Poke, the Hawaiian dish made with diced, marinated tuna or other seafood, was a rarity in Denver even just two or three years ago. Back in those dark, poke-less days, the seafood dish was only available at a few Hawaiian joints in town, like Iwayama Sushi, and as occasional appetizers at seafood giants like Jax Fish House. But recently, poke has spread to more traditional sushi bars, as well as restaurants that aren't necessarily fish houses or Pacific Rim specialists. You'll find it at Mister Tuna, where poke seems an obvious choice, as well as places like Public School 303 or the Yard House, where soy-marinated tuna swims alongside more traditional pub fare.
While culinary trends tend to take over menus in waves, poke is now hitting Denver with tsunami force, with entire eateries dedicated to the dish opening up in shopping centers and neighborhoods around town. Ohana Island Kitchen started as a walk-up joint serving Hawaiian specialties out the side door of the Truffle Table before moving across the intersection to 2563 15th Street last fall. Of Ohana's half-dozen entrees, three are poke-based, ensuring that the popular little joint sells plenty of tuna, thus keeping supplies fresh.
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Also debuting last year was PokeCity, which popped up in the Denver Tech Center at 8101 East Belleview Avenue; it offers six seafood proteins that can be matched with a number of sauces and condiments over rice or a salad base. And on the Auraria campus, S'Ono Grinds turns out ten different styles of poke, from traditional Hawaiian to kimchi to taco-style. Other players in the poke game include Motomaki (with locations in Boulder and on West Colfax Avenue) and Komotodo in Writer Square, which offers poke as both a seaweed-wrapped "burrito" and as a more traditional bowl.
If that's not enough, the Governor's Park neighborhood is about to be bowled over by Sushi Cup, which will take over the tiny slot at 208 East Seventh Avenue vacated by Flow Juice Bar. Sushi Cup's model will be similar to that of PokeCity, allowing customers to build bowls based on several options, beginning with a base of white, brown or purple rice or salad mix, then adding one of seven proteins (including tuna, salmon, eel, tofu or even Spam), along with sauces and toppings. Sushi Cup will also offer sushi rolls and nigiri. While the simplest versions of poke are little more than diced fish dressed in soy and sesame oil, Sushi Cup's bowls will venture far beyond that.
Watch for it to open this spring.