- Brian Chilson
- OK WITH POKE: The Hawaiian raw fish and vegetables salad trend is taking Little Rock by storm.
All of a sudden, Little Rock is rich with poke. Not "poke," like you might do with a sharp stick, but "PO-kay," rhymes with OK — the trendy and endlessly customizable Hawaiian raw fish salad. This year, Poke Hula, at 415 E. Third St., and Ohia Poke, 220 W. Sixth St., opened within days of the other. We found both delicious and worthy of several repeat visits. Each has specific qualities to be recommended. More on that below. But first, a poke primer:
Quite possibly the favorite dish of The Aloha State, by way of Japan and other Asian influences, poke is typically served in a bowl with a base of rice or mixed greens, topped with raw fish and assorted veggies, toppings and sauces. Think: sushi unwrapped and tossed. At both new Little Rock poke restaurants, you order at the counter and customize your bowls like you would at Chipotle or Subway. The staff at each restaurant explained the items that we didn't recognize. The raw fish looked and tasted fresh.
Here's an example of our go-to combination, available at each spot: sticky, sushi-style rice, raw tuna, Sriracha mayo, shelled edamame, shredded carrots, sliced cucumber, green onion, wasabi, pickled ginger, masago (orange capelin fish eggs) and furikake (a delightful Japanese seasoning mix of sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, salt and dried fish). Mixed all together, they make for a delicious, fairly nutritious, filling meal. Other toppings you'll find at both poke spots: pineapple, corn, onion and carrots.
The key difference between Poke Hula and Ohia Poke is that the latter is a small-to-medium-sized restaurant with a number of seats and tables and the former is more situated as a grab-and-go, with only a small u-shaped bar lining the walls and window with a few benches. In our half-dozen lunchtime trips, the seats at the bar were nearly always occupied.
But there are other distinctions. Poke Hula offers kale and tortilla chips as base options (a staffer told us people rarely order the tortilla chips, you'll be happy to know, because, yes, apparently it sounds just as bad to everyone else as it does to us). It also offers several marinated proteins — tuna, spicy salmon and spicy tuna — along with plain tuna, salmon, shrimp, cooked chicken and octopus salad. A few toppings — avocado, crab salad and seaweed salad — cost an extra $1. A regular bowl comes with two large scoops of protein for $9.50; three scoops ($11.50) suit a big appetite. The "signature bowls" with all the ingredients pre-selected (though you can add additional toppings) all come with three scoops.
Because we always like it spicy, we tried the Fire Bowl ($11.50), which comes with spicy salmon, spicy tuna, avocado, edamame, masago and Sriracha mayo. It was satisfyingly piquant, but not fiery. We also got the Hula House Bowl ($12.50) with tuna, salmon, shrimp, cucumber, green onion, edamame, crab salad, seaweed salad and Sriracha mayo. It's a better bet for those who like their fare on the milder side, though it can be heated up.
At Ohia Poke, there are no pre-selected options. The base options are white rice, brown rice and salad (though, curiously, the menu says that salad is only available in the medium serving). The scoops of protein are smaller than those at Hula Poke. A large serving ($12.25) comes with five scoops, medium three ($8.75) and small two ($7). There are also more options and none of them are marinated: tuna, salmon, organic chicken, organic tofu, shrimp, crab and scallops. Ohia Poke doesn't charge extra for avocado and seaweed salad (big plus for us). It also has fried scallions for a topping, which added a satisfyingly rich crunch.
Poke Hula is just a quick walk away from Arkansas Times HQ, so we've been there more often. We've only been to Ohia Poke twice and both times we had a big appetite, so we've only gotten the large. It seemed to be about the same size as Hula Poke's.
In sum, you can't wrong at either spot. We'll be back to both often.
419 E. Third St.
10 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
220 W. Sixth St.
10 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily.Quick bite
Ohia Poke may be the spot to take your finicky, vegetarian or vegan friends, as it has many more cooked and vegetarian options.