To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I ate cooked tuna. Ahi tuna has essentially become a staple in my diet. Not that I’m complaining. It’s also becoming more accessible as a fast casual option, with several new restaurants popping up around Washington as of late.
My co-workers had been buzzing about Poke Papa, so we took advantage of a beautiful spring day and headed a few blocks from our office to the bustling new lunch spot on H Street. We arrived smack in the middle of the mid-day rush, so we jumped into the coiled line to deliberate on our poke orders. By the way, poke is Hawaiian for “chunk.”
The interior was bright, with wood accents and faux greenery. It was just comfortable enough to eat in, but not beckoning you to stay the afternoon. That’s fine, as we had places to be and people to see, as one does on a Wednesday afternoon.
Depending on the amount of effort you’re willing to put in, you can either select a Poke Papa signature bowl, or opt to build-your-own. Should you decide the latter, there are three steps you’ll have to navigate: your size, your base, and your protein. Then, be ready to fire off toppings and sauces, as you make hasty decisions about whether seaweed and pineapple would make a good combination.
Half of our group went with signature dishes, while the other half decided to build their own bowls. Beware, if you opt to DIY, the toppings and proteins will quickly run up your tab. We ended up paying a whopping $16 for one of our bowls.
The Ahi Poke caught my eye as it offered some of my all-time favorite fixins’ of seaweed salad, ahi tuna, scallions, red onion, and ginger. It also happens to be one of their best sellers. I selected the forbidden rice base, which apparently removes toxins and provides extra antioxidants. Sold, because I’m in the market for both; and I appreciate good marketing. This bowl was topped with the obligatory sriracha sauce and sesame seeds. It was damn good. And, luckily at $16 price point, the bowl kept me full for the rest of the day.
Between the six of us, we tried all of the combinations and you really can’t go wrong. One of our favorite combinations was the DIY snack size with ahi poke and lomi salmon on mixed greens with sweet Shoyu sauce and sriracha aioli. We opted for all the toppings except onions, Kalapeño, masago, and radish and all of the “sprinkles” (crispy onions, toasted sesames), naturally.
We couldn’t get enough of the ahi poke and lomi salmon on forbidden black rice, with avocado. We topped this one off with sweet shozu and yuzu ponzu dressings, a pinch of toasted sesame oil, a drizzle of sriracha, and tons of furikake, toasted sesame seeds, crispy shallots, and garlic. You’ll be dreaming about this flavorful beauty ’til you return.
We also loved “Da Grinds,” but this bowl will cost you a pretty penny. It comprised ahi poke, lomi salmon, spicy tuna, and ceviche. We went with brown rice, the lava sauce, and srirachi aioli with furikake and tempura crunch on top. We suggest topping this one off with pineapple, edamame, red onions, cilantro, and seaweed salad. It’s a great option if you’re craving all the fish, or just really hungry.
If you find yourself in a seafood-loving group, but can’t participate—like our poor co-worker who is allergic to shellfish—there is a ground turkey option and dressings that are made without fish sauce. She was a trooper, but we definitely caught her enviously eyeing our colorful concoctions.
Poke Papa is a unique lunch spot that stands out among the typical sandwich and salad options in Penn Quarter. If you’re looking to treat yourself—and we highly suggest you do—while still being health conscious, come to Papa.
Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.