For the Love of Poke

January 6, 2014 | By Chris Fleck

Get a taste of real Hawaiian cuisine with these variations of poke—from traditional to modern-style.

New York and Boston have chowder. In Louisiana it’s got to be gumbo. Texas of course has their barbecue. In Hawai’i we have poke. Considered the “soul food” of the islands, poke— which in Hawaiian language means “cut or sliced”—is a traditional dish, typically centered around bite-size cuts of raw ‘ahi tuna seasoned and dressed accordingly to a chef’s delight and preference. Here are a few Waikiki-area spots that take pleasure in serving this traditional Hawaiian comfort food.

Haili’s Hawaiian Foods

It gets no more local then Haili’s Hawaiian Foods. A family-owned business, Haili’s has been open longer than Hawai’i has been a state. Specializing in traditional Hawaiian cuisine, nearly all of Haili’s rarely shared recipes have been handed down throughout the family for generations. Their Limu Poke dish parallels that of yesteryears, keeping the ingredients simple and clean. It all starts with fresh, never-frozen ‘ahi tuna, prepped and cut each morning. Lightly dressed with Hawaiian salt, chili pepper, limu seaweed and green onion, Haili’s Limu Poke dish is like taking a walk through a simpler time on the islands.

760 Palani Ave. (808) 735-8019 |

Morimoto Waikiki

Morimoto loves to do this. He loves taking a local dish of the region and spinning it into a similar, yet creative alternative that only he knows how to do so well. Morimoto Style Poke starts typical with cuts of bigeye tuna from Japan tossed in a house soy sauce and bonito chili flakes. Then things take a turn off the beaten path. The dish is then engaged with bocconcini, an avocado wasabi sorbet and topped with a dashi foam. “Each component has its own flavor, but the idea of the ice cream, the foam and bocconcini makes this dish very unique,” says executive sous chef Andy Reagan.

The Modern Honolulu 1775 Ala Moana Blvd. [D:3 Waikiki Map] (808) 943-5900 |

Hawaiiana Cafe & Sushi

For a peaceful and sometimes much-needed break from the crowds of Kalakaua Avenue and Waikiki Beach, sneak into Hawaiiana Cafe & Sushi. This former hot dog joint has been rejuvenated by local restaurateur Cliff Ching. They offer many poke dishes, but one of their most refreshing is the Ahi Poke Salad, which comes either shoyu or spicy style. Prepared by Ching’s wife Yong, the Ahi Poke Salad is a hearty portion of fresh ‘ahi mixed with ogo and green onion. The ‘ahi sits on a garden of fresh greens, cucumber, avocado, cherry tomatoes and white onion.

“People come here to relax, that’s what we’re about. We’ll make a few jokes, eat some good food and have good conversation,” says Ching.

260 Beachwalk [C:6 Waikiki Map] (808) 772-8879

Nobu Waikiki

As Nobu focuses primarily on Japanese-style cuisine, the chefs couldn’t help themselves from creating a poke dish that fits both the restaurant and location.

From the bottom up, Nobu Style Ahi Poke begins with a Nobu Poke sauce mixed primarily of a miso and mustard base. High-grade ‘ahi tuna is then placed atop, garnished simply and elegantly with shaved heart of palms, red onions, ogo-robusto and sansho pepper.

“‘Ahi is a firmer fish, it deserves a bold sauce like the Nobu Poke sauce to pair with it,” says general manager Sue Kiyabu.

Waikiki Parc Hotel 2233 Helumoa Road [D:7 Waikiki Map] (808) 237-6999 |