It’s been less than a year in the making, and now it’s gone full tilt. It’s official—Phoenix is poke paradise. Or it might seem that way, given the rapid uptick in poke parlors around the Valley. A veritable mash-up of Japanese and Hawaiian influences, poke is one of the regional specialties of our 50th state. It’s like a sashimi salad of sorts, with a definite nod to Chipotle’s personal conveyor assembly strategy (pick a base of rice or salad, and top away). Here’s an overview of your best bets for poke around the town.
Poki Bar Central
2836 E Indian School Rd, Suite A1, Phoenix
Open 11 am to 8:30 pm, 7 days a week
Brought to you by Ty Chu, the chef-owner of Slanted Rice Vietnamese Bistro, Poki Bar Central is one of the newer entries into the Poke Bowl Championship (If there isn’t a Poke Bowl, should be). Poki Bar Central offers a wider selection of protein options, and I can’t recall any other poke place adding scallops to the mix. $10 gets you two proteins that you can double up on (double scallops please) or if you are lucky and adventurous—octopus.
The good: probably the only poke place that uses (and cooks) proper sushi rice, and you’ll notice the difference.
The great: sweet citrus sauce. Really, it’s that good. Poki Bar Central could bottle and sell this.
The environment: shiny, modern and new with black and white menu boards and loads of hard surfaces, bordering on austere.
Located in what used to the furthest most reaches of North Scottsdale, this gem is tucked next to a Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers. Sizes are Primo (one scoop of fish, $8) and Big Kahuna (two scoops of fish, $10). Great fresh fish options include spicy tuna, tuna, salmon, and more. Their shrimp were among some of the tastiest we tried. Try the miso onion sauce. Loved their fresh looking (and tasting) greens. On all of our visits, both the brown and white rice seemed fresh, and didn’t taste like it had been sitting on a steam table all day. Popular toppings include all the usual suspects (edamame, carrots, ginger, onions, etc.) with a buck upcharge for avocado.
The good: fresh fish, some of the best looking (and tasting) we found.
The great: locally owned and operated by the friendliest guy in North Scottsdale.
The environment: modern beachy, impeccably clean.
For those who like their poke a little more fancy, Ocean Poke Co. comes with a pre-fab selection of seven bowls ($10 to $12) and the option for acai bowl, in addition to the “create your own” option ($10). My favorite was the least authentic (go figure). The Kim Chi is a luscious mix of tuna, shrimp, and of course kim chi—run to get yours!
The good: great happy staff who are happy to help curate your perfect dish.
The great: more choices—the only place with mango and different grains (like quinoa) as an option.
The environment: counter service with families and loads of teenagers.
It’s Arizona so there are going to be chains. Ahipoki set up shop in the Valley in the last 12 months and at this rate, they’ll be near everyone by the year’s end. Their regular two scoops will set you back about 10 bucks, with a large for $2 more. I’m seriously amazed that a chain poke place can have access to such large quantities of good tuna and the like. Try the tuna luau, a spicier version with a hint of heat, clearly a nod to the dish’s island origins. Expect the normal upcharge for avocado.
The good: how does this much great fresh fish exist and how can they make sure it doesn’t stop? Witchery could be afoot.
The great: these guys don’t shy away from some of the more fun and interesting Japanese flavors. Don’t skip the furikake, and take it from there!
The environment: loud dubstep while CNN is on. I’m pretty sure I’m too old for this.
Hula’s Modern Tiki
4700 N. Central Ave. #122, Phoenix
And 7213 E First Ave., Scottsdale
It seems like only yesterday when Hula’s was about the only place around you’d find poke—silky, unctuous and a little bit fancy, thanks to the heavenly Hawaiian addition of macadamia nuts. Fancier still if you order your poke in their new-ish Scottsdale location. Hula’s poke is ahi only, with no substitutions. You’ll hardly mind, though—it’s a tasty portion and if you ask nicely, they’ll bring you some sliced chili. Do it! It’ll set you back 10ish bucks, give or take, depending on the market rate for ahi.
The good: why didn’t someone think of macadamia nuts earlier? They kick it up a notch, as Emeril would say.
The great: killer cocktails and coconut milk ceviche? Yes, please, if ahi poke isn’t your thing.
The environment: well-dressed peeps (both locations) who love to drink in a fine, festive modern take on a tiki bar.
Yama Sushi House
4750 N Central Suite 150, Phoenix
Tues to Thurs 11 am to 9 pm
Fri & Sat 11 am to 11 pm
Sunday noon to 9 pm
Most of the poke explosion has occurred in counter-service restaurants. Yama is a sure bet when you’d rather sit and relax. Poke options include tuna, salmon and yellowtail ($9 and $11) and of course an option for rice or salad as the base. You’ll give up the point-and-top approach here, but when a chef is cooking, does anyone really mind? Usually a lunch specialty, they’ve been known to whip up a batch for regulars or anyone else who asks really, really nicely.
The good: your best bet for all-around quality fish. Fair warning—they love the spice on their poke. You were warned.
The great: almost every delivery service will bring them to you (Uber Eats, Seamless, Amazon, etc.).
The Environment: fun modern restaurant with a full bar.