SOUTH PORTLAND — Local diners will have the chance to “go Hawaiian” this fall when the owner of Westbrook-based Big Fin Poke opens a Western Avenue location.

Jimmy Liang said he expects to open his new eatery at 29 Western Ave., near the intersection of Westbrook Street, by the end of October. The new restaurant will be built in the space formerly occupied by the Plaza 29 Convenience Store.

Traditional poke (pronounced po-kay or po-keh), is a raw fish salad most often served as an appetizer. A growing trend combines the Hawaiian dish with rice and other fresh ingredients to create a healthy alternative to other fast food.

Liang, who lives in Scarborough, launched Big Fin Poke, at 855 Main St. in Westbrook in December. He said he chose Westbrook because he likes what the city is doing to revitalize its downtown. Liang said the restaurant got a great reception from the city and the community, which has spread the word about his business. 

Liang said he is fairly certain his poke restaurant is the first of its kind in Maine. He said other restaurants may have poke on the menu, but are not dedicated poke establishments. 

Liang said poke originated in Hawaii, but started to change with Japanese influences. He said it exploded in popularity in California about two to three years ago, and in New York about a year ago. A friend introduced him to the specialty food and Liang said he fell in love. 

“I always liked sushi, but sushi starting getting old for me – with poke I can add a lot of different flavors,” he said. 

Liang describes poke as a “deconstructed sushi roll”: A bowl is filled with rice and layered with tuna, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp, chicken or organic tofu. Vegetables such as edamame, seaweed, avocado or shiitake mushrooms are added on the side. Patrons also choose a sauce and crunchy toppings. 

Inside Big Fin Poke, guests will find tropical colors, art inspired by Hawaii, and tropical plants. A large sign proclaiming “Aloha Hawaii” greets guests as they enter the airy, modern restaurant that includes bar seating by the window. 

Liang, who is also a real estate agent, first got into the restaurant business in 1998, when he and his family opened Chia Sen Chinese Cuisine at 456 Payne Road in Scarborough. The family restaurant is now managed by his brother-in-law, Tony Wu.

His nephew, Yusan Wu, is planning to open a third location in Western Massachusetts and is exploring properties in Hadley and Northampton, Massachusetts. 

“Get ready to have your taste buds impacted – these are different flavors that people have never had before,” Liang said. “A lot of customers that are sushi lovers are amazed by the different combination numbers of sauces, proteins, and toppings.”

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Jimmy Liang at Big Fin Poke, 855 Main St. in Westbrook. Liang expects to open a second restaurant at 29 Western Ave. in South Portland by the end of October. 

Noah Chauvette prepares poke at Big Fin Poke, 855 Main St. in Westbrook. A new location will open at 29 Western Ave., in South Portland, in October.

Big Fin Poke will open at 29 Western Ave., South Portland, near the intersection of Westbrook Street, in October.

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