Tokyo Joe’s Cali poke roll (center) is a delicious bargain. Photo by Lee Chastain.

About 20 years ago, Larry Leith opened Tokyo Joe’s, a Colorado-based Japanese restaurant franchise with a focus on clean eating –– somewhat of a novelty back in the ’90s. Joe’s first Texas outpost opened last month in the new Waterside development. The area at the corner of Bryant Irvin Road and Arborlawn Drive is now home to eateries with similar price points (Zoë’s Kitchen and Blaze Fire’d Pizza) and fancy places to shop (REI, Whole Foods Market, and Sur La Table).

[box_info]Tokyo Joe’s
5925 Convair Dr, Ste 501, FW. 682-316-4255. 10:45am-9:05pm daily. All major credit cards accepted.

Tokyo Joe’s concept is similar to Chipotle, or any other build-your-own bowl/burrito/sandwich joint –– pick a protein and veggies, then a starch and sauce. What sets Joe’s apart is the variety of ingredients and options –– sushi, veggie or meat bowls, soups, salads, and a selection of bento boxes. All are lovingly described in fairly tiny print on the joint’s take-out menu.

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While the four sushi options on the menu are not in the same league as, say, Sushi Axiom’s offerings, the Cali poke sushi roll as a starter was still tasty and fresh. Real crab mix (not the fake shredded krab) came rolled with avocado and cucumber in a rice and nori shell, topped with sushi-grade ahi tuna bathed in a sweet-tart lemongrass aioli and a zesty Sriracha aioli. The four-piece order is a steal at $4.50, or you can double down for $7.

The math on the build-your-own bowls is staggering. Choose from dark or white meat chicken, steak, salmon, or tofu. Add rice, udon noodles, and/or veggies (or twice the veggies if you’re skipping carbs), and pick from a dozen sauces, including curry, teriyaki, and the habañero pepper-infused Red Dragon. The cashier recommended the MoJoe sauce, which isn’t on the list of options. The thick, caramel-y, spicy, slightly smoky sauce is included in the MoJoe Bowl on the specialty menu, though you can add it to anything. The sauce did indeed add some major kick to the dark meat chicken, thick udon noodles, and assorted veggies. The regular sized bowl was more than enough food for one hungry person.

From the fancier end of the menu, the spicy salmon poke bowl had a decent amount of sushi-grade chunks of raw salmon, topped with more of that delicious Sriracha aioli and about half a sliced avocado on a large portion of sushi rice. The dish was decorated with really tasty sweet onions, sharp green onions, sesame seeds, and, inexplicably, a lemon wedge. The spicy salmon with the zesty, creamy sauce was a delight.

The only culinary misstep on the day my dining companion and I visited was General Joe’s soup. There was a huge amount of goodies in the Thai-inspired broth –– lots of chicken, half a hard-boiled egg, spinach, mushrooms, slivered carrots, sweet basil, celery, and your choice of rice or rice noodles. The thin rice noodles had the texture of chopped angel hair pasta and didn’t do much to soak up the lemongrass-kissed broth. The good news: Each bite tasted different (a little chicken, a little egg, a little bit of veggies). However, I was about a third of the way through when I realized there wasn’t any salt. Worse, there aren’t any salt or pepper shakers on the tables, only Sriracha and teriyaki sauce (though both, technically, could be considered stand-ins for the common condiments). A few splashes of the teriyaki sauce in the broth didn’t alter the Thai taste too much but did provide a healthy kick of sodium that made the whole dish taste better.

Tokyo Joe’s is short on desserts, and there’s only a small selection of bottled beers if you’re drinking. The kids menu offers smaller portions of fairly grown-up standards and mac ’n’ cheese if your kid just refuses to eat chicken that isn’t in nugget form. Maybe it’s not the best sushi or poke in town, but Tokyo Joe’s offers a decent selection, generous portions, and friendly, helpful staffers who are plenty conversant in the menu options.

[box_info]Tokyo Joe’s
Cali poke roll     $4.50
Spicy salmon poke sushi bowl     $8.25
Build your own chicken bowl     $5.75
General Joe’s soup     $8.25[/box_info]