For this year’s wild card category in the 2018 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we asked our judges panel of former winners and restaurant industry experts to examine one of the the city’s hottest dining trends, poke. The number of restaurants serving the raw fish salad exploded in 2017, and now the dish can be found at both dedicated poke restaurants and incorporated into menus with more diverse offerings.
Although the dishes at most of these restaurants seem to be very similar, each concept does certain things to help them stand out from the pack — usually through special toppings, sauces, or proteins. In a crowded field, these are the poke shops our panelists keep going back to again and again.
Find out which restaurant reigns supreme at the Tastemaker Awards party on April 4. We’ll celebrate all of the nominees while dining on bites provided by 20 Houston restaurants. Then Houston hip-hop legend Bun B will reveal the winners. Tickets are on sale now.
This Midtown pub was one of the first Houston restaurants to jump on the poke trend, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Chef Philippe Gaston’s experiences at Reef, Kata Robata, and the critically acclaimed Cove raw bar demonstrates his gift for raw seafood preparations. At Izakaya, the seven options run the gamut from a traditional, Hawaiian-style bowl of tuna, seaweed salad, and avocado to a more innovative spicy scallop with icefish and tajin. 318 Gray St.
Moku Bar at Conservatory
It’s been about a year since the downtown food hall swapped its ramen for this poke concept from Casian King food truck owner Tuan Tran. Of course, the shop offers a full range of build-your-own options, but Moku goes beyond the usual bowls with its ahi poke tower that’s served on shrimp chips. In addition, it offers a full range of tempura entrees for those who prefer their meals cooked. No wonder the restaurant is working on a second location. 1010 Prairie St.
Houston’s original dedicated poke restaurant set the standard that other establishments have to meet. The menu keeps things fairly classic in terms of the range of sauces and toppings, but the quality of the ingredients speaks for themselves. Recently, Ono has introduced a Hawaiian-style pre-marinated spicy tuna bowl, as well as a vegetarian tofu bowl and acai bowls for dessert — moves that should ensure its status as one of Houston’s premier poke destinations. 607 Richmond Ave.
Sushi chef Jason Liao’s comprehensive training shows in the creative flavor combinations at this Rice Village poke restaurant. One bowl matches hamachi with apple and white shoyu, while another pairs tuna with pickled red onions, pecans, and jalapeno. Pokeology offers build-your-own options, but considering Liao is a martial arts expert, why risk upsetting him by not going with one of his combos? 5555 Morningside Dr., Suite 150
With two locations near Montrose and The Heights, this New York-based poke restaurant is already taking Houston by storm. Credit the menu, which offers all the usual proteins as well as shrimp, tofu, and chicken, along with premade suggestions created by Top Chef alum Sheldon Simeon. Also, in addition to the usual bowl, diners can eat their poke as a seaweed “burrito.” It’s a little silly, but it sure tastes good. 2055 Westheimer Rd.; 213 Heights Blvd.
With its cute decor and photo-worthy bowls, this EaDo poke shop seems to be a constant presence on Instagram. Thankfully, culinary director Tai Nguyen’s Uchi pedigree means the bowls taste as good as they look. Consider the use of citrus — the orange slices in the salmon ponzu bowl are one example — as one of Nguyen’s touches that makes SeaSide’s offerings memorable. 2118 Lamar St., Suite 101