Hawaii has given the world several ways of preparing food. Poke is one of the most delicious things they have created. Poke is basically fish marinated with seaweed, spices, onion, sesame oil and other items added. Roasted kukui nut, the Hawaiian candlenut, also adds crunchiness and flavor to the mix. Poke is not just made from ahi tuna, but in Hawaii it is made with many types of local, fresh fish, shrimp and seafood. Umeke's, in the heart of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a small place that produces fresh poke with big flavors.
Walking into Umeke's, you have a counter for ordering with no seating. The seating is on umbrella tables outside, which is not a bad way to enjoy a meal in Hawaii. Next to the counter is a cooler with a glass front. Inside the cooler are a dozen bins labelled with different types of poke and salads. Shannon, manning the counter at Umeke's, was happy to provide a taste of any item of interest. The poke and salads are sold by the pound in hand-packed containers. One of the most popular ways to eat the poke are the Poke Bombs Umeke's version of a popular treat consisting of poke topping an inari (bean curd) sushi wrapper first filled with sushi rice. Another popular way to enjoy the poke is in a nice large bowl filled with brown or white rice or even quinoa and then topped with an assortment of salads and poke. It provides a good, substantial meal to enjoy and is very reasonable at $10.50 for a bowl.
The traditional ahi tuna poke was very fresh and flavorful, tender with just a little bite to it. The kimchee shrimp poke had a nice flavor, spicy and yet not overpowering. The shrimp were nice big jumbo shrimp and blended with the Korean kimchee sauce perfectly. A ceviche made out of local ono fish was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with Umeke's marinade bringing out the flavor of the fish. The lomi lomi salmon, an old variation on the marinated fish dish that is popular at luaus, had a nice texture to it from fresh Hawaiian sweet onions that contrasted nicely with the Hawaiian sea salt used. .A very unusual dish for those who only think of poke as fish is piupikaula, a poke made with beef that is reminiscent of beef jerky.
Nakoa Pabre, the founder and owner of Umeke's, takes his fish seriously. He buys direct from the local fisherman, augmenting his standard fishes like ahi tuna with locally caught mahi, kampachi (a Hawaiian yellowtail) and a local Hawaiian snapper called opakapaka. The fish are bought whole and broken down at Umeke's, with part of them going for the delicious poke and parts for “daily specials” such as a grilled yellowtail plate. Other cooked daily specials might include teriyaki beef or lau lau, a traditional dish wrapped in ti leaved and then baked in an oven.
Sides included a Hō'i'o Salad, made with the stems and leaves of a large Hawaiian fern. It is a local specialty that has a fresh, bright taste to it. Delicious and unusual, it is well worth trying it. Crab and Broccoli Salad gives a nice combination of flavors with the different pokes. Also available are a Seaweed Salad, a nod from the Japanese culture that has influenced so much of the food in the Islands. A kimchee salad with marinated cucumbers and even poi are available to go with the poke. White rice and brown rice are used as both sides and as the base for bowls topped with several choices of the fresh poke.
The owner, Nakoa Pabre, started Umeke's in February 2013 as a way to provide Kona with freshly made Hawaiian foods. Several locals in Kona had suggested Umeke's as the place for the best poke, so it was it seems that Umeke's has really hit the taste buds of the locals. Nakoa also showed that he can do poke-making with the best of them, winning the 2013 Sam Choy’s Keauhou Poke Contest not only in the Professional Division but also taking the “fish” as the Overall Winner in the prestigious Hawaiian contest. He has been making poke for over 10 years now, starting at a grocery store in the town of Puna, before going on to become the poke chef at a popular Kona poke restaurant. Now, with Umeke's, he can not only make the traditional types of poke, but bring his creativity to bear with new variations such as avocado poke and lemongrass poke.
Umeke's is a one-block walk up from Kona's waterfront and shops. After eating some delicious poke and other ono (delicious) Hawaiian treats there on the patio, it is easy to walk back down to the waterfront and enjoy the Hawaiian ocean, knowing that you have just had one of the most delicious meals to come fresh from the surf right at your feet.
75-143 Hualalai Road, Suite 105
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740
Recommendations: Ahi Tuna poke, Hō'i'o Salad, Lemongrass poke, Ono ceviche, grilled Kampachi belly with miso, Kimchee Shrimp