Hawaiian poke is having a moment.
Light. Delicious. Healthy. Its timing could not be any better.
Because a proper bowl of poke (pronounced poh-kay) looks like something out of coastal summer dream: heaping cubes of raw fish complemented in both color and taste by all manner of fresh veggies, sauce and spice.
In Hawaii, it’s served everywhere, from gas stations to supermarkets. Traditionally, you’re looking at tuna marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce and then topped with seaweed and chopped kukui nuts, all packed into a plastic container for optimal on-the-go eating.
So what’s it doing on the mainland? It’s approachable, for one. Think deconstructed sushi over rice. It also speaks to our fair city’s growing fixation with healthy, made-to-order meals in bowls.
Oh, and it’s pretty.
Below, three local boites serving up what can best be described as the umami of summer. Get some.
Aloha Poke Company
What’s that stall at the French Market with the impossibly long line snaking around the corner? Aloha Poke Co., that’s what. You’ve got two routes to choose from: one of their three in-house creations (the Tobiko is our go-to), or build your own bowl from ahi tuna, salmon or tofu with 12 toppings and seven sauces atop rice or greens. “When I first started, my friends thought I was a little wild for bringing this seafood concept to such a meat-and-potatoes town,” says owner Zach Friedlander. You need new friends, Mr. Friedlander. Expect two more locales in the near future.
FireFin Poké Shop
The first freestanding poke shop in Chicago, this fast-casual Loop spot from the same crew who brought you Furious Spoon aims to “showcase how versatile the styles of poke can be,” says partner Rodelio Aglibot, who grew up in Hawaii. Menu here, and here’s the drill: pick from 8-10 preset bowls or customize your base, protein, sauce and garnishes. Early favorites: Tuna on Fire (ahi tuna cubes, avocado, cukes and fire sauce) and the Cali Crab (fresh snow crab, avocado and honey mayo — an ode to the California roll).
This breezy bi-level awash in beachy pastels and steel drum-heavy tunes brings plenty of aloha vibes to the former Bom Bolla space in Wicker Park. Poke here come in the plated variety and comprise a tiny portion of the Hawaii-California fusion menu. The Spicy Tuna poke is best paired with the house Mai Tai, and did we mention a rooftop deck? It's a looker. Says owner Brad Parker: “We want you to walk in, forget and have fun. Because that’s what happens when you’re on vacation.”