Poke (pronounced Poh-Kay) is a traditional Hawaiian dish that somehow managed to become the Instagram obsession and fast-casual darling of the past several years. We tried some at Little Bear Poke in Montclair last year, but that’s just the tip of the Jersey poke iceberg.
The sudden surge in popularity is good and bad: bad because that means some poke places are definitely just chasing a trend, and doing a poor job of putting quality (ideally responsibly-sourced) fish and traditional flavors center stage; good because well-made poke is reliably delicious and nutritious, and its proliferation means more attention might be paid Hawaiian cuisine in general.
If you’ve never tried it or considering yourself a poke expert, here are a few poke spots around the Garden State doing something a little extra, or simply a little better.
Fresh Coast in Newark
Born “Ono Grinds Poke” in 2017 and recently (as in January of this year) rechristened Fresh Coast, this is a bright, color-splashed self-described :Hawaiian Restaurant” from two friends who, like many, went to Hawaii, tried poke, and fell in love. The “extra” element here is an added emphasis on health (their hashtag #MindBodyBowl) and a much more extensive menu than most poke spots. You can get anything from Poke Nachos, Avocado Toast, Waimea Tacos (seasoned raw fish in corn tortillas), House-made Horchata, and loaded Coconut and/or Acai Bowls with the possible addition of something called “Blue Majik” (most likely the just-launched spirulina base).
1227 Raymond Boulevard, Newark; 973-982-7653
Okie Pokii Café in Highland Park
If you’re not a fan of Takoyaki—the little fried octopus balls common in Japanese street food—Okie Pokii Café might turn you. Not that their poke menu isn’t extensive—they’re known for generosity with add-ins, super flavorful sauces (also unlimited), and of course healthy amounts of protein. But unlike some poke-purist spots, Okie Poke has a bigger supporting cast, appetizers like Takoyaki, Salt & Pepper Chicken, Cheese Fries, as well as lots of Bubble Teas and Fruit Teas, and a small section of Milk Crepe Cakes which (if you like soft, sweet, delicately layered desserts) you should probably try.
55 Raritan Avenue, Highland Park; 732-227-0022
Poke Crew in Englewood
“Chef-driven poke bowls.” That’s the promise of Englewood’s Poke Crew, the brainchild of chef friends with Michelin star restaurant experience and some ambitions of their own. The place clearly does high volume (well), as this Instagram shot of a midday rush shows, and (according to their website, anyway) the fish itself is chosen by the chefs every morning. The Signature Poke Bowls are definitely more elaborate (read: cheffy) than you’ll find elsewhere.
1 Palisade Avenue, Englewood; 201-431-9500
Raw Poke Bar in Point Pleasant
Two unexpected elements at Raw Poke Bar: an ultra-minimalist space with a beautiful slab wood bar counter for your fast-casual-dining convenience, and cold brew coffee. Sure, coffee and raw fish don’t necessarily seem like the most obvious pairing, but customers seem happy—and you can always get a Japanese soda to go with your poke, which is the star of the show here. It’s a Shore spot, so you’re counting on an emphasis on fresh fish.
516 Bay Avenue, Point Pleasant; 732-451-7720
Tidal Poke Co. in Jersey City
Tidal Poke tries to go for more authentic Hawaiian poke, at least in the modern sense (old school poke was most likely made with reef fish by the native Hawaiian fishermen who relied on it). Their main protein is Ahi Tuna, and they also offer Giant Octopus, which is less common in modern mainland poke spots. They care about sustainable sourcing and tout the (not extraordinary) fact of having a totally gluten-free menu. Clearly they’re a hit with the locals—they just opened their second location in the District Kitchen food hall.
34 Exchange Place, Harborside Financial Center; and 337 Grove Street, Jersey City; 201-839-5470
The Watering Hull in Stone Harbor
The Watering Hull in Stone Harbor is more of a funky Shore destination than poke place, but that’s what makes it unique. The tidy little “Poke” section of the menu sees a lot of action; it’s a standard order here, an ultra-simple formula with super fresh fish, add-ons like wasabi peas and fried taco shells and a coconut-quinoa base that’s not quite authentic, but a big hit nonetheless. If you want consistently good poke from a solid seafood menu with a side of jerk seasoning or live music, this is your joint.
261 96th Street, Stone Harbor; 609-830-3106