Eat Here Now

In Portland’s Poke Wars, Which Bowl Reigns Supreme?

The Hawaiian raw seafood trend has finally arrived. We size up three contenders.

By Benjamin Tepler September 13, 2016 Published in the October 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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The Bamboo Bowl at Bamboo Sushi Annex features Oregon albacore and a sweet, cilantro-heavy "Green Machine" dressing, all topped with confetti strips of nori and crunchy fried shallots.

Image: Michael Novak

Portland is usually a little late to the latest, greatest national food “thing,” but we’re way behind when it comes to the poke craze, a Hawaiian marinated raw fish movement that skyrocketed up through California and has spread across the country over the past few years. What makes a good poke bowl? Fresh fish; fluffy, well-cooked rice; and an even flavor profile, the elements often as simple as shoyu and sesame oil. From by-the-pound, Big Island–style seafood shacks to fancified sustainable lunch spots, we’ve got the 808 on where to get your ahi fix.

World Foods

Price per bowl: $8–9

From an economic standpoint, no-frills supermarket poke is the way to go. Specialty shops like Beaverton’s Uwajimaya have been making it for years, but for the downtown working set, World Foods in the Pearl—the more central branch of Barbur World Foods—is a godsend. The avocado-ahi bowl is a best seller, as is the spicy tuna (they’re serious), but we like the squid: sweet and gingery with an excellent, toothsome quality. 830 NW Everett St,

Poke Mon

Price per bowl: $8.75–11.75

Portland’s first standalone poke restaurant is manned by Colin Yoshimoto, a Hawaiian native who’s played pinch hitter at some of the city’s best eateries, from Nodoguro to Nong’s Khao Man Gai. The white tile and air plant–strung Hawthorne shop serves six bowls, ranging from classic Hawaiian ahi to a vegan tofu bowl, starring Portland’s own Ota Tofu, with shiitake mushrooms and kale. The sesame-heavy, purple-hued octopus bowl is the best choice, tossed with crunchy, local Choi’s Kimchi, onions, and cucumbers, though we found sauces to be a little one-dimensional and overpowering in general. 1485 SE Hawthorne Blvd,

Bamboo Sushi Annex

Price per bowl: $13–14

Poke gets the artisan treatment with sustainable sushi chain Bamboo’s miniature Annex, slotted next door to the West End location. Some things work: upgraded toppings, from candied Thai chiles to sesame brittle; hefty portions; fresh, often local fish; and Hood River’s Juanitas tortilla chips as a standard sub-in for white rice. Other ideas flop. Oregon hazelnuts and bee pollen are not friends to raw seafood. Prices are steep. And the “poke nachos”—a three-layered dip of yuzu guac, “krab,” and tuna—are a textural train wreck. Stick to the Bamboo Bowl, with honkin’ cubes of Oregon albacore tossed in a sweet, cilantro-heavy “Green Machine” dressing, all topped with confetti strips of nori and crunchy fried shallots. Win. 1122 SW Stark St,

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