Tuna poke moving from trendy to mainstream at US restaurants

Published on
November 28, 2017

Poke dishes, which originated in Hawaii and have become popular on the West Coast of the United States, are now popping up on restaurant menus across the country.

In addition to more restaurants adding poke – which typically features raw fish, rice, vegetables, and a variety of seasonings and sauces – poke-focused restaurant chains such as Pokéworks, Poké Bar, and Pokeatery have opened in recent years and are quickly expanding.

“Poke is in a growth phase right now,” Jackie Rodriguez, senior project manager for research firm Datassential, told SeafoodSource. “This versatile dish is catching on after poke-focused urban fast-casual chains introduced the nation to this traditional Hawaiian dish.”

One of the most recent menu additions is from San Diego, California-based Rubio’s Restaurants, which operates 194 locations. Its Ahi Poke Bowl, available for a limited time, features raw, sashimi-grade ahi poke topped with tamari-based ginger soy, along with citrus rice, romaine lettuce, edamame, and sesame seeds.

"Poke has been a classic Hawaiian dish for decades, but it's become increasingly popular throughout the U.S. and around the world in recent years because it meets the growing demand for quality, convenient food options,” Ralph Rubio, co-founder of Rubio’s Restaurants, told SeafoodSource. 

Poke is light, packed with flavor, and can be sold at an affordable price point, Rubio said.

“There are also countless ways to customize this popular dish, which is why we’re seeing it offered in a variety of restaurant chains throughout the West Coast and the U.S.,” he said.

Rubio’s sources its tuna from San Diego, California-based Anova Food, which is owned by Bumble Bee Foods. The tuna is rated “green” by SeafoodWatch, Rubio said.

Meanwhile, San Mateo, California-based Pokeatery, which operates two restaurants and is opening a third, recently introduced a novel poke dish: Pokecado Toast. Starting with a base of locally-sourced artisan bread from As Kneaded Bakery, diners can choose from an array of handcrafted spreads (sesame miso, spicy mayo, wasabi aioli), fresh avocado, baby arugula and fresh poke. Or, they can order Pokeatery’s West Coast Toast with tuna, spicy crab salad and other ingredients and the Toastest with the Mostest, which is topped with salmon, wasabi citrus sauce, onions, cucumbers, and other ingredients.

“I came up with the idea for the Pokecado Toast while eating brunch with my family. I always order avocado toast and, this particular time, I thought about how good our poke would taste on top of the toast,” Pokeatery Co-owner Joann Chung told SeafoodSource.

Now, loyal customers visit the restaurants specifically for the Pokecado Toast “and they know exactly how they want to customize it,” Chung said.

While many Americans are not familiar with Hawaiian cuisine overall, poke contains familiar ingredients such as fish and avocado, according to Rodriguez, noting that 27 percent of American consumers are familiar with poke. Plus, consumers are gravitating to the dish because they associate seafood with numerous health benefits, Rodriguez said.

The trend is still young, according to Dataessential, as currently, only six percent of restaurants that regularly menu seafood feature poke dishes. However, it is expected to continue its rapid rise. 

“It may not end up on every single menu or establish itself as popular as sushi, but it is certainly resonating with consumers,” Rodriguez said.

Contributing Editor

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