It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly starts a trend. With Hawaiian poke places proliferating all over Seattle, one wonders why it took so long given our proximity to—and penchant for traveling to—Hawaii. Sam Choy, of course, has been here for a while, but in the past year a crop of new poke places have opened. GoPoké (625 S. King St., 799-9560) is one of the more remarkable. Located in the International District, it is owned by three Vietnamese brothers, whose family’s immigration story is told eloquently in beautiful typography found throughout the shop. The family left Vietnam as refugees, landing first in Louisiana then, at their father’s insistence, traveling again by boat through the Panama Canal to Hawaii. There they carried on the family and cultural tradition of fishing, the kids going door to door to sell the huge ahi tunas caught by their father and uncles. Their mother developed a poke recipe. The rest is history in a bowl.
GoPoké is a bright and lively spot, punctuated throughout with lime green—the chairs, the paint trim, the logo. Tables are wood with live edges, shellacked. You order at the counter and then shuffle through an assembly line as various workers put together your chosen bowl (Subway style). You can customize bowls: Choose a base of white rice, brown rice, or spring mix; pick your fish (salmon, tuna, or cooked octopus); your sauce (homemade aiolis that range from sweet to spicy); sides (a bevy of options that include classics like Krab salad and avocado); and toppings such as roe, macadamia nuts, and furikake. Once you’ve selected, they bring the bowls to you, full of smiles and graciousness. As we ate, a server came around with complimentary cups of miso soup, a nice touch in a casual-fast restaurant.
If you’re lazy, or want all the fish in one bowl, there are four combo choices for $15 each. We tried the “Fi-Yah Bowl,” the spiciest of the bunch, in which the salmon, tuna, and octopus are marinated in an aioli that really does have a kick. The cubes of fresh fish are tender but firm, and the marinated octopus, “an authentic Hawaiian recipe,” is unusually delightful. I opted for brown rice with that bowl to help mitigate the heat. On the “Aloha Bowl,” however, a spring mix base paired well with the sweet “Srirachee” marinade on the ahi. On both, we went with all of the included sides: the Krab salad, cucumber, the “ocean salad” (essentially seaweed salad), ginger, and edamame. To that you can add two of the five toppings—we chose furikake and macadamia nuts on one, fried shallots and masago on the other. When it comes to poke, I believe that more is more, letting all of those flavors and textures bump against each other, making every bite a little different and a bit of a surprise.
Besides bowls, you can order your poke in burrito form, aka a Pokerrito, or order it by the pound to go. There’s also spam musabi, with or without an egg. Kids unwilling to try raw fish yet can get California rolls or a Krab bowl. Desserts here are fun too, and thoroughly Hawaiian. While I wasn’t up to the most classic of them, shaved ice—here served with ice cream, coconut glaze, sweet milk, and li hing mui, a sour plum paste—I couldn’t resist the Dole Whip Float: Dole pineapple sorbet with real chunks of pineapple and pineapple juice and a sprinkling of li hing mui that comes in a Mason jar. For a mere $4 for the regular size, it’s quite a bargain, though a bit one-note. We also took home a few of the homemade mochi ice creams, three pieces for $6. We picked mango, passion fruit, and guava, and all their authentic flavors came through.