Prominent Hawaiian chef Sam Choy and his business partner Max Heigh of the bright teal and pink food truck, Poke to the Max, have opened a permanent location at 5300 Rainier Ave S in Hillman City this week.
What will be different at the brick and mortar? Don't panic—there will still be the poke rice bowl and the loco moco. But there will also be poke tacos (a hard taco shell, wrapped in a soft corn tortilla stuck together with edamame hummus and filled with poke), take-home poke kits, all condiments included and ready to be mixed, and, once their liquor license is finalized, beer.
Poke–literally meaning to slice or cut in Hawaiian–is traditionally raw fish cut into small pieces and seasoned with salt and a paste of roasted candlenuts, accompanied by seaweed salad and rice. Choy says it's the one food that is truly Hawaiian: "Pineapples came from Jamaica, sugar cane from South America, and macadamia nuts from Australia." Most of the food we associate with Hawaii has other origins.
Choy, a Hawaii native and a big figure in the Hawaiian regional cuisine movement, says he came to the Tri-Cities for school "way back when." After moving back to Hawaii for culinary school and opening his first restaurant there, he eventually did some work with Alaska Airlines and in the state of Alaska, often stopping off in Seattle on his journeys north; Choy became familiar with the city and noticed its large island population but relative scarcity of poke.
As a chef known for including some sort of poke dish in every presentation he does (including appearances on Iron Chef America, Emeril Live!, and Dinner Impossible), not to mention a Seahawks fan, it made sense for Choy to open a spot in Seattle. Poke to the Max's brick and mortar iteration keeps the decor spare rather than aloha-ified cutesy. There's a large menu posted behind a walk-up counter with a glass refrigerated case that will house eight-plus varieties of raw fish coming from Hawaii–a communal table fills the elongated space with more seating along the bank of windows. There are spots to sit along a ledge outside and the staff jokes of filling the spacious parking lot–a welcome site on the busy, main drag–with sand to amplify the beach vibes.
Poke to the Max held a soft opening last weekend and, starting May 9, the restaurant will begin operating Tuesday through Saturday 11am–9pm and Sundays 11am–6pm. The truck will remain in operation.
Check out the Poke to the Max website, Facebook, and Instagram for updates and to follow the truck. For a little bonus education on poke, check out Sam Choy's Poke to the Max documentary at SIFF this June.