Island flair

Hawaiian restaurant adds distinct flavor to Chico’s food scene

Who’s ready for some poke?

Who’s ready for some poke?

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Halo Hawaiian BBQ & Poke Bar
1354 East Ave., Ste. P, 592-3898
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Poke (pronounced poh-kay) is quite possibly my favorite food discovery of 2017. And it happened quite by accident, as I was originally stoked on trying Halo Hawaiian BBQ & Poke Bar, which opened up earlier this year in the Safeway shopping center on East Avenue, for the barbecued chicken and macaroni salad. Now I’ll have a hard time not ordering the poke. It just goes to show how wonderful trying new things can be.

Poke is a Hawaiian dish consisting of raw fish, greens or grains and a combination of toppings, ranging from the traditional seaweed or onions to Japanese-influenced edamame or wasabi. Add some sauce, toss and enjoy. It’s become a hot foodie trend on the mainland over the past few years (Chico will soon have three poke bars, the other two being downtown) and I can see why.

The poke bowl I had at Halo was a far cry from the pre-prepared bowls at local supermarkets or even, I dare say, the one I tried from a grocery store on Kauai. The biggest difference, clearly, is the ability to handpick each ingredient, sandwich shop-style. That distinction is also what differentiates poke from sushi, as the two use many of the same ingredients and flavors.

First and foremost is the fish, which was super fresh (as it should be). While poke is most commonly made with ahi, I’m personally not a fan of that fish’s texture when raw. So, I opted for the salmon and yellowtail (each bowl comes with three scoops of protein—other options include spicy tuna and shrimp). Add that to your base; I chose white rice—brown rice or mixed greens are also on the menu. Then I added crabmeat salad, cucumber, poke sauce, masago (fish roe), edamame, crispy onions and seaweed salad. There’s no extra charge for toppings—each bowl is $9.75.

The finished dish was a genuine delight, with a nice balance of smooth and crunchy textures, warm and cold temperatures (the rice was warm) and flavor. The fact that each bowl is created based on diner’s choice could yield mixed results, of course, with some combinations turning out better than others.

Considering I’ll have a hard time going to Halo now without ordering a poke bowl, I’m glad that my first visit was for the barbecue. The options on that section of the menu are more extensive and include chicken, beef, pork and seafood, as well as various combinations thereof. Plates are served with rice and macaroni salad. Also available are fried rice, saimin noodle soups and musubi, all of which include a choice of protein, including Spam.

I opted for the basic Hawaiian barbecued chicken and chose the “mini meal” option instead of the full plate, a smaller portion with one scoop of rice instead of two for $6.50, versus $8.95. I ordered a strawberry juice drink to go with it.

There’s something special about Hawaiian barbecue that sets it apart from mainland fare, and Halo delivers. My chicken was tender and flavorful and the portion size was perfect for me for lunch. I was anticipating the mac salad almost as much as the chicken, as I have been unable to find one that rivals that of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, which I frequented when I lived in Southern California. Halo’s was good, adding a creaminess to the meal, but it was lacking something—pepper, maybe? Onion?—to give it some depth.

While the food definitely gets good marks, the ambiance of the restaurant and speed of service are a bit lacking. Unfortunately, the very small dining space (and no restroom) limits it in terms of being a place to dine in. And, as a sign at the front counter notes, barbecue orders can take up to half an hour to leave the kitchen. So, if you’re in a hurry, consider calling ahead or going outside the regular mealtime rush.