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Local's Guide: Top 3 Best Poke Places in Maui (Ono Grinds!)

As a Maui resident, I've made it one of my top priorities to find all of the best local snacks. You don't want to miss this Hawaiian treat!

Ummm... if this beautiful poke with fresh guacamole and spicy crab salad from Kahiau's Food Truck doesn't make you drool, then you must be someone who hasn't tried poke yet.

Ummm... if this beautiful poke with fresh guacamole and spicy crab salad from Kahiau's Food Truck doesn't make you drool, then you must be someone who hasn't tried poke yet.

All Poke in Maui Is Good, but Which Is Best?

First, I'd like to start by saying that there is no bad poke in Maui. There's just good, great, and mind-blowing heavenly.

To that end, the competition is stiff, and no matter how long I made this list, it was never going to be able to include every poke star! So I've narrowed it down to my top heavenly three, after interviewing a bunch of my friends (locals and tourists) and copious sampling on my part.

It wouldn't be right, though, if I didn't give deeply respectful nods to other poke-place legends like Tin Roof (unassuming local food heaven near the airport), Eskimo Candy (doubles as a fresh fish market so you know it's good), and Foodland (consistently voted best on island, and definitely most affordable).

Time to Put Poke on Your Bucket List!

The fun part is trying them all yourself (multiple times, if necessary!) and making your own decision. If you've never had the pleasure of trying this Hawaiian fresh-fish dish, here are a few quick fun facts:

  • It's pronounced "poh-kay."
  • Traditional poke is a bowl of cubed raw fish pre-marinated with a light dressing.
  • There are many variations, but the most popular today is made with ahi (tuna).
  • "Poke bowls" are a mainland variation that include rice, vegetables, and other toppings.
Using Maui Style brand potato chips to scoop up your poke is a pro move. The velvety-smooth texture of the poke combined with the salty, serious crunch power of these chips is HEAVEN. (Plus you're saving chopsticks—win win!)

Using Maui Style brand potato chips to scoop up your poke is a pro move. The velvety-smooth texture of the poke combined with the salty, serious crunch power of these chips is HEAVEN. (Plus you're saving chopsticks—win win!)

#1: Kahiau’s Poke Food Truck (Kahului)

I'm extremely happy to report that Kahiau's serves the best poke I've ever had. But don't take my word for it, go try 'em yourselves! If you're visiting, they're close enough to the airport that you can go there first. Because food is life.

Hilo-born owner Kalei says he moved here about three years ago "because I fell in love with a girl from Maui. We got married and now we have a beautiful son named Kahiau. I love fishing and diving, and I love my poke. I wanted to offer people fresh ahi poke that I know everyone will love!"

Why They Made It Into the Top Three

Listen, I've lived in Maui for eight years. I have a lot of poke opinions, and I thought I had my top three all settled. Then one day, my Costco shop ironically left me shaking in hunger, and I decided to finally try one of the food trucks across the street. Holy. Moly. Where did this place even come from?! Their glistening cubes of poke were cloud-soft, velvety, delicate, with the perfect amount of flavor. Umm. I'm salivating as I write this.

The owners and staff are also super genuine and friendly. Another reason I love Kahiau's is the cute, delicious little sides you can choose to complement your poke: edamame soybeans, fresh guacamole, marinated garlic cloves, and spicy crab salad to name a few.

Kahiau's Poke Snapshot

  • Location: 520 Keolani Place, Kahului (right across the street from Costco)
  • Quality: The best I've ever had in my life
  • Variety: Usually about 4 to 6 varieties; all ahi
  • Other Delicious Offerings: Deep-fried sushi rolls; fried poke plates; deep-fried ahi plate
  • Fun Fact: Kahiau's just opened in 2021, and at the time I wrote this article only had 34 reviews on Yelp . . . which qualifies this little truck as a straight-up hidden gem!
  • Pro Tip: You like samples? They're one of the few poke places that offer samples!

#2: South Maui Fish Company (Kīhei)

There are a few reasons "the little red food truck" is at #1 on Yelp and TripAdvisor, but the main one is that their fish is so fresh it's practically jumping off your plate.

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Read More From Delishably

Captain Hunter Betts only sells fish that are sustainably line-caught that day, a surprisingly rare offering on a little island in the Pacific. Cap'n Hunter loves fishing so much he named his son Fisher, and he kindly pleads with fans to come as early as possible to avoid being disappointed when the fish sells out!

Why They Made It Into the Top Three

I discovered South Maui Fish Co when they opened in 2014 (I was working across the street) and was immediately a die-hard convert. I have a lot of respect for a place that rightly skyrockets to fame and yet stays humble, chill, and works just as hard. Aloha spirit!

As for the poke, it's so damned good it sells out every day for all the right reasons: delicious af and sustainable fishing. Win-win. The poke's not the only shining star at this iconic spot: pineapple coleslaw and pop-up sides like fermented salsa and homemade pickled mango are so on point it hurts (in a good way!), and the staff (half of them are professional chefs) are always friendly, grinning, and tossing out one-liners and helpful advice in equal portions.

