Food

Pack a Bowl

Chef Randy Tapia’s Poki Tako drops knowledge from the CHOMP food hall

(Alex De Vore)

Ask the fine folks at Ohori’s and they’ll tell you how your old pal Alex spends an inordinate amount of time in and around the CHOMP food hall within the Luna cluster of businesses at 505 Cerrillos Road. I’m taking interviews there and meeting buds, picking up coffee for the house and downing shots in the dark like it’s my job. And yet, I’ve had complicated feelings about CHOMP since it opened in 2020, most of which boil down to the three or four times someone has parked so close to me I literally couldn’t get in my car.

Anyway, this piece isn’t about CHOMP per se—it’s about chef Randy Tapia and his burgeoning Poki Tako brick and mortar eatery within the food hall’s hallowed grounds. Nestled in the corner, across the room from Pedro’s Pizza and just beyond Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine and quick Indian spot Zaika, you’ll find Tapia’s new-ish offering, open since last year. It’s a small affair with some minimal cooking and refrigeration elements, a rice cooker like you might use at home and, most notably, Tapia himself, dreads, tattoos and all. If I asked anyone who ever worked in foodservice to close their eyes and imagine a chef, this is likely the dude they’d envision, and he’s exactly who you want slingin’ poke and other fish items. Oh, did I forget to mention it? Poki Tako is a near-flawless and creative take on fresh Asian fare and, for my money, is currently the single best reason to visit CHOMP.

Let’s go back a few nights to the first evening I visited Poki Tako (505 Cerrillos Road, Ste. B101, (505) 913-7878). Tapia’s food has been on my list for a hot minute: He’s a Santa Fe guy with a lifetime of restaurant experience under his belt, and if there’s one story I love, it’s hometown chef does good. But I always seemed to just miss service or find myself in CHOMP sans-hunger. When I finally did make and execute a plan, however, I was a little disappointed to find Tapia was not in on the night I visited. Don’t get me wrong—the woman who served me was friendly and moved quickly, and she made the heck out of the items I took home (more on that in a sec), but sometimes you just want to see what the king can do.

Rolling with the punches, I selected the special, a fish sandwich served on a bun with an Asian style slaw, avocado and jalapeño ($17), plus seasoned fries that looked like they’d only be OK but wound up being quite tasty. I simply had no choice but to also order the tempura fish and chips ($17), which came with a side of the aforementioned slaw and chips, plus sides of tempura and togarashi aioli (if you didn’t know, togarashi is a sort of chili pepper melange that hails from Japan and is famous for giving just the right amount of bite). At Poki Tako, the right amount of bite seems to be the name of the game, and though the fish sandwich was a generous serving with avocado as close to perfect as I think I’ve ever tasted, the real winner was the fish and chips. Whoever you are, nice lady working at Poki Tako, the crisp of the exterior and the blazing hot and tender rockfish interior were as sublime a marriage as I’ve ever encountered—and I’ve lived in England, so...

Not quite sated, I woke the following morning with visions of Tapia’s poke bowls dancing in my head. His concept is like a meshed combo of Asian- and Mexican-inspired cuisines operating as one, and much of that idea comes from the kick and spice of most dishes. Still, not wanting to go heavy (or spicy), I opted for the citrus salmon poke bowl ($17), a clean-sounding bit of -sushi-grade fish served atop warm rice with generous portions of pickled cucumber, daikon, carrot, edamame and a wasabi tabiko massago roe (that’s flying fish, y’all). First things first: The value is out of control, and Tapia provides more food and garnish per bowl than seems reasonable for any business. Even better, the chilled salmon and warm rice created a sort of sticky combo of textures and flavors that picked up bits of the daikon and carrot for a complex series of flavor and mouthfeel changes, all taking place in a single bite. The included mini seaweed salad added just the right pinch of salty/savory, too—you know the way salt makes things taste so much more like themselves somehow?

This was a wise order, as I felt satisfied, but not over-full; which allowed me to order the Thai mango sticky rice dessert ($9). Another dish with generous portions, it came absolutely bursting with fresh mango chunks, plus a lemongrass coconut sauce that—and listen carefully—might be the most complementary rice and/or dessert topper I’ve ever discovered. Hats off to Tapia for that sauce for being subtly sweet and accentuating the more grounded flavor of sesame seeds sprinkled throughout. Welp, turns out I have a new favorite spot in town. Hallelujah.

Don’t forget that Tapia still takes the Poki Tako truck out every week, too, and to follow his socials like Facebook (facebook.com/pokitako) and Instagram (@poki_tako) to see where that’ll be.


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