Poke is officially in Little Rock. A couple of restaurants have introduced the Hawaiian classic dish over the last year or so, but nobody in Central Arkansas had dedicated an entire concept to poke. Now, there’s Poke Hula, a poke-only concept from the Weng family, owners of Samurai Steakhouse in Shackleford Crossing. The restaurant is now open on 3rd Street, in the same spot that was once home to Brown Sugar Bakeshop and, most recently, Taco Beer Burrito.
First, a quick word about poke (pronounced POH-keh). It’s traditionally a raw, marinated fish salad served as an appetizer or main course in Hawaii. The main seafood is usually tuna or octopus, though salmon is very common in the mainland U.S. Typical seasonings include soy sauce, green onions, sesame oil, seaweed, fish eggs, wasabi and other ingredients commonly found in the Pacific. About five years ago, poke became hugely popular in California and New York, which eventually led to its arrival here in Arkansas.
“It was so popular on the West Coast and the East Coast, and when we went there, we realized we wanted to bring something like this to Arkansas,” said Amy Weng, co-owner and manager at Poke Hula. “We don’t have anything like this in Arkansas, and we wanted to be the first ones.”
Poke Hula, like most poke restaurants, is a fast-casual joint. Customers step up to one end of the counter and either pick a signature bowl or build their own poke. At Poke Hula, the most common base is rice, though kale chips are available. From there, diners choose their protein, mix-in vegetables, sauce and seasoned toppings. The bowl gets a lid, and you have your poke after being in line for just a few minutes.
So how is it? Well, you have to like raw fish for most items, but if you do, you’re bound to find something to love at Poke Hula. My personal favorite was the simple Hawaii bowl, which let the tuna shine alongside flavors of green onion, seaweed salad and a sweet Ponzu sauce. Next time, though, I’ll definitely be making my own; Amy Weng shared her favorite combination of spicy tuna and spicy salmon, pineapple, seaweed, octopus salad, wasabi cream sauce and Sriracha mayo.
“A lot more people want to be clean and eat healthy, and this is the perfect way to get a clean, healthy meal,” said Weng. “It’s something fresh and new, you can make your own style of bowl with your own choices. We just think it’s a great idea.”
This is Poke Hula’s “soft open” week, which features some deals for diners who make it in. When I stopped by, it was 15 percent off your ticket and free bottled drinks. Check Facebook to see what Poke Hula is offering. The restaurant will be officially open starting Monday and staying open seven days a week. Those wanting a change of pace in their meals, or just craving a fresh, light alternative to fast food, should definitely give Poke Hula a try.