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Okipoki in downtown isn't just another poke restaurant

The poke phenomenon in Los Angeles shows no signs of stopping. And while most poke restaurants, including Santa Monica's Sweetfin Poke (which just announced its upcoming second location), and Poke Me, allow customers to select their own combinations of fish, base and toppings, one new restaurant is fighting against the Chipotle-fication of poke.

Okipoki, located in downtown L.A.'s Historic Core, opened in October with a simple list of dishes; no need for flowcharts to complete one's order (to be fair, most places offer preset poke options as well as the build-your-own model).

Diners can choose from a series of well-composed dishes with funny names such as the Crabby Day, a blue crab salad on a Hawaiian roll; Hama Time, yellowtail poke mixed with colorful radishes; and Straight Outta Tofu, for the vegetarians (but still no kale).

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Of course, Okipoki is still a fast casual restaurant, catering to a wide range of customers. So you won’t find a statement that politely declines modifications at the bottom of the menu. Instead, the shop aims for a middle path between full customization and full lockdown, allowing customers to add on avocado, different fish or the ever-popular uni. Also, customers can choose between brown rice and white rice for their base.

The rice is a little different at Okipoki too. OK, a lot different. It is Satsuki Koshihikari rice, distributed and sold by International Marine Products, the fish market that sells to most of the high-end sushi and seafood restaurants in Los Angeles. The rice itself is cultivated by Morihiro Onodera of Mori Sushi fame and is grown in Uruguay. It is prized for its texture, neither too sticky nor too mushy.

“I started out using Nishiki, but my rep at IMP suggested I give Satsuki Koshikari a try," said Steve Chen, managing partner at Okipoki. "Not only does it have a fuller look, but it also has a great chewy texture to go along with a slight sweetness in taste.”

With an emphasis on the rice, Okipoki takes inspiration from sushi, where rice is said to be the most important ingredient. Does it make that much of a difference with poke? You'll have to head to the Historic Core of downtown to find out. 

507 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3378, www.okipokila.com.

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