One of my favorite things about Hawaii is the prevalence of excellent poke (pronounced POH-KAY) everywhere. Poke is a Hawaiian invention, a cold salad typically made with chopped raw ahi tuna tossed together with sea salt and spices. Although ahi (yellowfin) tuna is the most popular ingredient, other types of fish, and even octopus, can be used. The traditional Hawaiian poke is heavily influenced by Asian flavors and can include ingredients such as soy sauce, sesame oil, and seaweed.
Our trip itinerary included only about a day and a half in the Kailua-Kona (western) side of the Big Island. We were being ambitious, squeezing in diving, Kona coffee exploration, and hiking at the famous volcano all in about three days.
Poke turned out to be the perfect lunch food. It’s light, delicious, quick, and relatively inexpensive. It’s great for a quick lunch before a dive because it won’t sit heavily in your stomach for hours. Best yet, it’s absolutely delicious.
Even if I weren’t diving, I could totally eat poke every single day.
We ate at two poke shacks, went on two phenomenal dives, and even went snorkeling (and saw giant turtles!!) all in a span of 24 hours.
1. Da Poke Shack
Da Poke Shack was the first poke shack we visited. It is very conveniently located, only about a 10-minute drive from our hotel, The Sheraton Kona Resort. Like most poke shacks, you order and pay at the counter. There is a refrigerator where you can grab your drinks. Seating is just a couple of benches, which are outside. They only open 10am – 6pm, and lines sometimes get long, so definitely take that into account when planning!
There are many different kinds of poke, which are all displayed behind a glass counter. They’ll let you taste anything before ordering it, so it’s fun to taste a bunch of different ones.
You can order anything a la carte by weight. Seriously, if I lived locally, I would probably always get some to bring home. However, since we were eating there, we ordered a Poke Plate, which includes 1/3 pound of poke, two side dishes, and two scoops rice or quinoa.
After tasting several, we settled on three different types of poke: the Wet Hawaiian, an award winning poke made with inamona (a condiment made with roasted candlenuts and salt), Dynamite, chock full of avocados, and a soy based one. For our sides, we ordered a mussels salad and a seaweed salad. The salads were fine, but the poke was the star.
Sharing one combo plate wasn’t quite enough food for us, so we ended up going back and ordering a simple cucumber salad (I think it’s marinated with Korean spices), as well as three more different types of poke.
All in all, the fish was super fresh (the key really good poke is to never use frozen fish!) and the poke was delicious. I’m so jealous of Hawaiian locals, who get to eat this all the time.
If I had more time, I would have loved to try some of the other Hawaiian specialties that they offer, such as Kalua pork (slow roasted pork shoulder), Huli Huli chicken (slow roasted chicken), or the Lau Lau plate (pork and butterfish wrapped in a taro leaf and steamed).
Another highly rated poke shack, Umeke’s, was about a 15-minute drive from our hotel. We stopped by here for a really quick meal after a morning of snorkeling before heading out on our long drive to Volcano National Park on the other side of the island.
Umeke’s is set up very similarly to Da Poke Shack, with bins full of the day’s freshly made poke on display in a glass case. There’s virtually no seating inside. You have to grab a picnic bench outside or take it to go (maybe to the nearby beach?)
It was fascinating to look behind the counter and watch the worker hand-cut perfect cubes from the huge piles of Ahi tuna.
The poke at Umeke’s was excellent. We tried an avocado Ahi poke as well as a spicy mayo version. They also had Lomi Lomi, a tomato salsa made with salmon that’s pretty tasty.
All in all, everything was really, really good. I think we preferred Umeke’s ever-so-slightly over Da Poke Shack. But honestly, they are both really enjoyable and you really can’t go wrong at either place. I’m glad we got to try both!
This post is part of a larger series on our two week trip to Hawaii. Other posts in this series!
Da Poke Shack
76-6246 Alii Dr
Kailua Kona, HI 96740
75-5742 Kuakini Hwy Ste 105
Kailua Kona, HI 96740