While even poke stalwart Sam Choy isn’t sure of poke’s exact origin, it's apparent that the current form of Japanese-influenced poke became pervasive throughout the “grindz” culture in the 1970s. Since then (and even more so since President Obama’s win), poke — a Hawaiian seasoned raw tuna salad — has become one of the go-to island food memories for mainlanders. During a hot, summer day, a bowl of poke, whether eaten solo or accompanied by rice, brings out the snorkeler in everyone . Here are 3 newish — and one that's been around for a while — L.A. restaurants for fresh poke.
4. Seasalt Fish Grill
Seasalt Fish Grill’s new branch in Downtown opened with poke on the menu — and the dish was so popular it was immediately introduced to Seasalt’s original Santa Monica branch. The poke here is sesame soyed ahi (sourced daily under the guidelines of Long Beach Aquarium’s “seafood of the future” program), tossed with sesame seeds and green onions. It’s available with tortilla chips, on top of a salad, or by the pound. Restaurateur Jimmy Jang says the the Peruvian ceviche has also been a hit, and there’s absolutely no “secret ingredient” in the poke recipe; we say he’s simply bringing Hawaiian dreams to the cubicles drones of downtown Los Angeles. 508 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; 213-944-6631. 812 W. 7th St.; Los Angeles; 213-243-5700.
3. Poke Etc.
Ofelia Shively, who has lived in Juno and Hawaii, runs a distinct poke deli from the back of a mixed-use Filipino market/cell phone store/notary. Five flavors of poke: oyster sauce, wasabi, kimchee, spicy and limu, are sold a la carte here for $13 a pound, seven varieties if the tako and salmon are also included. A poke bowl with nearly half a pound of poke (of one’s choosing) is $6.95. The kimchi poke, with tuna chunks the size of Duplo, seems to be the most balanced, as the shoyu-based poke trends salty. The limukohu tuna poke is the closest to the Hawaiian style, as it is made with sesame oil, soy sauce, white onion, seaweed, green onion and a generous pinch of white sesame. While waiting for the poke bowl, it's also possible to order a side of dinuguan and send peso remittane to Philippines for a low fee from businesses within Angelito’s Market, in which Poke Etc. resides. 860 E. Carson Ave., Carson; 310-847-5520.
2. Jus Poke
Stefanie Honda took her Hawaiian father’s original poke recipe and applied a stringent sourcing practice to create a memorable homage to her culinary roots at Jus Poke. In addition to the original sea salt poke, the shoyu, and the spicy (mayo-Sriracha) poke are also available. The latter two are the top two sellers at this new shop. The tuna is sourced from Santa Monica Seafood and co-owner Jeff Snow believes the ogo seaweed from Kona really sets Jus Poke apart. (A pound of poke, made daily, is $19.) The family-operated restaurant is closed on Tuesdays so Honda and Snow can properly instill the island (and Redondon Beach surfer) spirit in their newborn as well as their 6-year old. Salmon as well as octopus poke should be coming out in a few months. 501 N Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach; 310-379-1133.
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1. Fish King
The 66-year old fish Glendale purveyor and seafood larder has served poke on and off for years. Recently, it has become a staple in the chilled fish cases next to the mixed ceviche. The dish here is simple: light soy sauce, cilantro, seaweed, wasabi sesame seeds, sesame oil and ahi. The result is a mild and refreshing seafood mixture that is decidedly perfect with readily available rice from onsite galley. Unfortunately, despite Fish King’s maturity, it still does not have an alcohol consumption license. It does, however, have house-made pickled herring with cream sauce, also available at the fishmonger’s station. Just go early and beat the lunch rush, as the waiting throng is mercilessly hungry. 722 N. Glendale Ave., Glendale; 818-244-0804.
Want more island flavor? Check out our list of where to get great Piña Coladas.