Raw chunks of fresh fish marinated and seasoned to perfection, the dish known as poke is one of the most popular foods you can feast on in Hawaii. While its origins are debated—Hawaiians have been eating diced fish in similar incarnations for centuries— the word poke, many argue, didn’t actually occur until the 1960s or ’70s.
The poke bowl has a history of its own. Paina Cafe co-owner Derek Uyehara claims to have been the first restaurateur to coin the term. Since he launched the Poke Bowl in Honolulu in 2008 (he later changed the name to Paina Cafe), poke bowls have become increasingly popular across the U.S., morphing into gentrified versions of their former selves and popping up in the trendiest food cities from New York to LA ... and now, Las Vegas.
Situated in the Koreatown Plaza, our Paina Cafe is the only location on the mainland. The restaurant opened in 2016 with slightly more limited offerings than its three Honolulu locales, hard to believe considering how many options you actually have. Choose from nine poke or beef bowls or assemble your own from an assortment of marinated fish flavors: spicy tuna, shoyu (soy sauce) ahi, Hawaiian-style ahi or tako, wasabi masago ahi, shoyu ginger salmon or kim chee tako. There’s even a tofu option for vegetarians.
The Hawaiian ($9.95) comes with tender and juicy kalua (pit-roasted) pig, lomi salmon (an onion, tomato and fish salad) and your choice of poke—try the refreshing Hawaiian-style ahi—served on a mound of white or brown rice. A healthy dose of Kilauea Fire hot sauce makes this bowl the ultimate trifecta of salty, spicy and sweet, while the poke crunch bowl ($9.95-$11.25), served with Paina’s special “teri” glaze, shredded nori and crispy tempura flakes, is a textural adventure waiting to happen.
A trip to Paina isn’t complete without a slice of the purple ube-and-flan Paina roll and a chantilly coco puff filled with silky chocolate crème. Consider them a delightful contrast to the tangy bowl of fish you just devoured, two desserts worth every heaven-sent bite.
Paina Cafe 6870 Spring Mountain Road, 702-272-2790. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.