Sushi was once considered unimaginable to most Americans—who in their right mind would want to eat raw fish?—but similar to how sushi made its way into the mainstream, poke is following in its footsteps decades later.
Poke, a diced raw fish specialty, originates from Hawaii. Traditionally, it’s made using fresh, uncooked ahi tuna, combined with sea salt, seaweed, and roasted and crushed kukui nut. In Hawaii, it’s long been sold by the pound from deli counters just like potato salad or tubs of olives, and is popular at picnics and at parties, where it’s often served as part of a “mixed plate,” or larger plate lunch of Hawaiian food.
Starting around 2015, poke became increasingly available across the continental United States as poke-focused chains began to spring up nationwide. Poke was sold by the scoop before being served over a bed of rice and/or salad greens. In its newer format, poke resided at the intersection of sushi, rice bowls, and salad. Adding to its appeal, these poke bowls were customizable for each customer and generally priced more affordably than sushi.
For Los Angeles folks, there is always a high demand for health-conscious meals - not only are poke bowls nutritious but they are also quick and convenient. As you can imagine, this led to the trend that has now long surpassed 2015.
In 2017, The Hollywood Reporter reported a tenfold increase in poke establishments over two years. Market research firm Datassential observed the term “poke bowl” had grown by 167 percent on menus from 2015-2019, and predicted poke would continue to grow another 47 percent on menus overall by 2023. Another chain, Aloha Poke, has announced plans to open 100 new outlets by 2022.
While the early boom of poke shops has seen some busts with the exit of chains like FireFin and Freestyle Poke, today poke is well on its way to becoming as commonplace as supermarket sushi. In addition to being made with all kinds of seafood, there are also vegetarian and vegan versions of poke made with ingredients such as tofu or beets.
We most commonly see poke restaurants serve a build-your-own bowl type of experience. Customers choose a base, which type of poke you want, and add all your favorite toppings like cucumber or edamame. Instagram-friendly, fast, fresh, healthy and relatively inexpensive, it’s as if poke was destined to be a hit.
Here are just a few places where you can get poke in Los Angeles: