generous and almost everything is absolutely delicious, especially its namesake dish, poke. I would go so far as to say Poke Cafe is worth a trip if you live in another area of town. If you live nearby, what are you waiting for?