Fast. Casual. Affordable. Healthy. Laidback Hawaiian surfer food translates surprisingly well in a world where everyone is go-go-go. Poke can also afford to be affordable, with a kitchen of only rice, veggies and some fish. And with such simple, fresh ingredients, each meal is the definition of whole and natural.

Preserving fish – and especially tuna and octopus – has been around since pre-contact Polynesia, with modern poke taking shape with new ingredients from the large influx of Japanese and Filipino immigrants. It has most recently landed in Carmel. Inspired by their successful sushi bar in Hawaii, Alessia Gorrell and her husband Brian brought a similar concept when they moved to Monterey County a couple years ago. Gorrell said she missed poke bowls and Brian, a commercial fisherman, was the most obvious choice for a supplier.

The restaurant is small, offering a handful of high-tops and an outdoor patio. It’s bright, clean and modern, and operates no differently from most poke joints: order at a counter in build-your-own style.

Here the toppings are billed separately and some are add-ons, like seaweed salad, avocado, macadamia nuts and masago. Fresh fish prices depend on the market.

As for the variety, it’s really good. Warm rice or quinoa as a base makes for the more satisfying option, but chopped cauliflower “rice” or lettuce are certainly welcomed by those eating low-carb. For health nuts, there are multiple ways to go here. Even vegan combinations work if you swap out the fish for baked tofu.

Organic vegetables come aplenty, from daikon, onion and edamame to carrots, cucumber and beets (four are included). Fill up with classics like spicy tuna or salmon, or tako, chopped octopus. Raw-averse omnivores could go the route of shoyu chicken (a sweet Hawaiian favorite) or salmon teriyaki, with a subtly tangy sauce that almost forgoes the need for ponzu, Sriracha or spicy mayo – no joke on the spice.

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Though Carmel Poke Co. does offer one or two predesigned options, the joy here is really mixing and matching yourself. Novices do not fear: It’s hard to mess up, since all ingredients are complementary. I dipped my fork in several different bowls, and all were delicious in their own right. Actually, so delicious that I could have stuffed myself, but with the lightness of this fare I just felt satisfied.

To wash it down, warm or chilled sake, beer and hard kombucha are available. One of the restaurant’s highlights is the local kombucha on tap: gently fruity flavors like ginger lime and mint lemonade. The owners are pretty dedicated to healthy food, extending all the way to these probiotic-rich drinks.

“I love eating healthy and I really love bowls,” Gorrell says. “I make a different one every day.” With all the variety, it’s easy to do. “It’s filling without making you lethargic – like sushi in a bowl, but with more veggies.”

No matter what diet you subscribe to (whether strict or nonexistent), and whatever your budget and time limit, Carmel Poke Co. will have you hooked.

CARMEL POKE CO. 173 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel. 11am-6pm daily. 574-3322,

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