Travel

I Tried All The Best Poke Places In NYC, And Here's What I Found

Poke, a Hawaiian speciality, is popping up everywhere in New York these days. As a native Hawaiian myself, I decided to eat my way through the city's top spots to ~investigate~ how legit East Coast poke actually is.

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Hi! I'm Shannon. I'm an assistant health editor here at BuzzFeed, but I was born and raised in Kailua, Hawai'i (on the island of O'ahu).

Lindsey Okubo / BuzzFeed

I've been on the ~mainland~ for six years now, and am always looking for ways to get local Hawaiian foods — especially poke, my favorite. So when I heard that the dish — which is basically any meat or seafood cut up into chunky cubes and marinated — was becoming a ~thing~ here in New York, I was intrigued. But I was also skeptical. After all, I grew up eating poke all the time, whether as a treat before dinner or a meal at the beach with friends, and I wasn't sure if this alleged "East Coast" poke would actually be legit.

I was sure, however, that there was only one way to find out, which was to try them for myself. So over the course of a couple weeks, I went to six of the top-rated poke places in the city that I'd heard good things about — and I've reviewed all of them for you below.

FIRST THINGS FIRST! This is poke:

Shannon Rosenberg / BuzzFeed

Poke (pronounced poh-kay, not poh-kee) means "to slice, or cut" in Hawaiian, which makes sense given the definition above. Back in Hawaii, you can buy all kinds of poke at the local grocery store, from kim chee tako poke (octopus marinated with onions in a spicy kim chee sauce) to spicy ahi poke (ahi tuna tossed in a spicy mayo sauce). You can either buy it by the pound, or have it thrown in a bowl over rice, i.e. a poke bowl, like the one above.

But the particular kind of poke that people here on the mainland have become so obsessed with is chunks of raw ahi tuna, tossed with green and white onions, sesame oil, and soy sauce — what most restaurants are calling "Hawai'i-style poke." Like at home, you can either get it in a bowl or eat it plain, without rice — it all depends on where you go.

I decided to try both the poke bowls and the poke plates here in NYC, to make sure I was getting the full scope.

I went to three restaurants that served their poke in poke bowls, which is basically like fast-food-style poke, and three places that were a bit fancier, meaning I actually sat down and ordered from a waiter or waitress.

Here's how NYC poke stacks up:

1. Sons of Thunder, 204 East 38th Street, Murray Hill

This place is a small fast-food restaurant in Murray Hill, and they describe their menu as “what you might find on a sunny day at a beach shack.” In their eyes, that means Chicago and chili cheese dogs, shakes, and poke (kind of a random mix, I know — but it somehow works). It’s a cute place with a back area full of fairy lights, complete with wooden tables and a skylight window. There’s also a library of children’s books?

Price: $10.75 for an ahi tuna poke bowl. Menu here.

Good to know: They have beer and wine on tap!

My take on this place:

The poke is fresh, cut in big, soft pieces, and topped with tobiko, white onions, sesame seeds, and furikake. They give you a decent amount of poke in your bowl, and you have the option of ahi, salmon, or tako (octopus). You also get to choose your rice (white or brown), and they give you salad greens, tortilla chips, cucumbers, and ogo (seaweed salad).

My co-worker and I tried both the "spicy" and "shoyu" styles (different marinades), and they were really, really good and tasted fresh. Plus, the poke was simple and not covered in a ton of sauce, which was great because I love the ahi taste and texture.

Overall rating: 4 / 5

Alice Mongkongllite

Of all the takeout poke places, this was my favorite. I loved that they gave great-sized cuts of ahi tuna, and they went easy on the sauce — making it easier to enjoy the flavor of the fish.

2. Wisefish, 263 West 19th Street, Chelsea

One of my favorite parts about this place is that it has a cool backstory. Wisefish's owner, Drew Crane, started his career in finance, but decided to ~drop out~ and start a poke business. He’s not from Hawaii or anything, but he'd been to Maui a bunch of times and fallen in love with the poke he got there, specifically at Tamura’s Market. Once he realized there weren't many places in NYC to get it the way he got it in Hawai’i — i.e., fast-food style out of Foodland and gas store markets — he decided to fix that problem and open his own restaurant.

Price: $10.95 for a regular bowl. Menu here.

Good to know: It gets really crowded at lunchtime. On the upside, the place is an Instagrammer's dream: It's got great light and lots of little succulents on the tables.

My take on this place:

Annie Daly

The owner is very particular about where his fish comes from, which I think is really cool. (He’s even looking into getting different kinds of fish like yellowtail.) And his hard work pays off, because the fish is really good — tender and not frozen.


The poke bowl itself is make-your-own style, with a ton of different options to choose from.
My co-worker and I tried the "West Swell" with zucchini noodles and the "Hawai'i Style." The Hawai'i style with brown rice was great and tasted homey, like traditional-style oyster sauce ahi poke. I didn't like the West Swell as much, though. The poke itself was good, but it came with a wasabi avocado cream sauce that wasn't my favorite.

Overall rating: 4 / 5

Alice Mongkongllite

There were so many awesome poke options here, and I liked that the ahi tuna was tender and fresh.

3. Pokéworks, 63 West 37th Street, Midtown West

Originally launched in Los Angeles, this fast-food poke chain is located in Midtown West (basically Herald Square), and it caters to pretty much everyone with its crazy amount of options. You can make your own bowls or sushi burritos, and for those who may not like ahi tuna, there are other proteins — including ahi tuna, salmon, shrimp, scallops, albacore, and even chicken.

Price: $11–12 for a bowl. Menu here.

