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It took a few years for the poké craze to sweep Boston, but now the Hawaiian raw fish dish is no longer a West Coast novelty. Traditional poké bowls—influenced by Japanese and Korean cuisines—feature cubed raw fish on a bed of white rice with a light dressing of soy sauce, sesame seeds, and maybe some diced avocado. Modern day bowls, however, tend to favor maximalism; many fast casual poké bars offer at least a dozen topping options, from seaweed salad to wasabi peas, and enough sauces to appease every flavor preference. If sushi’s wilder and more customizable cousin is not already a part of your weekly lunch rotation, consider this a sign that it should be. Whether you prefer your tuna, salmon, or even tofu prepared simply or with all the fixings, we’ve compiled a list of shops that will make poké your way.
Chef Phillip Tang describes Hawaii as a “melting pot of Asian cuisine,” so it’s fitting that he serves the island chain’s signature snack at Banyan, where the menu includes Chinese, Japanese, and Korean influences. Tang opts for ahi tuna cubes for his take on the classic Hawaiian dish, dressed up with fiery sambal aioli, fresh avocado slices, and a sweet, sticky glaze that will leave you scraping the bowl to lick up every last drop. For extra acidity and crunch, the meal also includes pickled red cucumber, carrots, and edamame. We’re all for build-your-own bowls, but in this case, we’re more than glad to let chef Tang take the lead.
553 Tremont St., Boston, 617-556-4211, banyanboston.com .
This Providence-based poké spot caters to Boston diners via its well-liked food truck, which sets up shop by Rowes Wharf Plaza and Massachusetts General Hospital. There, you’ll find bowls brimming with your choice of protein, plus a medley of house-made sauces and toppings like garlic crisps. For a palette-tingling treat, indulge in the jalapeño-garnished “Spicy Shrimp” bowl, drizzled with sriracha aioli. Not feeling fish? Try the “Veggie Works” dish instead; made with organic tofu and finished with ginger-shoyu sauce, the bowl is a hearty blend of carrots, kale, seaweed salad, and more.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Tuesday, Rowes Wharf Plaza, Atlantic Ave. and High St., Boston; and 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Thursday, Massachusetts General Hospital, 45 Blossom St., Boston, hometownpoke.com.
Inspired by his mother’s lauded Somerville Korean restaurant, Wuchon House, Joon “Kimchipapi” Son opened his own kitchen in 2018 to honor his mother’s culinary legacy and the street food of South Korea. Alongside classic roadside eats such as ddukbokki (rice cakes and fish cakes covered in gochujang sauce) and obscenely delicious French fry-coated Korean corn dogs, Son also serves loaded poké bowls. Opt for one of his kimchipapi or kimchimama bowls on a bed of sushi rice with all the trimmings, or create a bespoke bowl with your choice of raw salmon, spicy crab salad, tofu, or shredded beef. If you decide to customize, make sure to choose at least two sauces ( spicy mayo and eel, perhaps?) for the ideal flavor-packed poké experience.
81 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-208-8005, kimchipapi.com .
Things were looking gloomy for this Somerville poké shop after a brief shutdown in 2019, but we are happy to report Manoa is back and brighter than ever. This lunch spot is only open on the weekends, so if you want to snag one of the team’s signature tuna and salmon bowls doused in a house-made spicy lilikoi sauce, it’s best to get there on the early side. The second you walk through the door, you’ll be greeted with murals of Hawaiian flora and a counter overflowing with colorful garnishes and glistening raw fish cubes. The ahi shoyu poké, for one, is seasoned with tamari and tossed with thin slices of sweet onion, which add a nice crunch to Manoa’s fluffy rice bowls. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, go for the spicy salmon poké—which gets its kick from kim chee aioli—or the Samoan-style yellowfin poké swimming in a pool of coconut milk, spiced with bird’s eye chili. Come hungry and leave with a pleasant buzz on your taste buds.
300 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-945-1042, manoa.fish .
ONO is one of the latest additions to Boston’s poké scene and has already established itself as a local favorite. Tucked underneath a bustling Japanese noodle haunt that’s worth a separate trip, the modest restaurant boasts plenty of seating if you have time for a leisurely sit-down lunch. ONO’s house specialty bowl comes with three proteins—salmon, tuna, and shrimp—and features the restaurant’s signature zesty mayo sauce, crispy onions, and long scallion sprigs for garnish. We’re also big fans of the eatery’s spin on a classic Hawaiian salmon and tuna poké bowl, complete with orange slices and a sprinkling of crispy rice. While you can create your own dish, we prefer to let the experts make the decisions here; all of their curated options are spot-on.
1923A Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1281, onopokebarcambridge.com .
