In a shopping center in South Portland, Maine, sits a local gem: a locally owned poke place. Here’s a look inside Big Fin Poke.
Coworkers introduced me to sushi almost 20 years ago and a world opened up. Soon, a friend was dragging me to all his favorite sushi bars for lunch and I was having it on my own too. I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve eaten sushi whenever possible at restaurants, home, wherever.
A few years ago, my kids and I discovered poke bowls, which are often rice bowls topped with raw fish and other toppings. Though trendy now, poke is a dish that is believed to date back to Polynesia in the pre-colonial times, according to Chowhound. What we know now as the popular poke dish really has been around since the 1970s, and originating in Hawaii and then making its way to the mainland. These days, poke places are popping up in Boston, New York and other cities … including Portland, Maine.
I first spotted Big Fin Poke, which might just be Maine’s just poke place (they have declared themselves as such; I believe them) while on a research trip in Southern Maine. My kids and we had a tight itinerary centering around certain restaurants so we couldn’t stop just then. But I made a mental note to return.
So when the opportunity arose a few weeks ago, I planned Big Fin Poke into my day. And I liked it so much, I returned a week later with my kids.
Inside Big Fin Poke
Big Fin Poke in South Portland serves Hawaiian-style poke. Started by the Liang family of Scarborough, Maine, in 2016, there are now three locations (two in Maine and one in Massachusetts).
At the location in South Portland, there is ample seating and a small patio with a handful of tables outside as well. It’s located just a few minutes off the highway in a strip mall.
Like popular burrito places, when you approach the counter you make a series of choices resulting in your poke dish. First, you choose your poke style.
Rice bowls are served with sushi-grade rice.
Salads are served on a bed of lettuce.
Pokirittos — their name, not mine — include rice served inside a nori wrap.
Whichever option you choose, you get a choice of proteins. There are raw sushi options like tuna and salmon and cooked options like chicken and steak.
Then comes the sauces. The proteins are tossed with the sauces, and Big Fin Poke encourages customers to mix it up by choosing a few sauces to mix. You also choose mix-ins to be tossed with the sauce. That all goes into the bowl.
Next comes, the toppings. Choose several — at least three. These help bring bulk to your bowl.
Finally, the last choice: crunchy toppings. Of course, you don’t have to choose any, but why wouldn’t you want to?
The trick with ordering is to make sure you order enough in your poke — don’t be shy! The first time I went, I only ordered three toppings. Four or five seems like a better number.
Is Big Fin Poke Worth a Visit?
There are a few things I love about this poke place. First, it’s locally owned, which is a huge plus for me. The proteins I’ve tried — salmon and tuna — have been very fresh. I super appreciated how the folks making the poke made sauce suggestions for a good blend when my kids were ordering. And the toppings, as well, have been very fresh.
I didn’t love the rice though. It’s not that I didn’t like it — it was good, basic rice. But I do like sushi rice to be seasoned and it didn’t appear to be when I had it.
Also, I wish they offered a few additional toppings. Mango, for instance, is one of my very favorite poke bowl toppings and that’s not offered. That said, the pineapple was a good and unexpectedly refreshing option.
Despite a few personal-preference items, I really like Big Fin Poke and will return. It’s good, solid, fresh, well-made poke right here in Maine. Now, if they would just add a location closer to Bangor …
Big Fin Poke: 29 Western Ave, South Portland, Maine
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.