Now that 2015 is almost over, we can look back at some of the year’s biggest food trends and consider their importance. This much we know: Few of those trends were of the same scale as the explosion of poké, the Hawaiian-inspired diced raw fish bowl that swept across L.A. over the past year.
What was once limited to South Bay diners and delis has spread like wildfire to varied neighborhoods. With so many options — from chef-affiliated restaurants to beach take-out windows — it’s hard to know which poké purveyors are elevating this surfer snack to a higher existence and which are just cashing in on a trend. We’ve compiled 10 of our favorites below, but don’t be surprised to find more on the horizon soon.
10. Snociety Urban Eatery
Part tea house, part shaved ice shop and part poké bar, the oddly named Snociety in Little Tokyo has a hand in all the current Asian food trends. Its most popular seller is, of course, poké, many varieties of which are topped with unusual ingredients like marinated spicy mango and creamy garlic sauce. These bowls stray greatly from tradition but somehow manage to work (the signature bowl resembles Thai papaya salad crossed with Mexican fruit salad). Portions are ample, too, which sweetens the deal. 330 E. Second St., Little Tokyo; (213) 265-7879.
Many new-wave poké places have adopted what’s been dubbed the “Chipotle model,” an assembly-line process where you choose different, sometimes overwhelming topping combinations. PokiNometry, an Anaheim import that opened earlier this year on the third floor of the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, probably has the most streamlined setup. Pick a protein (yellowtail, tuna, salmon, scallop, etc.), choose between miso or spicy mayo sauce, and then load up on included toppings such as cucumber, avocado and imitation crab. The simplified ordering system makes escaping the tourist-packed mall with lunch in hand (slightly) more bearable. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 645-7730, pokinometry.com.
There’s no standing in line or figuring out topping combos at OkiPoki. This minimalist poké counter downtown serves elegant, pre-designed bowls that are destined for Instagram. With punny names like the Coco Bae (scallops, coconut lime, kaffir oil and serrano chile) and Stop, Hama Time (hamachi, citrus soy, edamame, watermelon radish), the combinations are fun if a little more expensive than the ones at the build-your-own shops. It’s the high-quality seafood, including a $7 uni add-on, that makes OkiPoki worth a visit. 507 S. Spring St., downtown; (213) 628-3378, okipoki.co.
7. Mainland Poké
Located on the West Third Street corridor amid boutiques and fancy cafés, Mainland Poké is an upmarket shop popular among the Pilates and power-lunch set. Fish is drizzled with sauce rather than marinated, meaning the freshness and quality of the sashimi is always front and center. Kale and avocado are popular additions, naturally, but the glossy, deep red cuts of ahi tuna are probably best with a coat of wasabi cream and crushed pink Hawaiian sea salt. 8318½ W. Third St., West Los Angeles; (323) 452-9904, mainlandpoke.com.
Pastry chef John Park, who runs the popular Burbank dessert shop Quenelle, flipped his Alhambra gourmet popsicle shop into a poké restaurant this year, effectively swapping one food trend for another. The unique elements at PokeStuf are custom-created sauces, which range from miso honey to edamame pesto. Toppings are mostly standard, but we do like the ability to throw things like chewy rice cakes and kukui nuts into the mix. 401 W. Main St., Alhambra; facebook.com/pokestuf.
Long before anyone considered poké a trend, Trisha Fortuna and Jason McVearry turned a take-out window along the Venice Boardwalk into a hidden gem that supplied beachgoers with the perfect food for strolling in the sand. Poké-Poké ditches the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach at many poké shops and sticks to traditional Hawaiian recipes. The original, made with ruby red tuna, shoyu, sesame seeds and two types of onion, needs no embellishment. 1827 Ocean Front Walk, Venice; (424) 228-5132, poke-poke.com.
4. Ohana Poké Co.
Another chef who caught wind of the coming poké-pocalypse, Eric Park turned both his Silver Lake gastropub and DTLA Vietnamese sandwich shop into outlets of Ohana Poké Co., which serves sashimi-grade, sustainably sourced bowls topped with lots of delicious crispy things (wasabi peas, furikake, fresh scallion) on a foundation of vinegar-seasoned heirloom sushi rice. Added bonus: You can order seaweed-wrapped Spam musubi rolls to round out your meal. 2852 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 741-8211. 130 E. Sixth St., downtown; (213) 265-7561. ohanapokeco.com.
3. Poké Etc.
Poké Etc. began as a small deli run out of the back of a Filipino market in Carson, but owner Ofelia Shively has expanded to two Long Beach locations. A handful of poké flavors is lined up in a glass case and sold by the pound: oyster sauce, wasabi, coconut milk, kimchi, spicy and limu, a type of briny seaweed. If you crave simple, flavorful poké such as you’d find at Honolulu grocery counters, this is your place. The counter staff will let you sample toothpick tastes of each before you buy, or you can opt for some of the other Hawaiian foods on the menu such as kalua pork and lau lau. 860 E. Carson St., or 1420 W. Willow St.; (562) 426-8717. 2292 Carson St., Long Beach; (562) 988-8488.
2. Jus’ Poké
A few years ago, South Bay native Stefanie Honda took over a Redondo Beach doughnut shop and, with the help of co-owner Jeff Snow, began serving her Hawaiian father’s original poké recipe using fish sourced from Santa Monica Seafood and toppings imported from the islands. The result was a smash hit with locals and still manages to draw long lines. The menu is simple; the biggest decision you’ll face is choosing a side to go alongside your rice and fish. 501 N. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach; (310) 379-1133, juspoke.com.
1. Sweetfin Poké
With its gorgeous blonde wood interior, celebrity chef affiliation (Top Chef alum Dakota Weiss) and stylish clientele, this Santa Monica poké restaurant would be as much at home in the pages of Vogue as Bon Appetit. It’s not all about looks, though. Sweetfin takes the topping game to another level with additions such as wasabi-toasted coconut, pickled shiitake mushrooms and blistered shishito peppers. There’s usually a chef's special on the board, which might include seasonal flourishes like pomegranate ponzu or shaved black radish. Prices are a touch higher than most, but what you receive feels and tastes like it was designed by a chef, rather than tossed together via checklist. 829 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 395-1097, sweetfinpoke.com.