Arts restaurant review

Poke bowls and burritos

Pokéworks satisfies the Hawaiian poke urge with a variety of tasty toppings at their recently-added Harvard Square location

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A customized poke bowl from Pokéworks is served at Harvard Square.
Courtesy of Pokéworks

Hawaiian Seafood, $$
Harvard Square
1440 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138
Sunday–Thursday 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Friday–Saturday 11 a.m.–1 a.m.

Over the past few years, Hawaiian poke restaurants have popped up around the mainland with varying degrees of success and faithfulness to the original dish. To the chagrin of people from Hawaii, the poke bowl, marinated cubed fish on a bed of rice, has morphed instead into a fish salad where vegetables and toppings reign supreme. As a fast and casual restaurant, Pokéworks follows that same trend of providing an abundance of customizable toppings in lieu of a simpler focus on fish. Another divergence from Hawaiian poke dishes is Pokéworks’s burritos, large nori-wrapped rolls that are alternatives to the bowls. Regardless, the food is tasty and filling with its abundance of additive options and scratches the raw seafood urge in a convenient location in Harvard Square.

For lunch, I had the classic Hawaiian style poke bowl and a customized burrito with spicy salmon and shrimp. While the bowl had preset suggestions, additional custom toppings were allowed as in other restaurants, but I opted to stick to their choices. For the spicy salmon and shrimp burrito, I added surimi salad, hijiki nori, sweet onions, wasabi aioli, green onion, and pickled ginger. For the classic Hawaiian poke bowl, the lack of crushed kukui nuts was disappointing, and the characteristically savory flavor of limu in Hawaiian style ahi poke was understated. Moreover, the quantity of fish was less than what I would have liked. On the other hand, I found the toppings of the burrito very tasty; the surimi salad, wasabi aioli, and sweet onions gave a varied contrast that brought out the shrimp’s flavor. Both dishes had a plentiful amount of white rice, which can be swapped out for other options, in a way that never felt overcompensated or padded. Despite minor gripes, the food proved ultimately filling and satisfying. Two-protein meals cost $11 while three-protein meals cost $14, so I recommend splurging on Pokéworks’s free additional toppings due to the restaurant’s pricier nature as a lunch option.

Concerning the service of the restaurant, the ordering of the above food took approximately 10 minutes with no line. Given the popularity of Harvard Square, this can easily turn into a long wait if ordered in-person. Despite the slower preparation, the staff were very helpful in guiding me through the process. The restaurant is rather small, being able to seat approximately 10 people at the counters against the walls. A public restroom was also available. For these reasons, take-out is a much more feasible option than dining in.

In terms of quality, Pokéworks in Harvard Square is a good and convenient option compared to other poke establishments such as the awful Legal Fish Bowl and the outstanding Manoa Poke Shop in Somerville. While Pokéworks may not serve the most authentic poke bowl, it’s thoroughly great seafood.