Poke is having a moment. The Hawaiian specialty has been appearing throughout Los Angeles within the last year. It's safe to say that it's a growing trend. Whether or not it'll last is doubtful, but so far, it has been a huge hit.
Poke, pronouced poh-khay, is the Hawaiian word for "to chop" or "to cut crosswise." At its earliest form, it was simply pieces of raw fish and seaweed flavored with a relish made of roasted kukui nuts and pa'akai (fresh salt). It was a dish rarely seen outside the homes of fishermen and only started to gain wider popularity during the 21st century. The dish began evolving with the help of Japanese and mainland America influences. Red chilies and raw onions were added. Soy sauce, sesame oil, furikake, ginger, and garlic were also thrown in for good measure.
"In Hawaii it's usually eaten as an appetizer," chef Jay Terauchi of PokeMix says. "These days, it's evolved to become a main attraction."
In Los Angeles, poke places are most commonly DIY affairs. Patrons get to pick exactly what goes in their bowl. Though rice and salad greens aren't traditional per se, most of these places have those option anyway. It's hard for raw fish aficionados not to love these bowls. You can even argue that it's healthy. Here's a guide:
Sweetfin Poke graced Santa Monica in December and is well-received by the locals for its attention to quality and conscientiousness toward the inevitable pescetarian, gluten-free, and even vegetarian crowd. The bases include bamboo rice (a short grain rice milled with bamboo juice), kelp noodles with cucumbers, or a citrus kale salad. Fish is standard (salmon, snapper, tuna, albacore) and toppings range from coconut flakes to pickled shiitake mushrooms. 829 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401; (310) 395-1097.
Mainland Poke Shop
Fronted by chef Kayson Chong, Mainland opened in April on 3rd Street to cheers and lines of locals and those looking fish-centric lunch options. They have a wonderful variety of toppings like avocado, coconut sauce, mango, seaweed, and tobiko (fish roe). Luckily for the indecisive folks, they have suggested combinations that you can choose without breaking a sweat. The Lu'au, for example, is a mix of tuna, seaweed, chili flakes, and shoyu; or simply go for the So Cali, which is salmon, avocado, jalapeños, sweet onions, and Sriracha aioli. Wash it all down with their refreshing mint limeade. 8318 1/2 W 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90048; (323) 452-9904.
Poke N Roll
Poke N Roll is Glendale's poke darling. You choose two types of fish, three sides, and one sauce. It gets cramped in here, but most people are ordering takeout anyway. Unique items here: the unagi, salmon skin, and escolar. 413 S. Central Ave., Glendale, CA 91204; (818) 265-3839.
Poke Etc. has two locations: one in Carson, the other in Long Beach. The poke is divided into flavors. Among the variations: shoyu, oyster sauce, spicy, kimchee, wasabi, seaweed, octopus, salmon, coconut milk, and mussels. It's refreshingly simple here and the owner, Ofelia Shively, who is a native of Hawaii, can also been seen making other island comfort food items like kalua pork (pork with cabbage and onions) and lau lau (steamed pork wrapped in taro leaves). 2292 Carson St., Long Beach, CA 90807; (562) 988-8488.
MYO stands for "make your own" and those three words sum up the restaurant concept perfectly. How it works: you select one protein, three other ingredients, and a sauce. If you're overwhelmed, just go with their pre-set selections. I recommend the sashimi bowl with cucumber, shredded cabbage, avocado, and poke dressing. It comes on a platter with sweet potato tempura, a small handful of salad with seaweed, and a miso soup. 3648 Nogales St., West Covina, CA 91792; (626) 810-5788.
Spinfish Poke House
Yes, you build your own bowl here, but Spinfish has a grid of nine flavor combinations to pick from if it all gets too overwhelming. The Sweet Heat (crispy onion, masago, green onion, and sweet onion) is a lovely option if you like contrasting flavor profiles, and you can never go wrong with the Aloha 808, which is a seaweed, sea salt, chilis, green onions, and sweet onions. Their grand opening was in April and already it's been a huge hit with the Pasadena crowd. If you're lucky, you might find their Spinfish nachos available, which is made with a glorious combination of spicy tuna, guacamole, crab meat, and furikake. 36 W. Colorado Blvd. Suite 7, Pasadena, CA 91105; (626) 585-0988.
PokeMix by Flour + Tea
PokeMix is all about the build-your-own concept and have three different sizes. They have scallops and sweet shrimp, and you get a choice of either salad or rice. There's plenty of seating here and one of the main draws here is that they have the best selection of drinks out of all the other poke places in town. This makes sense. Flour + Tea, after all, started off as a boba tea specialty shop. 99 S Lake Ave., Ste 102, Pasadena, CA 91101; (626) 345-5585.
Poke - Poke
This poke shack has prime real estate -- they're located right off the beach on the boardwalk. You order at their window and can get it while you stroll alongside the beach. They have different variations written on their chalkboard daily, as well as a generous handful of vegetarian ones (think acai bowls and edamame-based ones). Good news for locals: you can bypass the crazy lines and order online. 1827 Ocean Front Walk,
Venice, CA 90291; (424) 228-5132.
Located in Redondo Beach, Jus' Poke has several options to choose from: original, spicy, shoyu, wasabi, and California roll. Located in a former donut shop, this restaurant is consistently flooded with patrons around mealtime. It's no wonder why -- they pack their containers to the brim. Everything is served with a choice of brown or white rice. 501 N. Pacific Coast Hwy, Redondo Beach, CA 90277; (310) 379-1133.
Big Daddy's Poke Shack
Big Daddy's in Venice is known for their diversity in toppings. They do macadamia nuts, kimchi, pistachios, fennel, and watermelon radish for garnishes. They also have acai bowls for those craving something sweet and of course, a veggie kale bowl for the vegetarians. Ordering can be achieved online, which is a definite relief for folks who don't want to suffer through the lines. 79 Windward Ave., Venice, CA 90291; (310) 804-5734.