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Kaka'ako Eats: The Poke Bowl

Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl: White rice with hot sauce, Shoyu Ahi Poke and Pickled Onion topping

Ever since Tropic Fish & Vegetable closed their doors in Ward Farmer’s Market back in March of this year, I’ve never noticed or heard about any tenant taking their place. Although to this day I continue shopping at Marukai on the other end of Ward Farmer’s Market, the half-open door and relatively small, front-facing banner sign on the front of The Poke Bowl way over on the opposite side never caught my attention. Not to mention, I always park in front of Marukai, then drive away from behind the warehouses, further missing the opportunity to see them.

Only after recently doing a web search on Tropic’s whereabouts, did I stumble upon the world-wide-ed.com local blog site, where Ed Sugimoto wrote about this new place there named The Poke Bowl.

The Poke Bowl opened for business at Ward Farmers Market on July 13, 2008. That long? I just feel bad I missed out on all the ono grinds there, as you’ll soon see.

Of course, poke and me are best friends (in fact I’ve been called that once lol), and after reading about the concept of this place, I just had to head on over there myself to check it out.

Here you see they take up what was formerly the right section of Tropics…

Click image above to view alternate angle

If you’ve been to Tropics before, you’ll recognized some similarities of the space once you enter The Poke Bowl…

Click on image above to see the partitioned-off section of what was formerly Tropic’s produce area

There’s even a few decorative remnants of Tropics still up on an overhang wall above the shop…

The photos are of the owners’ friends’ past fishing adventures.

Speaking of owners, that would be brothers Derek and Craig Uyehara, along with their friend and business partner Blaine Kimura. While this is a full-time venture for Derek, the acting General Manager, Craig juggles this along with his “day job” in construction, while Blaine tends to other business projects, including Aloha Salads in Ward Warehouse.

Here’s Tyrone (“Tunda”) and Derek tending the poke counter…

Tyrone, a.k.a. “Tunda” and owner/manager Derek Uyehara

Derek is a super friendly guy and spent a good amount of time talking with me about their business, so big mahalo for that!

Now what exactly is this “Poke Bowl” concept? Well, this chalkboard menu above the front counter explains it…

As you see, you choose your rice, mild or hot sauce (which is drizzled on the rice before the poke goes on), type of poke and any additional toppings, and there you have it… a Poke Bowl!

I gotta’ admit (and I told Derek this), I’ve NEVER eaten Poke on rice before. Really! Cooked fish and rice, yes, but raw fish such as poke or sashimi on rice? No. Not even Tekkadon. Well OK, Nigiri Sushi, but that’s a little different. I’ve always eaten poke just by itself, pupu style, or along with other items on a mixed plate.

But hey, there’s always a first!

There are two bowl sizes to choose from: small…

and large…

Then you choose white or brown rice, regular or hot sauce (which is shoyu-based, or you can omit that), then choose the style of poke you want on it…

Soy Bean Poke, Tofu Poke and Lomi Salmon

Finally to top it off, you can opt for a variety of toppings for an additional 50 cents each…

Fukujinzuke, Kimchee, Sesame Seaweed Salad and Natto

Natto on Poke, eh? Now THAT’S an acquired taste right there!

Nori, Kyurizuke Pickled Cucumber, Takauan and Ogo Namasu

Cucumber Kimchee and Taegu

Chili (pepper) water, Furikake and chopped green onions

They also have these two toppings for sale by the pound…

Ogo Namasu and Cucumber Kimchee by the pound

I ended up choosing two small bowls to try: the mild Ahi Shoyu Poke over white rice with hot sauce and Sweet Pickled Onion topping, and Spicy Tuna Poke over brown rice with mild sauce and Kyurizuke Pickled Cucumber topping…

Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl & Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl

Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl with white rice and sweet pickled onion topping

Spicy Tuna Poke bowl with brown rice and pickled cucumber topping

How is it? I’ll get to that later. Next, let’s see what else this cool little store has.

