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Fresh raw fish fans can find poke, Hawaii’s traditional dish, in eateries all over town.
Poke, which means to slice or cut, is a simple Hawaiian dish, traditionally made with chunks of raw tuna, seaweed and salt. But the everyday Hawaiian staple has evolved, with new incarnations popping up all over San Diego. The popularity of poke (pronounced poh-keh) can also be seen with the success of the I Love Poke San Diego Festival launched several years ago by Nino “Neens” Camilo. “This event was created as our way of doing a backyard barbecue Hawaiian-style at the Bali Hai right on the water. We’ve become one big family; chefs participate in this festival because it’s fun and there’s a good vibe,” explains Nino.
Always fresh, poke can be sold-by-the-scoop at deli counters or found as an upscale appetizer at highbrow restaurants. According to Neens, different cultures have influenced the dish. “Californians added the avocados; Asians the wonton chips, wasabi, soy sauce and more. In Hawaii, poke always comes with rice—serving it without rice is the equivalent of serving an American hot dog without the bun,” adds Nino.
Poke’s “new skool” is a diverse landscape with poke-inspired raw fish dishes with added ingredients that go beyond the traditional. Discover these top places around San Diego to get your aloha on and enjoy poke.
This striking Mission Hills eatery with its living green plant walls, fireplaces, gorgeous bar and open-air patio serves up poke-style ahi tacos with soy-sambal marinated sashimi-grade ahi, Napa cabbage, crispy wontons, and cucumber salad. Delish.
Named for the Olympic swimmer, movie star and man who brought surfing to the U.S., Duke’s just opened in La Jolla where you can sit on the swanky deck overlooking the Pacific and enjoy a little aloha. Order up the fresh poke tucked into crispy tacos with shoyu, maui onions, avocado and wasabi crème fraiche with a Mai Tai, of course.
Head to this little Garden of Eden in Leucadia for authentic Hawaiian eats on a sunny patio with picnic tables. Chef Doug Moric delivers beautiful poke—we recommend the house with raw ahi with soy, sesame oil, sweet onion, scallions, togarashi, and Hawaiian salt or go Californian and add chunks of avo.
This National City family restaurant is known for its Filipino and Mexican specialties and Hawaiian-style poke. Zarlitos takes pride in their daily poke platters, offering good variety—think spicy garlic, ahi limu (seaweed), shoyu, ahi fuikake, ahi kimchi, salmon, tako and seared albacore. Not to mention Zarlitos took first place at the I Love Poke San Diego Festival in 2015.
This local’s favorite in Encinitas, known for its sustainably caught fresh fish, dishes up sashimi grade albacore tuna poke appetizer with sesame, shoyu, sweet onion, wakame, and wonton chips, or try their poke bowl with rice, seaweed salads, fresh greens and cucumbers, perfect with a Ballast Point Pale Ale.
This fast-casual, build-your-own poke bowl concept comes from visionary Japanese chef Junya Watanabe. Diners move through a series of stations selecting their own base (white or brown rice, or kale salad), vegetables, fresh fish, housemade toppings and sauces. You may also want to try their innovative sushi burritos.
Grab a seat at the raw bar of this cool fish shop in Liberty Public Market food hall where you can enjoy lovely ahi poke presented in a martini glass.
This Hawaiian plate lunch eatery has poke made from sashimi-grade ahi tossed in Chris’ ono kine sauce. There’s also a delicious bowl with ahi, macadamia nuts and diced veggies all over rice and drizzled with wasabi aioli.
Shelter Island’s Polynesian palace and iconic tiki temple since 1954 is another tropical outpost for poke. Dig into the house special, the Island Poke Bowl with ahi over rice and mac salad, or savor their top-selling pupu—poke with avocado cream cheese, seaweed, masago (roe) and wontons.
At the friendly restaurant at Cape Rey Resort in Carlsbad, one of Chef Teri McIllwain's hits is her take on poke. Head out to the fire pits and savor the Capeside Poke, a mélange of high-grade ahi, rainbow quinoa, Thai chili aioli, marinated seaweed, cucumber, lime and ponzu with wonton chips, perfect for a sunset snack by the sea.
This new, casual daytime eatery in Pacific Beach offers delicious poke bowls with Big Eye tuna, fresh albacore and Skuna Bay salmon or Spanish octopus. The eatery also fronts a tiki-themed speakeasy, The Grass Skirt, for rum-inspired cocktails and nighttime fun.
Carlsbad’s grab-n-go and build-your-own poke concept, created by the owners of Love Boat Sushi, has seven different types of fish with one special catch of the day and a variety of bases, sides, sauces and toppings.
From Hillcrest and Little Italy to Scripps Ranch, Encinitas and Oceanside, several companies are selling delicious poke to take home or eat while strolling the farmers market. Look for the San Diego Poke Company, It's Raw Poke, and Iln Lyf Food.
If you want to make poke for yourself, Catalina Offshore Products reigns as the place for fresh fish. Talk to San Diego’s finest fish monger Tommy Gomes and he’ll lead you in the right direction.
This island-spirited celebration of Hawaiian culture and cuisine takes place each May at Bali Hai on Shelter Island. It features Pokeland where 20 creative chefs compete for the “Best Poke” crown, and Foodland, a sampling zone with Hawaiian and Asian-inspired foods. Poke-making demos and live music add to the fun. Don’t miss this mecca for poke that raises money for charitable causes.
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