Poking Around Town For The Best Poke

Jo McGarry
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Friday - December 01, 2006
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Nico Chaize
Nico Chaize

The holiday season brings with it an increase in the price of ahi and other coveted fish for New Year’s, so it’s a good time to load up on poke and enjoy before the seasonal pricing goes sky high.

There are a number of fabulous poke centers around Honolulu, almost all of them retain an air of rustic charm alongside the smell of fish.

Tropics Fish and Vegetable offers a huge range of homemade poke (many of them made by owner Glenn Tanoue’s mother, Katherine “Mama K”), and there’s a daily display of up to 20 different types within the grocery store at Ward Farmers Market. I love to shop here. It’s definitely food shopping of a completely different kind. There are buckets of homemade kim chee out on the store floor, local eggs, fruits and vegetables straight from the farm, a ton of ethnic foods and a wide range of fresh fish. Tropics is one of the largest fish distributors in the state, so there’s always a plentiful supply of fish straight from the morning auction.

And speaking of the fish auction - I just can’t wait for the day when there’s a fish market right there at the harbor. Imagine driving over to the auction house and then being able to buy fresh fillets or whole fish to take home?

For now, Nico Chaize does an incredible job of catering to huge breakfast and lunchtime crowds. If you haven’t been to Nico’s Pier 38 location, you’re missing out on some wonderful fresh fish dishes, a great burger and the experience of eating breakfast or lunch harborside.

One of my favorite places to go for amazingly priced fish and poke is Monarch Seafood on Kalihi Street. I don’t think the prices have increased since the mid 1990s, and the quality of the fish and other local favorites is outstanding. I might be wrong, but I’m sure the first time I ordered Furikake Salmon, somewhere around 1998, it was the same price ($6.95) it is today.

Monarch is strictly a take-out and catering operation, and while the staff is friendly, they’re making everything from scratch in the back, so the service is not exactly super fast. Not that it bothers the regular customers, many of whom stand in line eating their orders of poke (a selection of fresh poke including spicy ahi, aku limu and ahi shoyu are on refrigerated display as you walk into the store) while they wait.

Try Monarch’s Ahi Katsu with Creamy Wasabi Sauce ($7.50), or the Spicy Firecracker Chicken ($6.50). Non-fish dishes are a testament to the local palate and include Kalua Pig ($5.95), Roasted Garlic Chicken ($5.95), Mochiko Chicken ($5.95) and Hamburger Steak ($5.95). All lunches come with Nalo Greens salad, potato macaroni salad and white or brown rice. I don’t know how they manage to serve such great quality food at such reasonable prices, but anyone who’s a regular here will tell you that Monarch is one of the best-kept secrets for value and great food in Honolulu.

Tamura’s is another favorite place for a poke stop. At Tamura’s Waialae store there are more than 30 different types of poke on display daily, and “poke master” Robin Hashimoto says he has up to 35 different kinds in his repertoire. Recipes change daily, depending on the availability of a variety of fish. Robin has been making poke professionally since the 1980s, and on an average day at the Tamura’s poke counter he’ll go through about 40 pounds of fish.

If you’d rather have your fish cooked before you eat it, take a trip out to 99 Ranch Market, where they’ll deep-fry almost anything you buy while you continue to shop.

Now brace yourselves for the New Year’s Eve ahi prices, and enjoy!

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