Favorite Spots for Poke Bowls from Coast to Coast
Photo By: Mary Costa
Photo By: Mary Costa
Photo By: Shannon McLean ©©2016
©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.
Photo By: Alain Milotti ©2015
Photo By: Citizen Pictures ©2800 Speer Blvd Denver CO 80211
Stoke Poke Cravings
Often compared to fish carpaccio, tartare or sashimi, poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish of raw fish marinated in a blend of soy sauce and sesame oil. Tuna is the most-popular base, but the dish can include a wide mix of seafood. In fact, the Hawaiian word poke translates as “to slice or chop.” The dish can be found pretty much everywhere on the islands, in variations like octopus poke with wasabi, salmon poke with roe and ahi shoyu poke. Now it can be found all throughout the United States, thanks to some enterprising Hawaiian chefs and mainlanders who’ve become smitten with the raw-fish salad. Here are a few islands-inspired places to get a taste.
Mainland Poke photo courtesy of Mary Costa
Mainland Poke, Los Angeles
Each day, whole, fresh fish is delivered to this mini-chain of Los Angeles counter-serve spots. Though many places opt to purchase less expensive frozen seafood, Mainland owner Ari Kahan opts for responsibly sourced sushi-grade tuna from sustainable purveyors, which his team slices in-house, so diners can consume tuna, albacore, toro, salmon, salmon belly and octopus without fear of depleting the seas. A departure from the traditional poke prep, Mainland does not pre-marinate its seafood, opting to build bowls to order, completely from scratch. Guests can choose to customize or go for one of the signature selections like So Cali, a mix of salmon, avocado, coconut sauce, sweet onions and jalapeno.
Go to: Mainland Poke
This Cultural District taqueria offers diverse fare that’s nearly as funky as its lively mural- and tile-covered atmosphere. The excellent taco fillings are culturally diverse, ranging from Korean short rib to confit duck, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that this Mexican-inspired hot spot serves a riff on Hawaiian fish salad. Its poke is a truly memorable rendition. Glistening bigeye tuna is mixed with seaweed and a spicy soy dressing, then topped with foamy whipped lime that brightens the dish. Airy rice crackers come on the side.
Photo courtesy of Alyssa Florentine
Go to: Täkō
Noreetuh, New York City
Chef-Partner Chung Chow opened this modern Hawaiian restaurant with two other Per Se veterans (Gerald San Jose and Jin Ahn) in early 2015. There, the Hawaii native offers a current perspective on the cuisine from his homeland, including melting pot influences from its Polynesian, Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Chinese residents. The chef imparts the dishes at this casual East Village restaurant with French technique and New York City style. He regularly offers two poke variations: bigeye tuna and shrimp. The former adds macadamia nuts, pickled jalapenos and seaweed to ruby-red pieces of fish. The latter contrasts the sweet shellfish with refreshing cucumber, wasabi, pearl onion and fragrant yuzu.
Go to: Noreetuh
Sweetfin Poké, Santa Monica
Opened in Santa Monica in 2015, this fast-casual fish destination offers build-your-own bowls, with an array of seafood, toppings (think avocado, seaweed, jalapeno and wasabi-toasted coconut flakes) and sauces, served over bamboo rice, kelp noodles or citrus-kale salad as the base. The indecisive should opt for one of the signature bowls. Mango Albacore combines fresh tuna with ponzu-lime sauce, macadamia nuts and ginger. Spicy yuzu salmon is topped with edamame, lime and citrusy yuzu-kosho sauce. There are also vegetarian options, like shiitake chile tofu with classic sauce, chile oil and cilantro.
Photo courtesy of Mary Costa
Go to: Sweetfin Poké
Liholiho Yacht Club, San Francisco
For Hawaii native Ravi Kapur, poke is a taste of home. One of his earliest memories is peering into a case of a dozen different types of colorful poke with his parents at Tamashiro Market in Honolulu. Now, at his buzzy Nob Hill restaurant, Kapur serves modern Hawaiian fare infused with interesting Northern Californian, Chinese and Indian influences. His poke, however, tastes like the original. First-rate pieces of tuna are scented with sesame oil, radish and nori cracker. “It’s what I grew up with, and it has nostalgia and meaning for me,” says Kapur. “When I make it at Liholiho, I think, ‘How do I remember it tasting?’ It’s like looking into a crystal ball of the past."
Photo courtesy of Shannon McLean
Go to: Liholiho Yacht Club
Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max, Seattle
Chef, prolific restaurateur and Food Network star Sam Choy may not have invented poke, but the Hawaiian chef fueled its popularity on the mainland with what started as a fleet of food trucks, Poke to the Max. Choy still has a few trucks, but he also has a brick-and-mortar shop in Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood. At the shop, rice bowls, salads, tacos and wraps are filled with fresh ingredients and diners’ choice of protein, including tofu, traditional salmon and spicy salmon as well as ahi tuna, which is available in traditional, furikake or spicy versions. Some of the dishes are offered with a side, such as edamame hummus, green salad, seaweed salad and Japanese-style pickled vegetables called namasu. The shop’s tagline is "Mo Poké, Mo Betta!"
