Poke and poke bowls have become a popular dish around the United States and chances are, you may have tried it in your home town. But do you know where this delicious dish originated? You may be surprised to learn that poke actually comes from Hawaii. Poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish made of fresh fish, usually ahi (tuna), limu (seaweed), inamona or kukui nut (candlenut) and sea salt. From its original form, poke has evolved into a local “must have” at every social event, celebration or gathering. Poke, once thought of as a pupu or appetizer, is now commonly eaten as a meal in the form of a Poke bowl — fresh poke on a bed of hot steamed rice or on a fresh crisp salad. For those of you who have never tried it, there’s no better place to get it than here in the islands.
We’ve put together a list of our favorite local food eateries which include our top poke spots.
Located at 1111 Bishop St. Suite 116
Fresh from the boat to your bowl, Aloha Poke Shop makes your poke fresh upon ordering using the best locally sourced products. Their locally sourced tuna, marlin, ono and other pelagic fishes are fresh, never frozen, and will not be treated with carbon monoxide, tasteless smoke or other preservatives to mask its true quality.
Located at 1240 N School St.
If you’re only going to one spot for traditional Hawaiian food, make it Helena’s. Helena’s won a James Beard America’s Classics award in 2000, but locals have been lining up since 1946. New to Hawaiian food? Try the Set Menu D: which comes with kalua pig, lomi salmon, pipikaula (air-dried, juicy short ribs, quickly fried for crunch), and squid lū’au (a savory dish of squid and young taro leaves coconut in coconut milk) and poi (pounded taro, eaten as a primary starch) or rice. Due to its popularity, the line to get into the restaurant can be very long and if that’s the case order takeout. There’s nothing like laulau and rice in the comfort of your own home or hotel room.
Located at 1120 Maunakea St.
Pho 97 has an extensive menu which can make ordering your first meal there a challenge. We suggest the bun rieu soup — hearty and generous with delicate crab cakes and cubes of pig’s blood; com tam (broken rice) combo with barbecue pork, steamed egg, vermicelli cake, shredded pork-pig ears, and a fried egg; and finally, any of their pho dishes are just incredible.
Located around the Island.
Plate lunches (main entrée a scoop of rice and side salad) are HUGE in Hawaii and in the early years, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue was known for their fresh plate lunches. In late 1999, their founders – Johnson Kam and Eddie Flores, Jr. – introduced their restaurant to residents of California. Since then, the chain has found fans around the world with L&L restaurants in Hawaii, California, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Texas, New York, Tennessee, Guam and Japan. In addition to the fresh, culturally-commingling flavors of Hawaii, every L&L meal is infused with the warmth of aloha – the legendary spirit of welcome that makes every guest feel at home.
Artizen is casual downtown offshoot of the MW Restaurant (another favorite) is worth a visit for the desserts alone. The savory dishes change daily, but regulars have their favorite bentos and plate lunches. The coconut cake and chocolate are superb classics amped up with intensity and precision.
Located at 1269 S King St.
Kyung’s is a local favorite located in downtown Honolulu. Its dinner menu is perfect for a night of good company coupled with seafood and spicy Korean food. Share the large sashimi platter with a group of friends and add on a few hot dishes and a pitcher of strawberry soju slush, and call it a night. Kyung’s also make great poke (especially the salmon-‘ahi mix).
Located at 515 N Kuakini St.
Try the classic Hawaiian dessert, Coco Puffs from Liliha Bakery. Each one is made of three parts: choux pastry, chocolate pudding, and chantilly (while chantilly usually means whipped cream, in Hawaii it often refers to a frosting made from whipped butter, egg yolks, and sugar). Liliha Bakery also doubles as a legendary diner. Dine in and order the crisp waffles and the butter roll.
Located at 1329 S King St
Packed nightly make reservations a must at Gaku, a classic izakaya with a cult following. Gaku is a casual place, but meals can add up quickly especially with sake involved. We suggest ordering the negitoro tartare (with masago, ponzu, green onions, and a raw quail egg), the uni and ikura shooters topped with shoyu jelly, and the house-made tofu.
Located at 2135 Waiola St.
There are many shave ice spots to choose from, but we can’t help coming back to Waiola, mostly for the nostalgia and the affordability. For only $3 you get a large cone or cup with up to three flavors and there is an enormous selection of flavors — don’t leave town without trying the li hing mui (salty dried plum) or pickled mango.
Located at 933 Kapahulu Ave.
Everyone agrees that a hot-from-the-fryer malassada at Leonard’s is an iconic Honolulu experience. The glorious deep-fried dough tends to be on the eggy side, moist with a perfectly golden exterior and just enough sugar. They come plain, dusted with li hing mui, or cinnamon sugar. The malassada puffs are another great option— those come stuffed with custard, haupia (a cross between coconut milk pudding and jelly), or dobash (chocolate) pudding.
Located at 933 Kapahulu Ave.