Remember back in 2015 when DC was a vast poke desert? Fast forward and now there are at least 20 poke shops in the Washingtonian area and a lot more coming.
However, there’s a big difference between “Mainland poke” and actual Hawaiian poke. The island stuff is traditionally pretty simple: cubed raw tuna, onions, and a soy-sesame oil sauce. Occasionally, a spicy mayo sauce is allowable. Chicken and kale? Um, no.
As someone born and raised in Hawaii who’s eaten her fair share of poke, I dissected DC-area menus to find the least authentic bowls out there. Here’s my ranking from bad to worse:
4221 John Marr Dr., Annandale
The dish: Seaweed-wrapped “poke burrito” stuffed with sushi rice, chicken, kale, cilantro, mango, and orange segments.
Our take: This isn’t really poke… or a burrito. A wrap? Maybe?
4. Poki DC
1895 L St., NW; 906 F St., NW
The dish: Zucchini noodles and sous-vide chicken breast topped with cilantro, kale, watermelon radish, and tangerine, then drizzled with a sweet strawberry sauce.
Our take: Strawberry sauce belongs on an ice cream sundae. “Zoodles” belong nowhere.
3. Poké Papa
806 H St., NW
The dish: Mixed greens and larb chicken topped with cilantro, jalapeno, coconut flakes, and carrot, plus a mango-chili-lime sauce.
Our take: Poke in Hawaiian literally means “to cut crosswise into pieces,” not grind up like larb (which, by the way, is Thai). This is just a salad.
2. Aloha Pokē Co
50 Massachusetts Ave., NE
The dish: Kelp noodles and grilled chicken topped with jalapeno, pineapple, and crunch, plus yuzu-ranch sauce.
Our take: The Chicago-based chain behind this concoction recently sent cease-and-desist letters to Hawaiian-owned poke shops for using the word “aloha” in their names. Hard to believe they’re trying to claim “aloha” when they can barely claim poke.
11990 Market St., Reston
The dish: Chips and sweet egg topped with cilantro, jalapeno, pineapple, and sweet corn mixed, plus a Chipotle mayo sauce.
Our take: This sounds more like the most disappointing plate of nachos ever.