Go to: Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max
Hanjip, Culver City, Calif.
Chef Chris Oh (Cutthroat Kitchen, Kitchen Inferno, winner of The Great Food Truck Race) teamed up with Stephane Bombet of Terrine, Faith & Flower and Viviane to open this modern Korean barbecue spot. The kitchen serves stellar cuts of meat — prime beef and Kurobuta pork — excellent banchan and superb seafood, including a modern rendition of the classic poke bowl. For lunch, tuna and salmon roe poke is topped with avocado, seaweed and pickled vegetables. For an additional $7, the kitchen will add decadent, briny uni, which is worth the splurge.
Photo courtesy of Hanjip
Go to: Hanjip
Mister Tuna, Denver
Denver chef Troy Guard’s latest restaurant, Mister Tuna, was inspired by his childhood home of Oahu, and the entire restaurant is an homage to his water-loving father, Charlie, whose nickname was Mister Tuna. Guard also has a lifelong love of the water. Although his new place focuses on items prepared on the grill, no Hawaii-inspired eatery is complete without marinated raw fish. The Charlie Guard ahi poke — again, named after the chef’s dad — doesn’t stray far from the island original, with avocado, seaweed, chile pepper and soy dressing.
Go to: Mister Tuna
Aloha Poké Co, Chicago
Bringing the raw fish trend to the Windy City, this choose-your-own place offers rice bowls and salads in three sizes, from eight to 24 ounces, with a choice of marinated or naked ahi, salmon or tofu. Bowls are topped off first with rice seasoning, ginger, avocado, seaweed and tobiko, and then with sauces ranging from creative yuzu ranch and spicy aioli to simple sesame vinaigrette and wasabi. The restaurant also offers recommended combinations. The Aloha Bowl comes with an island-inspired blend of pineapple, cucumber, scallion, jalapeno, Maui onion and sesame vinaigrette.
Go to: Aloha Poké Co
Wisefish Poké, New York City
After a 2013 family trip to Hawaii, Drew Crane became enamored of poke. He spent the bulk of his trip driving around Maui, consuming copious amounts of marinated fish salad, and then started making it regularly upon returning home to NYC. The obsession led to his opening a poke-centric restaurant in Chelsea, which opened early in 2016. The menu features choose-your-own-adventure bowls and house favorites. The latter category includes traditional and newfangled interpretations, including the Heat Wave, with salmon, cucumber, jalapeno, scallion, herb mix and spicy citrus shoyu.
Go to: Wisefish Poké
Poke-Poke, Los Angeles and Austin
Jason McVearry spent five years living in Hawaii, eating copious amounts of poke. When he brought his wife, Trish, back there with him, she fell in love with the marinated raw-fish selections, too. Six months after returning home to Los Angeles, the couple opened Poke-Poke in Venice Beach. It was one of the pioneers in the city’s booming poke scene. The concept offers a half-dozen poke flavors, including one vegetarian rendition with optional add-ins like kale, ginger, jalapenos and avocado. Now Poke-Poke is moving across the U.S., with a new outpost in Austin that offers beer, wine and an extended menu of ceviche and shave ice. The city might be far from the ocean, but it is now abundant with excellent fish.
Go to: Poke-Poke
South Park Brewing Co., San Diego
This San Diego brewpub specializes in award-winning beer and high-quality pub grub. It foregoes the usual meat-heavy pub menu in favor of light, refreshing seafood, though the kitchen does grill an excellent classic burger. One of the most-popular menu picks is the made-to-order poke. The place offers two different versions, ahi tuna and Scottish salmon, each available regular or spicy. Both come with red and yellow peppers, avocado, cucumbers, green onions and cilantro, all tossed together in a housemade poke sauce, finished with sesame seeds and a squeeze of lime, with chips on the side.
Go to: South Park Brewing Co.
Hula Girl Bar and Grill, Arlington, Va.
What started as a food truck doling out Spam Musubi and other island specialties back in 2011 has since transformed into a full-fledged brick-and-mortar restaurant. Hawaii native Mikala Brennan opened the doors to the D.C. area’s first Hawaiian restaurant in 2015. There, she serves her own twists on the traditional cuisine of her home state, including three prime examples of poke: traditional ahi tuna served on its own or in a bowl with rice and vegetables; a bright salt-cured salmon “lomi”; and a savory, citrusy wood-grilled octopus “tako” poke. For those who just can’t decide which one to try, Brennan offers a poke sampler with all three.
