PokeBao to Serve Poke Bowls and Bao Buns in Coral Gables

, a new fast-casual restaurant specializing in poke bowls and bao buns, is slated to open in Coral Gables this fall.

The idea is the brainchild of chef/owner Daniel Bouza. By the way, Bouza knows his poke, having experienced it firsthand while working at Nobu Lana'i in Lana'i City, Hawaii. The chef, who most recently worked at Makoto in Bal Harbour, says PokéBao was inspired by a little surf shack in Lana'i that served poke bowls. Bouza decided to add bao buns to the menu after making gua bao (or bao buns) at a friend's house. "Poke and gua bao are traditional items ripe for interpretation and innovation. As a chef with a long history of making both dishes, I knew they would make a perfect pair and that a fast-casual concept was ideal for this style of cooking.”
Bouza decided to open his own restaurant, moving from the tony environs of Bal Harbour's Makoto to his own small shop in Coral Gables. "Transitioning from Makoto to a fast-casual poke spot is a huge endeavor," the chef says of opening his own fast-casual spot. "Makoto is such a fine-tuned, upscale machine that cranks out $12 million to 14 million a year without jeopardizing the quality of its outstanding food and extensive menu. PokéBao will produce food of equal quality but with a chef-driven, fast-casual concept that focuses on the perfection of two dishes: poke and bao buns."

Poke, by the way, is taking South Florida by storm with the addition of Poke 305 and the food truck Local Boy Poke, as well as the announcement of Poke House, opening in Fort Lauderdale. Of course, South Florida and Hawaii share similar tropical climates, so it's only natural that a dish made with fresh seafood would be a hit.

Bouza says of Miami's growing fascination with the dish: "Being a city known for its diversity, it was only a matter of time before poke took Miami by storm. I look forward to bringing elements of the dishes that I experienced while living and traveling in Hawaii to Miami, and I am confident that PokéBao will offer the most authentic poke in the city."

Daily signature poke bowls include spicy ahi tuna poke — made with yellowfin tuna, furikake rice, masago, fuego mayo, and green onion — and the shrimp Lana’i poke, made with seaweed and cucumber sunomono salad, local prawns, papaya, sweet potato, sesame seed, spicy ginger, and passionfruit dressing. Guests can also build their own bowls by choosing from a selection of bases, proteins, toppings, and sauces.
Bao buns include a sweet and spicy short-rib version featuring hoisin, pickled vegetables, and cilantro, and a pork belly bun with ginger-soy sauce, pickled red onions, pickled cucumber, and red jalapeño. The Miami-born-and-bred chef will also incorporate some local flavor into his crispy chicken vaca frita bun, made with braised chicken thigh, pickled vegetables, and feta-tofu sauce. 

Though prices haven't been set, poke bowls will range from $9 to $12, and buns will cost between $4 and $5 each. 

PokéBao is scheduled to open this November at 153 Giralda Ave. in Coral Gables, and operating hours will be 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. seven days a week.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss