Poke (“poh-kay”) means “to slice or cut into pieces,” which is how early Polynesian voyagers prepared the raw fish they caught to sustain them on their journeys to the islands. Today, traditional poke preparation usually includes a marinade of sesame oil, shoyu (the local word for soy sauce), diced onions, seaweed and a sprinkle of chopped kukui nuts, but you can find a dazzling array of seafoods as its base, or even tofu or veggies. Spicy versions may use kim chee or chile-pepper-spiked mayonnaise to kick it up a notch, while avocado can add a creamy touch. Here are our favorite places to savor poke in Waikiki.
But wait, there’s more. We’re here to help demystify some of the unusual words you might see on menus like furikake, laulau and lilikoi — and explain which meat is being served and why. And possibly most importantly of all, provide the fun facts on the origins of local dishes.
If you’re happy with your meal, tag us @HawaiiIslander on Instagram to share the love.
Featured Photo: Poke Bar
Barefoot Beach Cafe
Located at Queen’s Surf Beach, on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki, Barefoot Beach Cafe is an ideal spot to watch the surfers while you chow down. This family-owned and -operated cafe appears to be a snack bar but don’t be fooled. They are whipping up delicious and refreshing dishes, including poke, and offer some of the best views in Waikiki. Open daily 8am to 9pm.
Fish Hook Cafe
Tucked into the Luana Waikiki Hotel & Suites, this bright new jewel box for poke and other home-style breakfast and lunch fare has just 16 seats and an open kitchen. If you can’t nab a spot, get one of the beautifully prepared poke bowls to go. Fish Hook Cafe is open daily from 7am to 2pm.
You can also get sushi, sashimi and other Japanese dishes at this restaurant in the Pearl Waikiki hotel, but you’d be missing out on some particularly delicious fresh poke. Try some with unique twists such as ume (Japanese plum) and shiso leaf. Maguro Brothers is open Monday through Saturday 8am to 3pm and are happy to serve you. Closed on Sunday.
Though technically outside of Waikiki, on the bustling mom-and-pop strip of Kapahulu Avenue, Ono Seafood is close enough and good enough to merit the long walk or short drive. Fresh ahi, salmon and tako (octopus) poke and poke bowls are the main and very memorable event. Open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 4pm. Closed Sunday and Monday.
The founders may have gotten their start with a sushi bar in Southern California, but the Waikiki Poke Bar spot fits right in to the local poke scene with sushi-quality seafood. The build-your-own bowl concept may produce some puzzling combinations to aficionados (hold the pineapple or corn, please!) but the basic proteins (salmon, tuna and tofu among them) and savory sauces like wasabi shoyu or sriracha are top-notch. Open daily 11am to 10pm.