Go to: Hula Girl Bar and Grill
Like Poke…?, Maui, Hawaii
This Maui food truck has been dishing out flavorful bowls of poke since 2009. Chef-Owner Danny Kalahiki offers a handful of variations, flavored with different proprietary sauces: shoyu ginger, shoyu wasabi, spicy, Hawaiian and gluten-free Hawaiian. The sauces and seasonings are great, but the fish and its cut are what makes Kalahiki’s poke truly stand out. Kalahiki slices fresh-caught tuna into extra-large cubes so diners can really taste the superb fish. Those jewel-toned hunks of tuna are then tossed with spicy watercress, red onions, poke seasoning and diners’ choice of sauce. The fish salads are so good and so tender that before poke aficionado Guy Fieri even took a bite on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, he said, “It started to melt.”
Go to: Like Poke
The Honey Paw, Portland, Maine
A James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, The Honey Paw has racked up numerous accolades for its ultramodern takes on Asian classics. Owned and operated by the folks behind acclaimed seafood spot Eventide Oyster Co., it also serves outstanding seafood on its frequently changing menu. The rotating poke is splendid, and can include fish such as scallop or hamachi. During melon season, it could be octopus poke with local sweet onions, scallion, heirloom cucumbers, watermelon and pickled local seaweed, tossed in a dressing made from melon pulp, sesame, soy, chiles and lime. For some added crunch, it’s topped with puffed nori rice crackers.
Go to: The Honey Paw
Hand + Foot, Corning, N.Y.
This vintage-chic bistro is set in the midst of bustling Market Street in Corning, New York. (Fun fact: The town is the home base of Corning Incorporated, the company that makes CorningWare and Pyrex.) The restaurant is a favorite among local trendsetters and professionals looking for a place to relax. It serves a global array of dishes, including oyster po’ boy, banh mi, fried rice and tostones. It also makes a seriously delectable poke. Hunks of seared ahi tuna are flavored with an umami-rich sesame-soy vinaigrette and combined with tropical ingredients including avocado, macadamia nut, toasted coconut and jalapeno. It’s served in a bowl lined with rice crackers.
Photo courtesy of Alexandra Elise Photography
Go to: Hand + Foot
Jus’ Poke, Redondo Beach, Calif.
Stefanie Honda’s concept for Jus’ Poke is pretty simple: just poke made from time-honored family recipes with many ingredients flown in from Hawaii, including high-quality ogo seaweed from Kona. The concept started with Honda’s father’s original poke recipe, but has expanded to include six different premarinated poke options: original, spicy, shoyu, wasabi, tofu and the California Roll, with avocado and cucumber. The shoyu and mayo-Sriracha-infused spicy blends are the top picks. A regular-size bowl includes white or brown rice, choice of poke (customers can pick more than one) and a side. Aunty’s pickled cucumbers and seaweed salad are the best-selling accompaniments.
Go to: Jus’ Poke
Prime Fish, Miami Beach
This glam “seafood shack” in Miami Beach’s SoFi neighborhood is known for its extensive selection of treats from the sea, ranging from casual fried-clam strips to regal Petrossian caviar. It was one of the first places to introduce poke to South Floridians. Executive Chef Todd Zimmer serves three types of poke. Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna is made from prime cuts (hence the restaurant’s name) of sushi-grade fish flown in fresh from Honolulu. He dresses it in soy sauce, water and sesame oil, and places it over cucumber and pickled ginger, before sprinkling the pile with toasted macadamia nuts and avocado. Wild Salmon “Lomi Lomi” comes with Maui onion, Big Island palm hearts, heirloom tomato and wasabi peas. The Southeast Asian-inspired Hamachi is combined with green papaya, palm sugar, lime chiles, cilantro and toasted peanuts.
Go to: Prime Fish
Brooklyn has a bit of everything: Caribbean restaurants, Lebanese bakeries, Italian pizzerias, Nordic tasting menus, and farm-to-table spots full of reclaimed wood and Mason jar cups. The borough even has its own Chinatown. And yes, one can find authentic Hawaiian fare, as well. A Big Island native, owner Crystalyn Costa, has brought her family recipes to adoring Williamsburg crowds. Her restaurant features a wide array of island specialties including lots of Spam and one fine poke appetizer. This version is Costa’s take on shoyu ahi poke. High-grade tuna is tossed in a sesame and soy blend, laced with white and green onions plus sesame seeds, and topped with furikake seaweed seasoning. There’s no rice or salad underneath — just a round of flavorful fish that tastes like Hawaii.
Go to: Onomea
Fresh Catch, Oahu, Hawaii
From a very young age, Reno Henriques aspired to open a traditional, island-style seafood and meat deli. Fortunately for his growing fan base, Henriques realized his ambition with multiple locations of Fresh Catch, a favorite among locals and visitors looking to sate a poke craving. The place offers more than 30 variations of the traditional Hawaiian dish. Top picks include fireball ahi tuna with a creamy sauce and spicy smoked octopus topped with tobiko. When Guy Fieri visited the spot on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, he went for the ahi poke with limu seaweed, flavored with green and white onion, sesame and local sea salt, chile pepper and kukui nut.
Go to: Fresh Catch