It’s taken DC a while to catch up with the West Coast’s poke fever, but it looks like the trend will arrive in full force this year. Aside from the slew of restaurants that have added the Hawaiian specialty to their menus, the folks behind Abunai food truck are opening a poke shop downtown, and Poki District is bringing one to Penn Quarter.
Add one more to the list: Poké Papa, also headed to Penn Quarter in mid-March.
Owner Kerry Chao‘s career has spanned from a pan-Asian restaurant he opened in his hometown of Columbia, Missouri to DC nightlife and commercial real estate. He also founded a shop devoted to another food craze—frozen yogurt—in Missouri. But he says this isn’t a case of trend-hopping. Rather, it was his own cravings for poke that led him to the concept. Plus, it seemed like a good fit: “DC I feel like is a very healthy city,” he says. “Poke is a very healthy dish—high in protein, low in saturated fats.”
It wasn’t until Chao took some research trips out to Los Angeles, where the marinated fish dish has become as ubiquitous as avocado toast and green juice, that he started to realize the extent of the poke craze. Also during those visits, Chao spent time with a family friend who’s been a sushi chef for more than 50 years in order to learn some fish-handling techniques he hopes will set Poké Papa apart.
The menu will include “signature” bowls as well as a build-you-own set-up that starts with a choice of mixed greens or white, brown, or purple Forbidden rice. In addition to raw fish like ahi tuna, salmon, and yellowtail, proteins will include Thai-style minced chicken salad and tofu. The bowls will be finished with a range of sauces (wasabi shoyu, yuzu, sriracha aioli) and toppings (mango, seaweed salad, avocado). The meals will come in three sizes ranging from around $7.49 to $12.99 with two to six “scoops” of proteins.
Inspired by the popularity of sushi burritos, Poké Papa will also have “poke wraps” rolled in seaweed paper.
The menu will also include a few desserts, including an ice cream sandwich of sorts on a sweet bun with jackfruit, tapioca pearls, coconut flakes, whipped cream, and more. Chao says he’s also considering adding bubble tea.
The 30-seat poke joint will also have self-ordering tablets when you walk in. Diners can go to one side of the restaurant to see the assembly line of ingredients and order from the staff, or head to one of the screens to punch in an order and pay.
“Basically, that will speed up service,” Chao says. “The people who know what they want, have been there before, understand how it works, they can go to the self-ordering and they don’t have to wait in the same line.”
Poké Papa, 806 H St., NW; 202-393-7653.