Sitting atop a counter to the left are a variety of bento lunches and other goodies to choose from…

The descriptive sign cards for each bento remind me of Mana Bu’s…

This is one I’m definitely trying on my next stop there…

Behind the bento lunches and sushi are some interesting products from the neighbor islands, such as these cookies…

Big Island Delights cookies

Pacific Gold Jerky (from the mainland)

Maui Upcountry peanut butter, mustard, jelly and jam

Then there’s the refrigerated snacks, such as this…

Dry Aku and Smoked Tako

Boiled Peanuts, Fruit Salads and Salsa

Potato Crab Salad and Pickled Onion

Tuna Salad Sandwich (they also sell Chicken Salad Sandwiches, but were sold out at the time of my visit)

There’s also a wide selection of cold juices, energy drinks, water and soda, all at very reasonable prices.

My overall impression here was that most items were competitively-priced, making it even more attractive as a one-stop shop for all your beach picnic grinds. Derek reinforced this by mentioning they want to keep prices affordable for everyone. At just $3.95 and $5.25 for that heaping bowl of poke and rice, gotta’ say, that’s a great deal!

One other note about the poke, as you noticed by the price signs fronting each tray, if you don’t care to have it in a bowl with rice, they also sell it by the pound in 1/4 lb. increments…

Wrapping up this virtual walkthrough of the place, we have a couple of Gyotaku paintings they have on display…

Finally, their Maneki Neko good luck charm, commonly found at the entrance of most businesses here in the islands…

OK, now back to the grinds. I figured, what better way to enjoy this Poke Bowl than to sit by the beachside, so I went to Ala Moana Beach Park, which is just a block away from Ward Farmer’s Market. There I found a spot at a park bench at Magic Island overlooking the surf…

Ah yes, nice place to grind. Itadakimasu (let’s eat)!

As I mentioned earlier, this is absolutely the very first time I’m eating poke with rice, so here it goes…

Well I’ll be damned… it’s AWESOME! I asked Derek if folks are ever concerned about the rice cooking the delicately raw Ahi, to which he said only one person asked about that besides myself. He did say that they try to serve the rice warm, but not piping hot, so that when you eat it, there’s a harmony of temperature contrast without one or the other canceling each other out, such as the rice being too cold or the poke being too warm. Even after sitting around for a good half-hour (covered) before I finally got to eat it (after having spent time talking and stuff), it was just right; the poke was still a bit cool and the rice still on the warm side.

While I have to honestly say, the Shoyu Ahi poke here wasn’t nearly as the “like buttah”, made-to-order poke from Ono Seafood on Kapahulu (the golden standard), it held its own as a very respectable representation of the dish. Especially the way they seasoned it. Very nice. Perfect balance of salty-sweetness to it. What really, really, REALLY took this Ahi Shoyu Poke Bowl to new heights was the sweet pickled onion topping. EXCELLENT CHOICE! If you’re in doubt what to put on yours, get the pickled onions. The sweet, spicy and crunchy contrast of the onions along with the smooth, exotic poke and granular, starchy rice is another one of those marriage-made-in-heaven deals. Simply fantastic. This one alone inclines me to immediately and sincerely grant The Poke Bowl a 5 Spam Musubi rating.

Here you can see the layered “construction” of this bowl…

You can see the spicy secret sauce has evenly coated the white rice. That really did add a dimension to the dish that would have otherwise have been missing. Good call on adding that!

Now let’s try the Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl…

Whoah, this buggah is HOT! After acclimating my palate to the heat, I really enjoyed this one too. I liked the Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl much more, but this one was delicious in its own right. The pickled cucumber added a refreshing, calming element to the dish, while the husky brown rice stood up well when accompanied with the spicy coating on the poke. Again, this is spicy HOT, so be ready.

Yes, I’m now a converted poke and rice fan, thanks to that seriously awesome Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl with sweet pickled onions.

Being friends of the Tanoue family, owners of Tropic Fish & Vegetable, the guys who run The Poke Bowl still do plenty of business with them. All their seafood and produce comes from Tropic’s wholesale operation, which is located in one of the adjacent warehouses in back. Tropic Fish Market also still owns the remaining three year lease to their former Ward Farmers Market location, in turn subleasing the partitioned space to The Poke Bowl. Also, all their bento lunches, sushi and musubi are prepared by the same ladies who worked for Tropic’s market.

Derek said they also do catering, where they can provide party-sized trays of just about everything you see prepared here.

He also mentioned every wednesday they have what’s called The Hawaiian Bowl. I’m surprised they don’t do that on Friday, as that’s when most places do their Hawaiian-themed “Aloha Friday” specials. Anyway, this Hawaiian Bowl is made using the large bowl (Hawaiian style!), with white rice and topped with lomi salmon, Kalua Pig and Ahi Limu Poke. Sounds ono to me! I’ll check that out this Wedesday.

