Even if you’ve never heard of Da Poke Shack, originally in Kailua-Kona on Big Island Hawaii, any one who lives in Hawaii (who’s not vegan) loves a good poke. No, not “POKE (pohk)” like what that weird sketchy guy from the bar might try to do to you online on Facebook, but “PO-KE (po-kay).” Generally, poke refers to any type of fish or seafood (usually ahi tuna, salmon, octopus/tako, crab, mussels, etc) that is marinated, seasoned with onions, soy sauce (or “shoyu,” as it’s referred to in Hawaii), maybe sesame oil or spicy mayonnaise, and then served raw!
People on Oahu live and die by their favorite poke place. It’s great for picnic potlucks, a quick snack topping on tortilla chips or a rice bowl (with furikake seaweed seasoning, of course), or just by itself. And locals know that you ALWAYS eat it with chopsticks, never forks! If you don’t know how do use chopsticks, then you better learn fast before people start making fun of you and calling you “haole” behind your back!
On Oahu, especially in Honolulu, it’s common knowledge that to get decent poke by the pound, you can go to small markets like Fresh Catch, Yama’s Fish Market, Young’s Fish Market, or larger supermarkets like Foodland, Don Quixote, Tamuras, Safeway, or even Costco (TIP: Just make sure it’s FRESH poke you’re picking up, and not the previously frozen stuff). But where do you and a friend go for a fresh poke bowl when you are on a lunch break, and not picking up for catering?
First of all, TONS of places in Honolulu serve poke, but not all of them are good. In all the time I’ve spent in Hawaii, my favorite poke bowl place of all time was Da Poke Shack on Ali’i Drive in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. For a quick period when I was working there for about half a year in a hospital and living nearby in Kealakekua, I ate here nearly every other day! A year later, in 2013, they were nominated and then won the coveted #1 restaurant in the ENTIRE United States of America in 2013 on Yelp.com. I was just happy I had eaten there first, before it blew up with tourists.
Well, for everyone on Oahu and Honolulu who’s dying for a new fresh poke bowl place but can’t just jump on a quick inter-island flight to Kona, you’re in luck! Da Poke Shack recently opened up an awesome second location at a food truck, conveniently and centrally located at the southeast corner of Ward Avenue and Queen Street, just next to the Ward Marketplace and Consolidated Ward Movie Theaters!
When I visited last week, I was excited to try out any and all the flavors of poke they had there. One of the things that sets Da Poke Shack aside from all the other mundane poke places is they have a lot of inventive flavors, not just your standard Shoyu and Spicy Ahi flavors. My friend and I tried most of their flavors, and while hot and spicy flavors like their signature Pele’s Kiss and the Dynamite flavor had a great kick, we personally loved their Shack Special, which has a slightly sweet/miso flavor but isn’t overpowering with the miso, and their Wet Hawaiian, which has a great nutty (kukui nuts, I think?), green-oniony, slightly less sweet taste. Not surprisingly, their Shack Special is their most ordered flavor and their Wet Hawaiian was a contest winner! At this time, they are mainly focusing on ahi tuna poke, so there’s no salmon, marlin, octopus, etc. here, but they do ahi tuna poke almost better than anybody on the island!
Another thing that sets the poke at Da Poke Shack aside from the rest of the crowd is that it’s ALWAYS fresh and never frozen, as their motto says and cut in such a fine manner that you’re guaranteed a stellar yummy explosion of flavor with every bite. Instead of big meat chunks of fish that are haphazardly cut, containing stringy white tissue, or hard to chew pieces of poke, each of the samples of poke served in small cups are literally lovingly cut into smaller non-gristly pieces which are perfect in every way. They are smaller pieces with more surface area, which help soak in way more of the surrounding flavor, but not too small that you can’t enjoy chewing it down a bit.
The third thing that sets the poke bowls at Da Poke Shack aside are their epic choices for side dishes, which was a defining part of why I loved the original Da Poke Shack in Kona, Big Island. Instead of just having your typical furikake white or brown rice below the fish, you’re also allowed to pick 1-2 sides (depending on what size poke bowl you order), which range from excellent kimchee or cucumber kimchee to seaweed salad to more local favorites like the taegu/seasoned cuttlefish. It adds the perfect accompaniment.
In addition, on top of the mouth-watering poke bowls they serve, if you are in the mood for a helping of local food, they have large lunch plates that can include your choice of homemade laulau and kalua pig as well, which is what most of the better small poke markets, like Yama’s Fish Market and Fresh Catch, also offer as well! We had a chance to try this and it was stellar Hawaiian food as well.
All in all, you’d be crazy not to try out Da Poke Shack, simply to try a sample of what’s offered at the one-time #1 restaurant in America. It’s super close to Waikiki and in the middle of Honolulu, and the perfect local lunch stop. If you don’t know which kinda poke you’d like to try, they can give you small samples or you can try their large poke sampler platter to try a bit of everything! The only thing I wish they could figure out is how get more parking around the area, but this place is definitely worth feeding the street meter on Ward Avenue. At $10.50 a poke bowl, it’s slightly pricier than bowls from other places, but you get not just one but TWO choices of poke with this and it’s WAY better quality than pretty much everywhere else I’ve ever eaten at. Plus if you check in on Yelp you save a $1 off a bowl!
I’m totally pumped that Da Poke Shack is now part of the Honolulu local foodie scene, and I’ll definitely be back! If you’re a poke or ahi tuna/sushi lover, this is a must-eat at when you eat out on Oahu.
5 out of 5 Coconuts (on a scale of 1 (Bleeeagh!) <=> 5 (Onolicious!) )
Da Poke Shack
940 Queen Street (On the SE corner of Queen Street and Ward Avenue)
Honolulu, HI 96814
10:30 am – 3 pm (Monday-Friday, closed weekends)
For more detailed insider reviews on other Hawaii restaurants, beaches, hikes, local spots, and nightlife like this, download the Oahu Nightlife & Travel Guide…The #1 downloaded Kindle Hawaii travel guide eBook on Amazon.com, written by The Traveling Bachelor