South Maui Fish Company's Poke Snapshot

  • Location: 1794 South Kīhei Road, Kīhei (across the street from the library)
  • Quality: Top-notch, daily fresh only
  • Variety: Usually about 2 to 3 kinds; mostly ahi, sometimes marlin
  • Other Delicious Offerings: Tacos jammed with so much mahi you can barely hold them, fresh seasoned filets to take home and grill, local kombucha
  • Fun Fact: If they don't have fresh fish caught that day, they won't open
  • Pro Tip: Get here as early as possible—the word is out, and there's often a line out the "door"

#3: Tamura's Fine Liquor (Lāhainā or Kīhei)

Um, Jasmine, think you made a mistake here. You're sending me to a liquor store?

Nope, no mistake: Tamura's is a local staple for multiple reasons, one of which is their insanely good poke selection (they do also have the best variety of liquor, beer, and wine on the island, though—double win!).

Why They Made It Into the Top Three

Tamura's has one of the best selections of different kinds of fresh poke. The Tamura family has been serving the island for 100 years, so they know their business.

No matter if you want the basic Shoyu (raw ahi, soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions, and sweet onions), traditional Hawaiian Style (raw ahi, Hawaiian sea salt, crushed kukui nuts, and seaweed), or want to try something a little different like Pūlehu He‘e (broiled octopus), they've got you covered.

Nothing feels more "Maui" to me than stopping at Tamura's to pick up some poke, Maui Style potato chips, and icy cold beverages, and heading to my favorite beach, valley, or waterfall.

Tamura's Poke Snapshot

  • Location: 226 Kupuohi St, Lāhainā; or 91 East Lipoa Street, Kīhei (the Kahului location doesn't have a poke bar)
  • Quality: Consistently excellent; mostly fresh vs. frozen
  • Variety: Usually about a dozen kinds of poke!
  • Other Delicious Offerings: Different kinds of fresh/raw seafood dishes; best fine wine, liquor, and beer on the island; freeze-dried novelty desserts (so good!); tasty local snacks like marinated garlic cloves and fresh pork crackling
  • Fun Fact: Tamura's is planning to open a real restaurant soon, probably Upcountry!
  • Pro Tip: The word is finally out! Get here early in the day for the best/freshest selection and shortest lines

A Little History of Hawaiian Poke

The name poke comes from a Hawaiian word meaning “to cut or slice crosswise."

If you're not from Hawai‘i, you might have only been introduced to poke in the last decade or so, but ancient Polynesians were understandably well ahead of the fresh fish game. The addition of salt was especially important, as more than just flavor, it preserved the fish.

This tasty, old-school staple was likely made several days a week and contained:

  • Raw reef fish (before overfishing, reef fish were plentiful)
  • Pa‘akai (meaning "to solidify the sea" = sea salt)
  • Limu (seaweed)
  • ‘Inamona (crushed kukui nut, also known as candlenut)

In later years, the main fish ingredient switched to the pretty pink of raw ahi. Immigrants from places like China and Japan who came to work the sugarcane fields introduced soy sauce and sesame oil, and the modern version of traditional Hawaiian poke was born.

In more recent times, "mainlanders" (from the continental U.S.) discovered poke and have given it their own tasty twist in a few different ways, typically by:

  • Always serving it in a "poke bowl" of rice with non-traditional toppings like avocado, corn, edamame, zucchini noodles, cauliflower, kale, bamboo shoots, orange slices, almonds, quinoa, mango, corn
  • Not pre-marinating the fish, but rather "tossing the poke salad" to order
  • Adding non-traditional sauces like mayonnaise and sriracha

Learn How to Make Your Own Poke

What Are Those Funky Little Symbols Over Some Hawaiian Words?

It's smart of you to notice these funky little symbols! They are called "diacritical marks" and since they can dramatically change the meaning of words, they are very, very important to 'Ōlelo, or the Hawaiian language.

A Quick History of the Hawaiian Language

Pre-European contact, ‘Ōlelo was a spoken (not written) language, with a very rich oral history. Remember when humans used to be able to quote stuff like the Iliad from memory? Yeah, like that, but beautiful in a uniquely Hawaiian way.

Over time, though, ‘Ōlelo did become a written language: but with only 12 letters, and two very important diacritical marks. Ignoring these diacritical marks is the same as misspelling a word.

Because technology and the mainstream attitude has taken awhile to catch up, this may be the first time you've see these marks. But times are a-changin', and it's time for us all to step up and honor this wonderfully musical language with the correct spelling and marks!

The Okina

The "okina" is a glottal stop, symbolized by a single open quote (‘). It looks like this:

  • Ho‘okipa vs. Hookipa (a surf break in east Maui)
  • ʻUkulele vs. ukulele (a string musical instrument)
  • Kāʻanapali vs. Kaanapali (a coastal town in west Maui)

The Kahako

The "kahako" is a long stress over a vowel, symbolized by a line over the vowel. It looks like this:

  • Lāhainā vs. Lahaina (a city in west Maui)
  • Pūpū vs. pupu ("appetizers")
  • Mālama vs. malama ("to care for")

Sources

© 2022 Jasmine Hanner

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