If you’ve been in Los Angeles for more than ten minutes, chances are someone has talked to you about poké, Hawaii’s version of street food–when the “street” is a line of gleaming sand sloping down to the Pacific. In the past few years, the poké invasion has reached every corner of our fair city, from its logical first appearances on the beach Venice to the Valley and beyond.
The simplicity of it–raw fish and fixings, served up in a plastic bowl–allows for countless repetition and variation. Personally, I am deeply wary of discount seafood. A few too many half-price spicy tuna rolls have convinced me that anything raw requires respect. Respect meaning pristine fish, and not having teenagers with ice cream scoops manning wide-open cold-holding trays like so many “sandwich artists.” In typical fashion, LA restauranteurs have found myriad riffs on the classic Hawaiian diced fish and sauce.
The following are some of my favorite places that push the definition of the cuisine while focusing on sustainability.
So I talked a little smack about the teenagers and the cold-holding trays, but I AM talking about exceptions, here. Mainland Poké is one such exception. The West 3rd Street shop features all those things, but in such spotless surroundings and with such delectable fish that they get all the passes. Locations in Hollywood, Glendale, and coming soon to Marina del Rey.
The founders of Sweetfin Poké are wasting no time taking over the city, and for once, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of a chain. It’s all about the fish here, and I was heartened by the fact that there were no bins of ahi laid out to get warm. Customizable bowls are the norm it seems, and while Sweetfin does allow you to pick your own fixings, they do have suggested sauce/fish/topping combinations that could guide you to your new favorite flavor combination. Locations in Santa Monica with many more planned.
Ohana Poké Co.
Ohana Poké Co. was my first LA poké and will forever be the bowl by which others are judged. Bowls are customizable, but gently so; no endless variations for the person in line ahead of you to ponder while your belly rumbles. The shoyu sauce is balanced and the spam musubi is potted meat at its finest. You order, you sit, they bring it to you (with a beer or a glass of decent wine, even). No sandwich artistry required–unless, of course, you want to try the so-called “pokérito” seen above, which you should. Locations in Silverlake and Downtown LA.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Borba