The Love Art restaurant group has already dabbled in sushi and udon (R.I.P. Love Art Udon), and now they’re tackling the art of poké bowls. Their rotating dishes range from a sesame tamari-marinated tuna bowl with house- made unagi (eel) sauce and a scoop of mac salad—a Hawaiian lunch staple—to a spicy salmon bowl sprinkled with nori furikake seasoning, black lava salt, and spicy chili crisps for some texture. When it comes to personalizing your meal, try Love Art’s pineapple aioli and garlic ponzu sauces, which complement the heat of the sriracha-heavy spicy tuna and salmon. Before you head back to the office or your WFH set-up with your poké masterpiece, make sure to order a lilikoi (passionfruit) fresca for a refreshing sip between bites.
103 Beverly St., Boston, 617-588-0889, poke-by-love-art.square.site .
Poké bowls tend to be on the pricier side, but fortunately, this downtown poké shop offers affordable dishes that don’t skimp on the toppings. With every bowl under 14 bucks, it’s hard to resist turning Poké-City into a weekly lunch habit. Here you’ll find all the typical shoyu tuna and spicy salmon offerings, plus some surf n’ turf and vegetarian bowls in case you’re worried about how much raw fish you’ve been eating recently. If you decide to make your own concoction, swap white rice for zucchini noodles for an extra crunchy (and yes, healthier) meal; the noodles taste great with Poké-City’s sesame ginger aioli. If cutting back on your lunch budget is the goal, though, Poké City offers a snack-sized bowl for less than $7 so you don’t have to sacrifice your taste buds to that sad store-bought salad you left in the office fridge.
1722 Broad St., Boston, 857-233-2260, poke-city.com .
We don’t often recommend national chains, but in the case of Pokeworks, we’ll make an exception. The California-based restaurant made waves in NYC with its then-revolutionary poké burrito, but the team’s crave-worthy Hawaiian-inspired bowls—which, in addition to the usual proteins, can be made with lobster, chicken, and tofu—are just as tempting. The yuzu-ponzo salmon bowl, for instance, is a great choice if you don’t have time to debate the intricacies of custom sauce pairings. If you’re not in the mood for starchy rice, though, order the salad plate filled with crunchy romaine and spring mix. Bonus: For a franchise, Pokeworks is pretty good about giving sizable portions, so if you don’t finish your meal, you can save it for a late-night snack.
1440 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-441-2999, pokeworks.com .
This intimate Japanese sushi spot serves fresh poké bowls until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, so if you’re looking for a quick place to meet a coworker/friend/potential client for a light bite, this little basement-level restaurant is sure to impress. TORA offers eight variations of poké featuring familiar fish proteins and less typical options including octopus, shrimp, and masago (smelt roe). Order your usual favorite or branch out with the sweet ginger-salmon poké, topped with peaches and crunchy rice puffs. Want more heat? Try the fierier Korean chili poké, cooled down with a side of seaweed salad and pickled ginger. Variety is the spice of life, right?
20B Tyler St., Boston, 617-542-6688, toraboston.com .
Kitschy surf-themed and tropical fruit décor covers this breezy lunch spot, but in all honesty, it only adds to the charm. Decidedly colorful with thinly sliced radishes, cucumbers, and avocados fanned out to look like roses, Waikiki’s hefty poké bowls are piled high with marbled salmon cubes and bright pink ahi tuna pieces that taste so fresh, we wouldn’t be surprised if they were caught that morning. Unlike some fast-casual poké shops, Waikiki does not skimp on portions and allows you to pick two to three proteins, plus up to 10 mix-ins per order. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of filling your bowl with as many delicious toppings as possible but, word to the wise: Less is more. You’ll probably swing by this Davis Square shop frequently anyway, so you might as well leave yourself something to look forward to next time.
27 Holland St., Somerville, 617-764-1743, waikiki-poke-bar.business.site .
When poké shops offer too many toppings and mix-ins, diners sometimes end up drowning out the flavor of the fresh fish—the real star of the show. This is certainly not the case at Yōki Express, where quality prevails over quantity. Here, you’ll find tuna bowls with a light drizzle of sweet soy sauce and spicy mayo, plus fresh greens that do not succumb to sauce sogginess. Yōki’s bowls are a return to form, in a sense, since traditional poké began as a riff on pared-down Japanese sashimi. Still, Yōki’s house bowls offer plenty of flourishes. If you do like dressing up your poké, the restaurant serves lots of tasty choices, especially in the sauce department. For a sweeter flavor profile, go for the vibrant mango-pineapple dressing. Those on Team Savory, meanwhile, should request the creamy sesame sauce and a dash of sriracha mayo.
53 Boston Wharf Rd., Boston, 857-263-7418, yokiexpress.com .
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