Poke bowls in San Francisco
This slick breakfast-lunch spot is another Hawaiian transplant: owner Ken Weller helped establish a Blue Hawaii in Honolulu before opening a San Francisco sister-store in 2010. (Though the mall location is hardly beachy, the surfboard-shaped tables are a nice touch.) The restaurant has gained a following among the downtown desk-set for its acai bowls, poke bowls and all-natural smoothies. The drinks are dairy- and artificial sweetener-free, blended with organic soy milk and apple juice. Highlights include the Lime Drop, a tongue-tingling blend of acai, berries and fresh lime, and the Pink Dragon, which contains dragon fruit and banana.
Owners Shirley Lam, Raymond Chu and John Su took over the longtime Chile Pies space last year, reimagining the former burrito bar. The spot now serves poke bowls and nori-wrapped sushi burritos. Fish choices include tuna, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp, and octopus; opt for the bigeye tuna, which is flown in from Hawaii three times a week. The twenty-odd toppings include Cali-inspired add-ons like sun-dried tomato, guacamole and fresh crabmeat. Pair your bowl with the subtly spicy tartare and chips or a bite-sized Spam musubi.
Owners Quan Khuu, Brenden Lam, Khuong Luu, Tammy Nguyen and Clarence Wong have their poke assembly line on lock. The experience is streamlined with checklist ordering cards, and the bowls are uncommonly generous. Bases include brown and white rice, mixed greens, and kale (a welcome touch), with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, crab and shrimp and typically available as protein. (All the fish is sourced through ABS Seafood, a SF-based distributor.) Toppings run the gamut, from jalapeño to mango. Garnish your bowl with the Korean pepper-infused Spicy Seoul sauce. For dessert, Poki Time stocks a dozen flavors of mochi and macaron ice cream sandwiches from Maven’s Creamery.
Bay Area natives Reza Morvari and Angel Serratos first pulled their Bowl’D Acai food truck into San Francisco in August 2014 and expanded into poke bowls in 2016. The Bowl'D Up rig does brisk business in front of the mid-Market Blue Bottle weekday mornings, where regulars line up for smoothies, acai bowls and poke. The limited menu offers an “OG” tuna, salmon or tofu bowl, all served with green and white onions, masago, seaweed salad, sesame seeds, dried shallots, and avocado. (Feeling iffy about raw fish from a food truck? The poke can be seared or cooked all the way through upon request.) Add-ons include serrano peppers, ginger, and crush macadamia nuts. Tack on a can of Hawaiian Sun juice for $3.
Brothers Danny and Johnny Eng know their fish: They also own Tailgate Seafood, a familiar name at local farmers’ markets. Here, the bigeye tuna is flown in from Hawaii and the salmon comes fresh from Norway. Start with a base of brown rice, white rice, or local greens, then load it up with fish, tofu and toppings like green onions, crab salad, masago, avocado, edamame and sesame seeds. Top it off with Johnny’s Yaki, an addictive spicy-sweet special sauce, and wash it down with a can of Hawaiian green tea lychee juice.
This wood-swathed NoPa cafe used to be a standard, sandwich-slinging deli. Since launching poke bowls and sushi burritos last year, it’s earned a loyal following. The walls are decked in dog Polaroids and pup-themed decor; Choco, the resident corgi, is often out front. Grab a checklist and choose from ahi tuna, hamachi, snow crab, shrimp, spicy tuna or tofu. The sides are standard, but uncommonly fresh, including onion, corn, jalapeno, seaweed salad, ginger, masago, scallions, cucumbers, avocado and mango. The wasabi mayo is a revelation.
Our Poke Place proprietor Jeannie Ho is the daughter of the owners of Tao Yin, the sushi spot next door. The petite emerald-green cafe has around 20 bar-style seats. Order one of the pre-chosen flavor combinations or make your own. The bases include white and brown rice, mixed greens, sunomono, chips or seaweed salad, and the fish options span ahi tuna, hamachi, shrimp, octopus and albacore. But it’s the wide-ranging toppings that set Poke Place apart, including ikura, oshinko (yellow pickles), dried shitake mushrooms and Hawaiian chips. (Even, on occasion, a spicy dusting of Flaming Hot Cheetos.) The 16 sauces are equally inventive, in flavors like honey avocado and creamy cilantro.
This early poke evangelist touts locations up and down the West Coast. The seafood is delivered fresh daily from Japanese vendors and includes tuna, salmon, albacore, shrimp, octopus, tuna luau, yellowtail and even scallops. Opt for a base of rice or salad and one of eight sauces, like sweet citrus. Then load up your bowl with add-ons like ginger, crab meat, daikon sprouts, pickled radish, avocado and crispy onions. (You can also opt for a sushi burrito, here known as the tongue-twisting “ahipokiritto.”) The spot also serves miso soup and macaron ice cream sandwiches.
Lima & Shoyu is a poke spot for the discerning diner, sourcing farmed Arctic char from Washington state, pole-caught albacore tuna from Hawaii, and trap-caught octopus from Spain. It’s owned by environmentalist Casson Trenor and chefs Raymond Ho and Kin Wai Lui, the trio behind sustainable sushi restaurant Tataki. The wide-ranging toppings include welcome wild cards like kukui nuts, shredded nori and pickled pineapple
Owner Chris Lim presides over a poke empire, with over 20 locations spanning the West Coast. (In addition to San Francisco, you’ll find outposts in Mountain View and Palo Alto.) At this streamlined bar in the Twitter Market (take a right at the snack aisle), you can choose between six flavor-packed bowls. The best-seller is the spicy-sweet Firecracker, laden with ahi tuna, masago, cucumber, sweet, crispy, and green onions, chili, spicy mayo and house dressing. You can also create your own bowl with a selection of tuna, salmon, albacore, octopus, shrimp, scallops or tofu. One weirdly tasty option: In addition to the usual rice and greens, you can line your bowl with tortilla chips.