Poke is not a brand new concept; this dish (essentially a bowl of raw fish cut into cubes) has been a staple of the Hawaiian culture forever, but it is new to Durham, NC. Within the past year, we’ve seen the poke trend really take hold here in the Bull City.
There are now five local restaurants where you can satisfy a craving for a fresh bowl of fish, rice and veggies. Here’s our list of where to get the best poke in Durham and what the key differences are with each.
810 Ninth St., Durham
ZenFish is a new addition to Ninth Street, with a small indoor seating area, a few tables outside and build-your-own poke bowl counter service. What’s great about ZenFish is that they try to source as much as they can from local farmers, and fresh greens add to the overall delicious fresh taste.
You can customize your own bowl: Start with your proteins, then make your way down the line adding as many topping as you like, and a sauce. Helpful staff is happy to make recommendations. Of course, if it’s your first poke experience or if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the options, you can get one of their signature bowls, such as the “Grateful Bowl” consisting of four scoops of protein, green onions, white onions, crispy onions, radish, masago, sriracha aioli and avocado over a bed of mixed greens/white rice.
Bowls are filling and reasonably priced, considering all the ingredients in them: $11.45 for a regular and $13.95 for a large. Avocado is a $1.00 add-on, but other toppings are no charge so you can really get creative! You can even replace the rice with quinoa or zucchini noodles (for $1.00), or opt to get your poke in burrito form!
Pho & Poke House
2816 Erwin Rd. #207, Durham
Pho & Poke house is another build-your-own bowl experience. Like ZenFish, they have a few signature bowl options if you just don’t know where to begin.
As you work your way down the line, you can choose 2-3 scoops of protein (fish) marinated in a soy sauce mixture, which kinds of greens and fruit to add, sauces ranging from mild to spicy, and then whichever toppings you want to put on top for a little crunch at the end.
This new restaurant is located near Duke Hospital and is perfect for med students and staff. There are a few seats inside – good for meeting up with a friend or colleague one-on-one. For a quick, casual bowl of poke to-go, it definitely hits the spot and is an interesting addition to the shops on Erwin Road, fulfilling a brand new category of cuisine in that area.
The price is similar other poke restaurants, ranging from $10.50 to $13.00, depending on how much protein you add; other toppings are no charge.
311 Holland St., Durham
Even restaurants where the sole focus is not poke, are adding this increasingly popular raw fish meal to the menu. For instance, a poke bowl combo with miso soup makes an appearance on the lunch menu at M Sushi in downtown Durham. In this bowl, which consists of assorted sashimi over rice, you will find beautiful cubes of big eye tuna, fresh white tuna from Hawaii, yellowtail, and salmon. There is always a nice variety in each bowl. “We have those four kinds of fish always fresh because we rotate through them very fast for our sushi menu,” says owner/chef Micheal Lee. While the fish is not “marinated” it’s tossed in a bowl with the sauce and nicely coated. In addition, M Sushi’s poke bowl, priced at $17.00 (including the miso soup), has masago (smelt roe), seasoned seaweed salad, avocado, radish, micro greens, and crispy shallots on top.
Shops at Erwin Mill, 737 Ninth St. #210, Durham
Poke is also a guest star on the menu at Juju Asian Tapas restaurant on Ninth Street. Even though many items on the Juju menu rotate seasonally, the poke bowls are such a hit, they keep their place.
There are three different poke bowls from which to choose: One with ora king salmon, one with Hawaiian ahi tuna, and one with crispy fried tofu. The tuna and salmon are marinated in soy, sesame, wasabi and sweet onion. None are spicy per se, but the salmon and tofu have a delicious spicy mayo sauce.
“The tuna and salmon both have a special component, and my favorite part, called Fukujinzuke: a pickled Asian salad with daikon and cucumber (like a soy pickle) and also tobiko (flying fish roe),” shares chef Kacie Walker. “The wasabi we use for the tuna is also fresh wasabi, unlike most (which is a paste). All bowls come with nori paper for rolling.
In the tuna bowl, you’ll find macadamia, wasabi, fukujinzuke, avocado, pickled ginger, seaweed salad, and tobiko. The salmon bowl includes house-made corn relish (with onion, red bell pepper, etc.), fukujinzuke, sweet onion, spicy mayo, avocado, micro mustard greens, tobiko. Lastly, the crispy tofu, dusted in rice flour, includes sweet chili sauce, pickled onion, spicy mayo, corn relish, sweet chili cucumbers, and avocado. And it’s vegan!
Juju’s poke bowls are $13-$16 for lunch; add a few extra dollars for dinner. Since it’s a tapas restaurant, you could opt to share it along with other plates, or just keep it all to yourself as an entree.
Happy + Hale
Shops at Erwin Mill, 703 Ninth St., Durham
As you might gather from this article, Ninth Street has recently become a hot spot for poke (I’m sure this makes Duke students happy!). This includes the addition of the ahi tuna poke bowl with sushi rice, avocado, scallion, sesame dressed with citrus ponzu and ginger wasabi dressing, to the newly introduced spring menu at Happy + Hale. This one is priced at $9.95.
So, mark all these places on your foodie map and take a tour of the delicious poke options around Durham.
Photos: Top two via @bitesofbullcity Instagram; next three courtesy of M Sushi, Juju, and Happy + Hale