Spicy salmon poke with rice and a salad from downtown Tacoma’s Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com
Spicy salmon poke with rice and a salad from downtown Tacoma’s Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

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Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max, the area’s second poke restaurant to open this month, is in downtown Tacoma

April 21, 2017 06:00 AM

You aren’t imagining things. This really is the second new poke restaurant I’ve written about in a week.

Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max opened April 12 in downtown Tacoma. The Hawaiian fusion restaurant is from Sam Choy, the celebrated Hawaiian chef, and local business partner Max Heigh.

Heigh, a family friend of Choy’s, started his first poke truck in 2011 and has expanded to three trucks and a restaurant in Seattle’s Rainier Valley neighborhood.

The Tacoma opening comes one week after the debut of Aloha Poke, a Fircrest restaurant serving a narrow menu focused on built-to-order poke bowls with raw fish, vegetables and rice.

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Poke, in case you didn’t know, is a Hawaiian classic, a dish of cubed raw fish, sometimes lightly marinated or doused with sauce, and served with rice and/or a salad. It’s pronounced poh-kay.

The menu at Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max goes well beyond poke to include the greatest hits of sunny Hawaiian dining, including musubi, loco moco, plate lunches, kalua pork, chicken katsu, sandwiches and burgers. It’s one of few local Hawaiian restaurants beyond Tacoma’s Da Tiki Hut, an excellent Hawaiian restaurant, and national chain L&L.

Here’s a first-bite look at Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.

Dining room: Seating for about 30. A dining bar with six seats facing Pacific Avenue; a communal high-top table for 10 in the center of the room with a handful of two-person tables filling out the space. Order at the counter, find a seat.

Decor: Industrial modern with understated tiki touches (check out the wood masks on the wall with potted plants attached). White walls, metal chairs, blocky wood tables. Menus are displayed across flat panels, but look to the white board for specials or “we’re out of this dish” alerts.

Menu: The namesake of the restaurant, poke rice plates, come with a choice of ahi tuna, salmon, octopus or tofu ($9.99-$11.99). Also find poke tacos ($11.99), poke nachos ($11.99), poke wraps ($12.99) and poke salad ($12.99).

Other offerings: Traditional Hawaiian plate lunches include loco moco ($9.99) kalua pork ($9.99), chicken katsu ($9.99), short ribs ($9.99) and other options. In keeping with Hawaiian tradition, all are served with macaroni salad.

Rounding out the menu are pulled pork, braised pork belly or fried shrimp sandwiches ($9.99-$10.99); a burger ($9.99) and eight kinds of musubi ($7.99-$11.99).

On a first visit: Go straightforward with poke plates. Unlike Aloha Poke, where bowls are built to order from a long list of ingredients, poke plates at Sam Choy’s come with standard trimmings for every plate. Poke was flanked by seaweed salad, mixed greens, sliced marinated cucumbers, pickled ginger and scooped rice.

Get the traditional poke plate ($11.99). Vibrant cubes of chilled ahi arrived lightly seasoned with sea salt and little more. The spicy salmon ($11.99) also was a terrific introduction, with modest spicing that didn’t sting at all.

Musubi with shrimp and kimchi ($9.99) was a little tangy, very spicy, and was the biggest musubi I’ve ever seen. It looked like an oversized maki roll, cut into four big wedges. One order was enough for a meal. Don’t think of these as the little snack cubes you’ve come to expect from musubi.

Not so sure about raw? Raw fish can be seared lightly or fully cooked, just ask.

Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max

Where: 1716 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-4099; samchoyspoke.com.

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays-Mondays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.