Good to know: The line for the restaurant files down the block and has an insane wait if you go around lunchtime. People literally stand there for an hour waiting to get inside and order, much like they do for the new Chick-fil-A, which is right next door.

My take on this place:

Annie Daly / BuzzFeed

We tried both the "Hawaiian Classic" — ahi tuna, green and sweet onion, ogo seaweed, cucumber, Hawaiian salt, chili flakes, and roasted sesame oil — and an ahi poke burrito. Both were delicious, and it was great because, like the other build-your-own places, there were tons of options.

The poke cubes here are smaller than the traditional size at home, but they give you a decent amount of food for the price. They also offer awesome toppings like tobiko (flying fish roe), spicy furikake, crab salad, and the spicy ahi sauce that I love and get on my poke at home all the time.

Overall rating: 3.5 / 5

Alice Mongkongllite

The poke was good, but the fish was frozen — not fresh — and the cuts were smaller than how we prepare it in Hawai'i. I do like that they offer sushi burritos, though.

4. Noreetuh, 128 1st Avenue, East Village

This place is a small, on-the-nicer-side restaurant in the East Village. They call themselves "modern Hawaiian," which basically means they serve "artfully crafted" Hawaiian fusion food, which includes mochiko chicken wings, kalua pork croquettes, and teriyaki chicken. Most main courses start around $23, but poke is actually a "pupu" (meaning appetizer or starter dish in Hawaiian) here. Chef Chung Chow, who grew up in Hawai'i, prepares the fish for his poke in house, gutting and cutting the fish fresh in his own kitchen.

Price: Big-eye tuna poke for $18; calamari poke for $16. Menu here.

Good to know: You should definitely make a reservation if you're trying to go on a weekend, because it gets packed.

My take on this place:

Terri Pous / BuzzFeed

I'd never tried Hawaiian ~fusion~ before, but the menu was filled with things I loved eating as I was growing up, so I was extremely excited to try this place. My co-worker and I both got the big-eye tuna poke and the calamari poke.

Tbh, this poke was a little bit fancier than the poke I'm used to eating — but both kinds were delicious. The ahi poke was Hawaiian style, but it was also tossed with macadamia nuts and pickled jalapeños (which isn't usually the case). Those gave it a crunch and a little bit of a kick. The calamari was cut in rings and tossed with yuzu, wasabi, and onion, and it had a mayo-tasting base. The poke doesn’t come with rice, but the chunks are bigger cuts, and they give you a good-size portion.

Overall rating: 4.5 / 5

Alice Mongkongllite

This poke was fresh, and it had great-sized cuts. I also loved the spicy tang that the pickled jalapeños added.

5. Onomea, 84 Havemeyer Street, Williamsburg

Onomea is a traditional Hawaiian restaurant in Williamsburg owned by a woman from Hilo, Big Island, where my mom grew up. The whole restaurant is decorated with pictures from Hawai’i, including a wall decoration of the Hawaiian Islands. It made me feel at home, especially when I looked at the menu, which had Hawaiian dishes I’ve never seen available in New York before, like spam musubis, terri burgers, and kalua pig and cabbage.

Price: $13. Menu here.

Good to know: Call before you go to make sure they have poke that day, if that's what you're going for. Since the whole place isn't devoted to just poke, it's not a complete guarantee that they have it every day.

My take on this place:

The poke tasted like shoyu ahi poke straight from home. It had large white onion and green onion chunks, and furikake on top. The poke cuts were a good size, and the dish was served in a small circle with a little extra sauce and no rice. I thought it tasted great, but I could see how the amount of onion could be overwhelming for some people.

Overall rating: 4 / 5

Alice Mongkongllite

The poke was prepared and tasted very traditional to the way it's served at home. However, the portions were a litter smaller, and had a lot of onion.

6. Suzume, 545 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg

Suzume is a small, nicer, Japanese-Hawaiian restaurant in Williamsburg. The poke here is basically served in sushi form, which makes sense, as this is a Japanese-influenced restaurant. You can order a wide variety of food at Suzume, from spam musubis (YUM), to roasted salmon ramen, to the Shoots! (Hawaiian slang for "sounds good" or "see you later"), which is a can of Asahi, a shot of Hell-Cat, and an order of wings.

Price: $3.50 per appetizer. Menu here.

Good to know: They open at 6 — a bit later than most dinner places — so don't plan an early happy hour or anything!

My take on this place:

Annie Daly / BuzzFeed

The poke came in extremely small cuts on top of two inigiri sushi pieces. We got a Hawaiian style ahi poke and salmon poke, and both were good, but they're definitely better if you're in the mood for sushi rather than poke. After all, as you can see in the photo above, the portion of fish was very small on the rice. The fish had also been previously frozen — which usually is not the case at home — but still tasted like traditional Hawaiian style poke. They also serve Kona Longboard, a local Hawaiian beer, which was definitely a plus.

Overall rating: 2 / 5

Alice Mongkongllite

I thought that the sushi tasted great, but I went looking for Hawaiian style poke, and that's not what they were serving.

The overall takeaway? All of these poke places were definitely good — some more than others — but while many poke places have opened recently, it's still not as easily accessible as you'd imagine.

One of the best parts about eating poke in Hawai'i is that it can be a casual, everyday thing. You can get it everywhere in all different sauces and styles. I grab bowls with my friends on our way to the beach, or eat my mom's amazing spicy ahi poke at home when she makes it for special occasions. But in New York, it can take forever, much like many other things in the city.

THAT SAID, beggars can't be choosers, and I'll take what I can get. I'm still so incredibly happy that poke has made its way to NYC, and that people here can now join me in my love and appreciation for my favorite comfort-food dish.