In Hawaii, you can get poke at gas stations, food trucks, supermarket delis, and even liquor stores. Because poke is ubiquitous, unfussy eaters might forget that raw fish comes in many grades. If you want exceptional poke, it pays to go to a fish market, or at least a restaurant.
On an island where everyone is a “bruddah,” the Maguro Brothers (“Tuna brothers”) actually are brothers. They craft both Hawaiian-style poke and Japanese sashimi bowls with the precision of a Japanese sushi chef.
There are two schools of thought for poke in Hawaii. The more common one says that it should be marinated long, stored cold, and scooped to order. This is the kind of poke you get at supermarkets and gas stations. This makes a more flavorful fish that has absorbed the marinade. But we prefer places that dress the fish to order. What you lose in flavor is made up for in freshness, and in fish that isn’t as frigid.
Maguro Brothers poke doesn’t stray far from the island norm. The marinades, such as limu and sweet onion shoyu, can be found at poke places throughout Hawaii. But these are better than most. Limu is a catch-all term for edible seaweed or algae. The interpretation at Maguro Brothers is an “everything” poke, with well-rounded flavors of sesame, chili, and soy. The flavor of the limu dressing is great, even if it threatens to overpower the excellent ahi. Sweet onion shoyu dressing is better, enhancing tuna with citrusy ponzu and Maui onions that are sweet without a hint of sharpness.
As good as the marinades are, it’s fresh fish that matters. The ahi is perfectly carved without any tough bites. It’s supple with clean flavors of the ocean. The rice is cooked perfectly. The only thing that upstages such excellent poke are the sashimi plates. These feature prime cuts of tuna rather than cubes of ahi. We are treated to glistening red lean tuna and buttery fatty tuna. The quality of fish is sushi-bar level, and it is served over warm, gently-seasoned sushi rice.
They have another shop, conveniently located near Waikiki beach, but the brothers hold court at the original Kekaulike Market location in Chinatown, where they are surrounded by fish mongers. We think it’s worth the detour.