Poke has its roots where many of the best things in life do, in the broad scope of human ingenuity.
What started as scraps of a fisherman’s catch seasoned with convenient ingredients like seaweed eventually morphed into the cornucopia of fresh flavor we know today one experimental new addition at a time. A few pineapple chunks here, a slice of avocado there, and all of a sudden you’ve got something great going.
Somewhere along the way the delicious dish rode the line of latitude that almost directly connects Hawaii to this sunny city by the sea, washing ashore a few blocks inland at MaiKai Poke Bowls (Calle Francisco I. Madero 315, Emiliano Zapata). MaiKai has been a favorite midday meal for me for months now, and now that they’ve added more staff and seating I feel comfortable telling everyone how great it is.
The Vibes: Stationed on Francisco Madera just across the Rio Cuale bridge, MaiKai is easily identified by the surfboard-shaped sign in front of the stand. The streetside tables are shaded by a large umbrella, giving guests a front row seat as another afternoon in Vallarta unfurls through the cobblestone streets of Old Town.
I took a seat at one of the tables and waited for the MaiKai team to get my order properly shoveled while Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” grooved splendidly from the Bluetooth speaker. Uniformed children migrated from a nearby school as my leopard print belt-scarf flowed gently in the breeze…it seemed a very pleasant afternoon for everyone.
The Vices: MaiKai is the vision of culinary couple Mariana and Enrique, and fun fact, almost took the form of a chicken and waffles joint (not that that wouldn’t have been a fine choice from the perspective of this writer). Mariana offered some insight on the final decision: “We wanted to bring something fresh to the area, something a little healthier.”
Not that a large bowl with extra spicy tuna and salmon exactly qualifies as a salad.
Still, piled high with carrots and cucumbers and seasoned with a savory chile serrano soy sauce, at least it looks I was making good dietary choices in the picture. Drawing my twin swords, I went to work on the bowl while feeling very proud of myself for being able to use chopsticks effectively. It was every bit as good as expected, and washed down with a bottle of locally produced agua de piña, made for an ideal lunch.
The Verdict: If you haven’t paid a visit to MaiKai yet, you’re missing out on something special…they even offer delivery within walking distance for you shut-ins. Enrique once said “it seems like only sunny, happy people eat poke,” but it almost seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy when you have made it your mission to make people smile with food. MaiKai succeeds in this mission, bringing the spirit of Aloha to the streets of Vallarta. Maybe I’ll catch you there.