Raw fish is one of my favorite things. My dad spent a lot of time in Japan (Navy family) and loves sushi, so we ate a lot of it growing up and it was never weird or scary to me… being on the west coast around lots of great seafood restaurants didn’t hurt either. I loved it so much that my first restaurant job was a sushi restaurant. You get the picture.
Austin has offered its fair share of tasty sushi for years, but the poke craze didn’t really hit down here until late 2016-early 2017. I’ve been meaning to post this guide for ummm, months, but a crazy summer travel schedule (and honestly, laziness) prevented me from collecting all my favorite spots for poke in Austin until now… so hopefully this round-up has a few new suggestions for you and maybe reminds you of some old poke favorites as well.
Oh, and if you’re not familiar with poke? It’s a cold, raw fish mixture traditionally dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil. Seaweed, furikake, green onion, masago, macadamia nuts, and more are often mixed in. These days you see most mainland poke shops in a fast-casual format, offering you the chance to “build your own” in a counter service kind of setting. I like to load mine up with almost every seaweed, vegetable, etc. Poke is often served over white rice, but I like to get mine over greens or just by itself.
If you don’t know, now you know.
Where to Eat Poke in Austin:
2 locations: South Congress & Allandale
Poke-Poke journeyed here all the way from the beaches of Ventura, and while I’m not exactly sure why this LA poke superstar chose Austin as their second home, I’m glad they did. I’ve eaten at the original Poke-Poke, and every time I visit the Austin location I feel like I’m back on the west coast, people-watching under a palm tree. Never change, Ventura. And never change, Poke-Poke, because you are delicious and authentic (as far as I’m concerned at least) and your restaurant teams are so friendly and chill. Tip: get Hawaiian style (more fish, no rice) and the Aloha seasoning/sauce blend.
Besides making me think of one of the most iconic scenes in Pulp Fiction, Big Kahuna is great because the people who own the truck are awesome, so friendly and funny. Oh and the poke is just as awesome, giant portions featuring crab-shaped carrot pieces! Awww. And! If you don’t want it served with white rice (which, as you recall, I do not) you can select sunomono (cucumber) salad, Maui slaw, or a mix of both.
Oh, summer of 2016, what an exciting time. I was planning my wedding, building up my freelance practice while taking on a new restaurant marketing gig, saving up for our trip to French Polynesia, and, obviously mostly importantly, Ola Poke opened on Lamar & Airport. While I’m not sure if their quality is as good as Poke-Poke or Big Kahuna (maybe it just varies – also I have eaten here multiple times so it’s obviously still good), it was one of the OG Austin poke places and I grabbed many a road lunch in this little North Lamar strip mall. Always in my heart.
Poke House is definitely one of the more modern, less traditional places to grab some poke. They offer poke burritos (intrigued but I’ve never gotten one cuz I don’t love having a lot of white rice) and most importantly, they offer CRUSHED HOT CHEETOS and CRUSHED NACHO CHEESE DORITOS as poke toppings. I know this might be a little sacrilegious, but IDGAF. It’s so good. Also they have a loyalty punch card program, and since Poke House is only a few minutes from both my dentist and dermatologist, they’re my post-appointment lunch and I’m well on my way to a free (Doritos-topped!) poke bowl.
Mongers Market + Kitchen
Mongers is not just a poke place, but a full seafood restaurant and fresh fish counter. I love this place! It was one of the first places I found good poke in Austin. If you’re dining in (they have lunch, dinner, and also a great brunch) check out the ahi poke from their raw bar, made with shoyu, scallion, ogo (edible seaweed commonly used in poke), and macadamia.
Elizabeth Street Cafe
This is kind of a tricky one, because I don’t think Elizabeth Street always has poke on its menu. But if you see it… get it! Their poke is so beautiful and delectable (just like everything else there, in my opinion). The last time I had Elizabeth Street Cafe’s poke, it was during my bridesmaid lunch a day before my wedding… almost exactly a year ago. How time flies.
Rob and I hit up the newly-opened Alley Cat on its first weekend in operation and we were very impressed! It’s a truck next to a little service building/window in the back of Craftsman bar on Cesar Chavez. And it’s owned by the same people who run Mongers! I don’t think they have a website yet but it’s a pretty self explanatory situation. You pick salmon or ahi tuna, choose a base of white rice, spring greens, or wontons (fun!), pick a sauce (traditional, spicy mayo, or wasabi, if my memory serves me correctly) then select your add-ons and toppings. Rob got a crab salad add-on, which is actually a macaroni crab salad and it’s delightful. I ordered seaweed salad an avocado on top of mixed fish in spicy mayo with a greens base. Soooo good. This is a new fave!
Okay, hear me out. Obviously HEB is not a hotbed of authentic poke, but you know what, when I am in a serious grab-and-go situation I am NOT too proud for the ol’ HEB sushi counter. The Mueller HEB (and many others, I’m sure) has multiple types of poke bowls, including versions with zucchini noodles instead of rice! I like to replate mine at home with extra greens (see above). Sometimes they also have weird things, like one time they had a “poke bowl” with tuna, berries and like, a lemon sauce? No. That’s taking it too far, HEB.
?!?!??!?! This place is SUCH. A. TEASE. It’s about 5 minutes from my house. They have a big “opening soon!” banner near my fave Thai takeout place in the neighborhood, but the banner has been there since March and not much progress seems to be happening. I always stare in their windows like a creep (no shame in my game) and I dunno. It’s become a weird obsession. When will you open, Pokeatery?! I think it’s a franchise but I don’t care, at this point it’s just the principle of it all. Don’t taunt me like this. Or I’ll open my own poke franchise.
There you have it, those are my favorite places to grab some poke in Austin. There are a few joints I have yet to try – there’s a new trailer on East 6th called “Poke Me Long Time” – the name itself has deterred me from going (sorry… not sorry) but my love of poke will soon override my annoyance, I’m sure. There’s also a place near campus called Poke Bowl and another called Look Poke. Plenty more poke to explore!