Poke is the Goldilocks of food.
Raw fish, vegetables and sauce on a bed of rice — it’s more filling than a salad, more healthy than a hamburger, with the amount of flavor that’s just right. It’s like if you were planning on making sushi rolls, prepped all the ingredients, then decided to toss it all in a bowl instead.
West Michiganders are finally appreciating this Hawaiian dish in all its glory, thanks to multiple poke — pronounced “poh-kay” — shops around the region, and I’m so grateful for all the options. Even in the midst of COVID-19, all these eateries are serving up bowls to go, and this is one dish you almost definitely can’t make at home.
Last month, before the pandemic struck, I was lucky enough to visit Hawaii and try some authentic poke for myself (which obviously makes me an expert). The dish is everywhere — I got one bowl from a food truck, one from a Japanese restaurant, and one from a tiny stand inside a grocery store, which only has two menu items a day. That last one was the best.
While the bowls I had on the island featured some of the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted, the poke here easily stands on the same level. Trust me, I’ve tried it all. If you love sushi, ceviche, poisson cru or anything of the sort, you have to try poke at least once.
If you’re wondering where to dive into your first poke bowl, you really can’t go wrong. Here are my thoughts.
435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
What do you do next when you already run a super successful butcher shop and fish market? You put those proteins to work! Grand Rapids’ newest shop, Pinktail Poke, comes from Jeff Butzow, owner of Carvers, Fish Lads, and High Tide Soda, in the Downtown Market. The bowls here are affordable and tailor-made, not to mention delicious.
You can stray from the usual sushi rice base with forbidden rice, coconut-bamboo rice, or crisp kale salad, and the same customization applies to the proteins, sauces, and toppings as well. Thanks to the quality of the ingredients, it really doesn’t matter what you get — you’re going to like it.
Go here for: Lower prices, easy customization, top-notch fish.
WIKIWIKI POKE SHOP
1146 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
Wikiwiki lacks any pretense whatsoever. With bowl names like Thank U, Next, and Wiki Minaj — and a playlist to match in the shop itself — it’s clear owner Keith Allard just wants to have fun and make amazing food. Honestly, read any post on Wikiwiki’s Facebook if you need a laugh. Then call to order if you need a big, magical bowl of seafood.
Despite my recent travels, the Gucci Sushi here may be my favorite bowl I’ve ever had: tuna, salmon, shrimp, krab salad, rap snacks, miso ranch, sriracha, edamame, mango, avocado, cucumber and wakame. It’s absolutely packed with flavor and texture variety, and I feel great eating it! What more could you ask for?
Go here for: Chill vibes, unbelievable ingredients, loaded bowls.
5150 Northland Dr. NE, Grand Rapids
Poke Toki established itself as a community favorite immediately after opening, thanks to incredibly friendly service. When I’ve visited, I’ve been overwhelmed by the massive amount of ingredients, yet a worker always helps me build my perfect bowl and it’s delicious every time.
Obviously, you can’t go inside until COVID-19 passes, but you can still order online. If you want to make it easy, order a signature bowl and they’ll put something tasty together for you. Their options range from typical Hawaiian poke to Japanese bowls like tuna don and Korean flavors like hwe dup bap.
Go here for: Friendly service, near-infinite options.
310 N. Drake Rd., Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo is blessed to have Maui Poke, an affordable spot with big portions and tons of options. You can even get American with it, using zucchini noodles as a base and chicken, turkey, or ham as your protein. We won’t judge! I love to pair a smoothie or boba with my bowls, and Maui has absolutely no shortage of those. Drink up!
Go here for: Whatever you want, large portions, smoothies and boba.