When Poke Mon opened last year on the bottom floor of a sparkling new apartment building on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, it seemed like the ultimate New Portland nightmare.
Here, on the hallowed ground of what was once a bad Ethiopian restaurant that also operated as a dingy party bar that hosted the occasional punk show, some seeming yupsters erected an eye-bleedingly bright little pop-in with a forehead-smacking pun for a name. The spot serves up a trendy (and maybe ecologically unsustainable!) foodstuff and has an encyclopedic collection of canned La Croix.
But as any honest longtime Portlander will tell you, living here now means coming to terms with the fact that new isn't always bad, and not everything from a sunny place counts as an invasive species.
Over the past year, Poke Mon has shown itself to be one of the very finest casual restaurants in this city, a reliable source of excellent fish carefully prepared and served at Old Portland prices.
Poke originated in Hawaii centuries ago as an improvised snack for fishermen, who'd cut off and season chunks of their catch while on the job. It arrived at its current form as a raw-fish salad after reaching the mainland and getting thrown into a bowl with rice, avocado and other fixings.
Opened in the Great Summer of Pokemon Go, Poke Mon may have ridden in on several fads, but it transcends them in large part due to ex-Nodoguro cook Colin Yoshimoto, who brings sushi-chef precision (and Japanese-inspired sauces) to what is essentially a quickie lunch counter.
You really can't go wrong with any of the six standard bowls, though the Pikachu of the bunch is the garlic salmon poke, which plays Yoshimoto's salty ponzu sauce off sweet bites of grapefruit for an especially enlivened combination. If you go with the spicy ahi donburi, spend the extra $2 to swap the slightly mushy minced ahi for the cubed variety.
And for those still unconvinced that Poke Mon is a special place despite the casual vibes and low prices, peep that sake menu, careening from wild-style Hannya Tou plum liqueur to a silky, quaffable Yuki No Bosha honjozo to a rare junmai-grade, unpasteurized "Dreamy Clouds" sake mixing high polish and swirling rice haze. It's a sake-by-the-glass menu that would make most sushi spots blush, presented in a totally unassuming way.
Pro tip: The seating, both inside and out, is a little uncomfortable, so don't be afraid to take your poke and sake bottle to go. Turns out chilled salmon ($11.75) and donburi ($10.75) taste just as good after a 10-minute drive home.