Before every major U.S. city got a poke spot, sushi-grade raw-fish bowls were how Hawaiians refueled after any beach day. In Honolulu, poke is on every corner, as easy to find at hip spots like Mahina & Sun’s as it is to devour at supermarkets and even gas stations. On the island of Oahu, locals have prepared poke—which means “to cut crosswise” in Hawaiian—since at least the 1700s; more recently, Asian immigrants made their mark by adding soy sauce, sesame oil, and other seasonings. But unlike Chipotle-style chains popping up stateside, poke is simpler in its place of origin, more elemental. These bowls could teach the mainland a thing or two.
Order Like a Local
Different from the build-your-own-bowls, Hawaiian poke is often just raw tuna, salmon, or other seafood coated in sauce, rice optional. While seasonings change from spot to spot, these four varieties show up often. Select a style, grab chopsticks, and you’re good to go.
Just seafood sauced in a creamy Sriracha mayo. You’ll often see it sprinkled with green onion, sesame, and masago (fish roe).
Named for the way islanders regularly season their raw seafood, it includes pink sea salt, limu seaweed, and crushed, oily toasted kukui nuts.
Similar to the flavors of Korean kalbi, this sauce combines ginger, garlic, green onions, soy sauce, and sesame for a hit of umami.
Tender sliced octopus—which is commonly fished here—is lightly dressed in sesame seeds, pepper flakes, and raw green onion.
In Praise of Grocery Poke
Ask a Hawaiian about her favorite poke spot and chances are she’ll respond with a name
you’ve heard before: Costco! (Or Foodland or Safeway, the two other main supermarkets.) But that’s nothing to scoff at. In this town, poke is so popular that most grocers have their own deli counters stocked with multiple varieties, from sweet chile ahi to garlic shrimp, with different locations competing over secret sauces. The best part: It’s all sold by the pound, so there’s no reason not to fill up a plastic container to take to the beach.
Slayed, Weighed, and Filleted
Many restaurants send a buyer to the Honolulu Fish Auction, but then there’s Josh Schade and Erika Luna, who leave their tiny strip-mall shop, Ahi Assassins, to go fishing three days a week. They sell whatever they’ve caught as fresh fillets, smoked marlin dip, and, of course, poke. Schade—a third-generation fisherman from Kahalu’u—can often be found in the back slicing and building bowls from a 100-pound tuna he caught himself off the Oahu coast.
That Only-On-This-Island Bounty
The regional ingredients you probably won’t find at your main(land) spot.
A spongy seaweed that gives poke an intense briny flavor, it’s a little bit oniony with a crunchy texture that pops in your mouth.
A seasoning made from salt and roasted kukui nut, which is native to Southeast Asia and
Hawaii. It’s pleasantly buttery, like a macadamia nut.
This small mollusk is harvested from the rocky shores of the state and has a subtle chewiness akin to littleneck clams—with a sharper bite and more salinity.
Chile Pepper Water
A condiment made of vinegar, garlic, water, salt, and local hot peppers. It’s got the kick of Tabasco with a cleaner finish and a thinner consistency.
Make the Journey Up North
Even when you live in paradise, it’s important to get out to “the country” every once in a while. In Honolulu that means you’re headed up to the North Shore, an hour’s drive from Waikiki Beach. Unlike downtown, it’s covered in dense rainforest-like foliage, with tucked-away beaches that are justifiably famous for incredible surfing. Take a car up the coast to catch a few waves and hit the area’s many food trucks—especially Aji Limo Truck—most of which are just off the shoreline.
Order This: Aji Limo Thai Poke
This truck takes global influences to new heights, mixing Peruvian, Japanese, and Thai tastes into one very scarfable bowl.
While ahi is the go-to in these parts, fatty salmon better complements the bright, acidic fruit and rice.
Steamed white is standard, but the truck opts for seasoned sushi rice that has a vinegary tang to balance the fish.
Tangy fresh mango strips and crunchy toasted coconut contrast with the softer cubes of salmon. Cilantro in place of the usual green and white onion brings a citrusy note.
In addition to the toasted coconut sprinkled over the whole thing, seasoned coconut milk adds lushness.
Bowling Your Way Around Honolulu
Seven spots in the capital that’ll show you what poke is really all about.
Ahi Poke at MW Restaurant
For a casual lunch, chunks of succulent tuna get paired with spicy Korean pickles, crispy mochi balls, and cucumber-studded quinoa.
Fried Soft-Shell Crab Poke at Da Hawaiian Poke Co.
The piping-hot crustacean has been fried to order. It’s served with extras like kimchi cucumbers and potato salad; try it with a side of seaweed.
Aku Limu Poke at Tamashiro Market
Aku, a fattier alternative to traditional ahi, is crowned with limu seaweed at this seafood market. Every bite tastes like the ocean!
Hamachi Poke at Tamura’s Wine & Liquors
This liquor store is as beloved for its take-out poke counter as its unrivaled booze selection. Pair this yellowtail with a Longboard lager.
Abalone Poke with Pork at Alicia’s Market
Plate lunches are popular here, but few can compete with a scoop of rich abalone over white rice and a helping of char siu pork.
Ahi Poke with Opihi at Helena’s Hawaiian Food
The beet-red ahi is tops, but it’s got nothing on the opihi—that salty mollusk, a delicacy—beneath limu seaweed and green onion.
Miso Tako Poke at Ono Seafood
They serve classics at this hopping hole-in-the-wall, but the tender octopus coated in a creamy miso-ginger sauce is why you’re here.