H2O Poke & Fish Grill



California's H2O Sushi & Izakaya will neighbor Kent Harman and chef Mike Minor’s Bandito Latin Kitchen & Cantina at the Hughes Center next year, but the H20 brand will also be bringing along their new, casual concept to a location one mile south.

H2O Poke & Grill is headed to Harmon Square, facing the Hard Rock Hotel and taking over a corner spot two doors down from Checkers and across the retail center from recent New York import, Papaya King. H2O Poke & Grill debuted in Irvine and Burbank, California, earlier this year.

While the restaurant will offer the now familiar build-you-own-poke-bowl options, customers can also order chicken, spicy pork, beef and salmon prepared on a hibachi and dishes like stuffed cheese pork cutlet and "Spam kimchi fried rice." Permits for this location have yet to be revealed, but the company is promising the expansion is "coming soon."

Still to come at Harmon Square, under construction outposts of Teriyaki Madness and Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

Three things distinguish the best poke bowl shops from the mediocre: price, turnover and toppings. H2O Poke & Grill excels on all three. With one low set price for a standard bowl (with three scoops of fish), it doesn't nickel and dime you for the essentials. The constant queue of people ensures the fish is constantly cycled out and always fresh. And while more flash-in-the-pan poke shops offer crumbled Hot Cheetos, they're nothing more than gimmicks. Instead, H2O's array of free toppings, such as Mandarin oranges and mango, actually, you know, complements the seafood.

Readers’ Choice: North Shore Poke

I think we can all agree that once you've eaten at one of these newfangled build-your-own-bowl poke shops, you've eaten at all of them. Sure, there will be slight differences in saucing, but there will always be something in ponzu and something else that's going to be spiked with Sriracha. With that said, wherever you go, you're still likely going to be pretty happy with what you eat. These poke bowls shops are just a great idea—the best way to get a sushi dinner without paying sushi prices.

Still, some poke shops are better than others. And what makes the difference for me is usually three things: the price (whether or not they nickle-and-dime you for essentials), the turnover (more customers equals fresher fish), and the variety of toppings.

What I like about the new H2O Poke & Grill is all of the above. There's one set price ($8.99) for a standard bowl with 3-scoops of fish. There's constant queue of people that ensures the fish is constantly cycled out. And there's the fresh array of free toppings, most of which actually adds complementary flavor to seafood, such as Mandarin oranges and mango.

As far as poke toppings goes, H2O's choices certainly works better than crumbled Hot Cheetos, which I've actually seen offered at other poke shops who are desperate to distinguish themselves from the pack.

But who could blame them for trying? Once you've been to one poke shop, you've been to 'em all.