Pokeworks: Will Sushi Burritos Take Over NYC?

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What’s the longest you’ve ever chosen to wait for something in New York? Not for a doctor’s appointment or at the DMV, not required waiting, but for dinner, brunch, or a free scoop of ice cream?

A friend and colleague once told me that New Yorkers want what they cannot have — and so restaurants, bars, and clubs capitalize on that by manufacturing the illusion that the product or experience they offer is just out of reach. The impossible reservation, the line down the block: it’s all part of the appeal, and in this city, if it’s hard to get, that’s practically a stamp of approval.

Pokeworks is a tiny California eatery that opened its first NYC location on 37th Street at Sixth Avenue in December 2015. I visited this Saturday, March 5 at 1PM with a friend.

Is its intensely high level of demand artificial? Well, yes and no.

This is, in fact, the only place in New York City you can obtain the coveted, extremely common-sensical sushi burrito (which, as some have commented, is none other than a normal sushi roll uncut. More on that later.) Therefore, it follows logically that it be popular — and the line stretching from the entrance to the corner and snaking its way back toward the entrance is not a surprise. (There are, however, a number of places you can get poke, the salad topped with raw fish that Pokeworks serves; Gothamist went so far as to call it “poke-sanity” in January 2016.)

What is surprising, though, is what I find at the front of the line (a long, cold hour’s wait and one complimentary cup of miso soup later): the utter lack of urgency and efficiency with which the staff process orders. It’s like Chipotle, if all the staff were given tranquilizer shots.

Fifteen employees, crowded behind the counter, pervert the traditional assembly line system by passing orders left and right and left again. Each bowl, salad, or sushi-rrito sits on its own 12 x 24 in metal tray — real estate so spacious The Corcoran Group might want to list it.

The workers embody laid-back California vibes, or perhaps it’s a Hawaiian chill.

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If you can survive the wait, what of the food?

It’s the Chipotle concept applied to sushi. Choose salad, rice/quinoa bowl, or burrito; regular or large. Add your protein (tuna, salmon, shrimp, etc); your sauce (wasabi aioli, umami shoyu…); and an impressive array of add-ins, ranging from seaweed to masago to lotus crisps.

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And yes, a sushi burrito is simply an uncut roll (maki): seaweed paper topped with a flat layer of sticky sushi rice, fish, and other vegetables or flavors, then rolled. Still, Pokeworks offers more than a novelty or a gimmick. Where else can you so creatively customize your sushi experience? Plus, price — $10.50 at Pokeworks gets you a huge sushi burrito with unlimited fillings and two different proteins. Most NYC cheap sushi spots start their special rolls at $13 and up, and you get more food in the roll at Pokeworks, with greater variety.

Let’s hope Pokeworks picks up some of that frantic haste that’s laced in this city’s tap water, processes customer orders with alacrity, and learns to scale its operation beyond this location. Because this food is delicious — and it’s definitely not worth waiting an hour for.

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