For best selection, I’d recommend arriving as early as possible. Many of the bento and musubi items may be sold out if you get there after peak lunch hour.

Oishii Japanese and local style food, driven by a unique concept, streamlined operation, reasonable prices, friendly owners and staff, plus convenient location and hours all make The Poke Bowl a guaranteed WINNAH!

The Poke Bowl
Ward Farmer’s Market
1020 Auahi Street, Building #1
Honolulu, HI 96814
Tel. 593-1074

***Updated 3.20.09***

The Poke Bowl is now doing business as THE PAINA CAFE, located across the street in Ward Warehouse.

Poke Bowls

White or Brown Rice,
Mild or Hot Sauce,
your choice of Poke (as indicated)
Small: $3.95, Large $5.25

Toppings: 50 cents each
Takuan, Nori, Natto, Ogo, Kim Chee, Taegu, Pickled Cucumber, Pickled Onion and more

Island Style Poke
(Market Price)
Ahi Shoyu Poke (Mild/Hot),
Ahi Shoyu Limu Poke (Mild/Spicy),
Spicy Tuna,
Limu Ahi,
Hawaiian Style Tako,
Shoyu Tako,
Kim Chee Tako,
Tofu Poke,
Soy Bean Poke

Bentos and Musubis
Breakfast Bentos: $3.95
Deluxe Grinds Bento: $6.85
Ahi Patty, Sakuraboshi, Derek’s Fried Chicken, Spam, Teri Burger, Furikake Rice
Derek’s Fried Chicken Bento: $4.25
Sakuraboshi Bento: $4.25
Y. Kimura Fish Market Seasoned Ahi
Teri Burger Bento: $4.25
Ahi Patty Bento: $4.25
SPAM, SPAM Egg/Takuan, Shoyu, Tuna, Shoyu Hot Dog Musubi, Luncheon Meat Musubi starting at $1.45

Prices and availability subject to change

The Tasty Island rating:

(5) Superb. Worthy of repeat visits or purchases. (Broke Da’ Mout’!)

Related links:
www.ThePokeBowl.com – Official site
The Poke Bowl to open at Ward Farmers Market – World Wide Ed


BONUS content! More photos from around Magic Island yesterday, Saturday, October 11th around 1pm.

Here’s the view I had from the park bench where I sat and enjoyed those delicious Poke Bowls…

This is looking towards Ewa

Looking toward Ala Moana beach from Magic Island…

A family makes their way to Magic Island lagoon…

Magic Island’s lagoon…

This is where the pyrotechnics are set-up for the annual Ala Moana Center 4th of July fireworks displays

The Hawaii Superferry on its daily afternoon return voyage from Maui to Honolulu Harbor…

Ala Moana Bowls on a flat day…

The entrance to Ala Wai Boat Harbor…

The two condos to the left are Yacht Harbor Towers. Next to that with the domed pink roof is the Ala Moana Rennaisance Hotel. The circular-shaped tower on the right is the Hawaii Prince Hotel.

A high roller parks their ride at Ala Wai Boat Harbor…

Mahalo for visiting The Tasty Island!


32 thoughts on “Kaka'ako Eats: The Poke Bowl

  • December 27, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    hey u know that guy Tyrone . . . is he from kaua’i?

  • December 28, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Keleolani, yes, according to Derek, he is indeed from Kauai.

  • March 14, 2009 at 10:55 am

    have you found a new location….we’re sad you moved from Ward Farmer’s Market.

    please let everyone know where you are….we are ono for your fabulous, awesome, tasty grinds!

  • March 14, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Casey, one of the owners is/was Blaine Kimura, who also owns and operates Aloha Salads. If you’re intent on finding the whereabouts of The Poke Bowl, trying emailing him at their website….


  • March 18, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    the poke bowl is back… i went to ward warehouse and found them operating under a new name Paina Cafe… still the same winna poke bowls. plus a new larger menu. check them out next to the chowder house…

  • March 19, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Makai, mahalo for updating us on that! I’ll have to make my across the street and check out Derek’s new dig. Apparently Aloha Salads – Blane’s company – is looking for a larger space where the Paina Cafe has now taken over.


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