As the weather gets warmer, I realize that the last thing I want to do is stand next to a hot stove to prepare dinner after being cooped up inside an apartment all day. So, I found the perfect alternative: getting a poke bowl from Pokelab and enjoying the meal outside. There is nothing better than getting food and sitting outside in the sun to enjoy the summer weather. Pokelab’s poke bowls hit just the spot for those who can not be bothered to cook and want to relax.

Pokelab has been around for several years, but their customizable poke bowls provide endless combinations of toppings to attract even the pickiest of customers. Whenever I want to get a seafood dish but do not want to break the bank, Pokelab is the perfect place to explore since they serve plentiful toppings for affordable prices.


An overhead photo of the author's dinner with two customized poke bowls, two bowls of miso soup, and a seaweed salad. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

I have tried Pokelab’s signature bowl in the past, and it was delicious with its mouthwatering combination of salmon, spicy crab salad, mango, cucumber, edamame, sweet corn, spicy mayo sauce, eel sauce, masago (edible eggs of the capelin fish), and rice seasoning.

The author holds a clear plastic bowl of a customized poke bowl with salmon, scallops, eel, cucumber, mango, and crunchy onion. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

This time, I decided to order poke deluxe ($15.95) with all the standard toppings: tuna, salmon, spicy crab salad, scallops, eel, cucumber, onion, edamame, mango, spicy mayo sauce, eel sauce, masago, and crunchy onion. I have always loved seafood and never tire of eating salmon or scallops, so the poke deluxe bowl seemed like an obvious choice with its abundance of toppings. The texture of cubes of tuna and salmon sashimi mixed with creamy spicy mayo sauce and crunchy onion made for heavenly bites, and I thoroughly enjoyed the freshness of vegetables like cucumber, onion, and edamame.

I was not too keen on having mango with the rest of the ingredients, as I am not fond of having sweet components in between meals, but it was surprisingly pleasant to have mango with the rest of the bowl — and I enjoyed the little bursts of tropical fruit. For those who believe having pineapple pieces on pizzas is blasphemy, there is always the option to leave out the mango pieces in poke bowls.

Pokelab’s options for customization are endless. You can have extra protein with a $3 additional cost, and the choices include shrimp, tuna, scallops, eel, crab stick, tofu, and so much more. Sauce on the side can also be customized with choices such as sweet chili, teriyaki, sesame dressing, to name a few. For those who want extra toppings for a bit of crunch, they can choose between rice seasoning, sesame seeds, crunch onion, masago, green onion, tempura crumb, seaweed powder, and pork floss for an additional $0.50.

The author holds a plastic, clear bowl of a customized poke bowl with soy sauce marinade. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

My partner ordered a variation of the poke deluxe bowl with extra eel and no mango — and he enjoyed every bite and finished it with gusto in one sitting. The eel was well-cooked in sweet soy sauce marinade, and it flaked when small pieces broke apart. The restaurant was generous with his request for extra eel in his poke bowl, and it made for a great meal altogether.

A close up of the author's dinner with two poke bowls, a miso sauce, and a seaweed salad all in clear takeout containers. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

For those who have dietary restrictions or are selective with what goes in their bowl, I believe Pokelab provides an excellent array of choices for the price. The restaurant offers options for the base and customers can choose amongst white rice, brown rice, and organic spring mix. All bowls come with a choice of a side such as a cup of miso soup or a bottle of water.

A close up overhead photo of the author's seaweed salad in a plastic takeout container. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

My partner and I ordered hot miso soup ($2) and seaweed salad ($3) as sides and were happy with our choices. The miso soup was not too salty, had bite-size tofu and dashi pieces, and was nice to have with the poke bowls. The seaweed salad was fresh, and the restaurant gave us more than enough to go with our meal. I realize that some people might not like seaweed salad because of its texture and taste, but I always like to mix some with my poke bowl, and it adds a bit more contrast to the rest of the dish. It would be nice to have other options for sides, but the current menu at Pokelab is minimal yet well-organized for someone who knows exactly what they want.

Pokelab’s service was fast and efficient, and the kitchen took note of special instructions for poke bowls and prepared them accordingly. Food was well-packaged with no spillage during the pick-up and the staff was amicable. They packed extra soy sauce and condiments for the carry-out orders and took care to confirm each order. I am certain that I will be returning several times throughout this summer to get my poke bowl craving fixed and I look forward to trying different combinations of toppings.

Poke Lab
605 S Sixth St
Champaign
11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily

Top image by Da Yeon Eom.