How to Order Plant-Based Goods at Poke Restaurants, Plus the 5 Best Vegan Poke Chains

Unlike the frozen yogurt boom of the early years (Pinkberry who?), the poke phenomenon is still going strong. Granted, poke at Continentals is a very different concept from poke in Hawaii, but the proper meal of pickled fish has become so popular outside of its home state that it can be found from the suburbs of the American Midwest to the concrete streets of its urban neighborhoods. Coastal towns. It’s fresh, it’s substantial, it’s customizable, and now it can be made vegan. Recipe developers and food bloggers have created hundreds of ways to make satisfying plant-based pokes, but if your job is to order for lunch or you’d rather leave the cooking to the pros, here’s how to order vegan at practically any poke restaurant, plus five major poke chains serving solid plant-based options.

Sweetfin

How to build a vegan poke bowl

Virtually all mainland poke chains use the same assembly line-style service model. You will be greeted with a menu, picked up by the “base” employee, presented to the “protein” person, then handed over to the staff member in charge of toppings and sauces before the cashier calls your order, not before to ask if you want to add taro chips or drinks. It’s a very simple do-it-yourself concept, but the options can be many and you don’t want to be that vegan holding the line asking for the ingredients for each base component. Follow this guide and you’ll master the basics of ordering with confidence at your local pokeshop.

1 Choose a vegan base

At a minimum, most chains offer rice and mixed greens to stuff into the bottom of your bowl. Others expand the options to include quinoa, noodles, zoodles, seaweed salad, and steamed broccoli. Pro tip: you can always do half seasons and split your bowl between two bases. Mixed greens and rice are a solid choice. Most of these bases are vegan with the potential exception of the seaweed salad and pickled kelp noodles. In theory, everyone should be animal-free, but ask to make sure the seaweed is fish-free and the kelp noodles aren’t marinated in animal ingredients like fish sauce or mayonnaise ( we have already encountered this).

2 Choose a protein

There’s no risk of decision fatigue for vegans when it comes to protein in a poke spot. Larger chains tend to only carry tofu, although some also carry pickled sweet potatoes. We highly recommend asking for a double (or triple scoop) – the extra serving will help round out your bowl and add a significant boost of protein and texture.

3 Choose your toppings

Depending on the chain, some will mix the toppings with your choice of protein while others will just arrange everything on the base (we personally recommend the latter, but we also have control issues). Vegan toppings typically include sweet and green onions, furikake, corn, edamame, pickled ginger, wasabi, crispy onions, carrots, cucumbers, and mango or pineapple. Sometimes it’s best to be intentional with your topping choices — not all of these flavors work harmoniously together — but when you’re hungry, no one will blame you for spending a few extra bucks to go crazy on toppings.

4 Choose your sauce

This is where vegans may need to ask their server for advice. Fish sauce is a very common ingredient in these sauces, after eggs and dairy which can hide in creamy options like spicy aioli or sriracha mayonnaise. Soy sauce or shoyu, sesame oil and plain sriracha are fine. However, ponzu and homemade sauces may contain fish, and sweet chili options may include honey. If you are interested in a savory sauce on the menu, politely ask if it contains animal ingredients.

Ingredients to watch out for

We’ve mentioned a few common poke bar ingredients that typically contain animal products, but it bears repeating. Fish sauce, bonito flakes, honey, and egg-based mayonnaise can be incorporated into a number of innocent-sounding toppings and sauce options. Unless the menu already states that the item is vegan, always confirm the ingredients with the staff before ordering any of the following: miso soup, seaweed salad, any sauce other than soy, shoyu, sesame oil or sriracha; tempura chips, marinated or dressed noodles, kimchi and crunchy.

Vegan poke chains

VegNews.SweetfinSweetfin

1 Sweetfin

Led by the old Excellent chef Competitor Dakota Weiss, this chef-led California poke concept is one of the few with dedicated vegan signature bowls and protein options that are a bit more exciting than tofu. Those hesitant to make decisions should opt for one of three plant-based bowls: Miso Eggplant & Mushroom, Sweet Potato Ponzu Lime, and Shiitake Chili Tofu. Of course, BYOB is also an option, just skip the base Kelp Noodle Slaw (it contains mayonnaise) and check with your server regarding sauces, as many are non-vegan.
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VegNews.PokebrosPoke Bros

2 Poke Bros

This growing chain spans the Midwest and parts of the East Coast with 68 locations to its name. When you first glance at the protein options on the menu, seeing a picture of mixed greens in the Vegetarian section will definitely be disappointing, but keep scrolling – tofu is listed under vegetables. Stock up on this unique plant-based protein option, then dive into the assortment of vegan toppings including edamame, jalapenos, avocado, pineapple, toasted coconut, crushed cashews, and crispy onions. Top it off with one of three animal-free sauces: gochujang, ponzu, and sweet soy.
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VegNews.pokebarPoke Bar

3 Poke Bar

With dozens of locations ranging from Hawaii to Washington, DC, this poke place offers a vegan item that we haven’t seen at other franchise locations. Yes, Poke Bar has the tofu option by default, but the “it” vegan protein to try is Kuleana Tuna. Produced by plant-based seafood brand Current Foods, this sushi-grade vegan tuna looks, tastes and chews like today’s catch, without harming the fish. Selecting mixes and toppings causes decision fatigue, even when you omit animal-based ingredients. Yes, there’s your standard jalapeño, edamame, avocado, cucumber, etc., but the brand also offers shredded kale, fresh cilantro, cucumber and seaweed salads, ginger, crispy garlic and furikake. Add a savory sauce like sriracha, sesame oil, or wasabi shoyu, and you’ve got a quick, casual bowl that tastes like a sit-down meal.
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VegNEws.Justpokejust poke

4 just poke

Based in the Pacific Northwest with 16 locations, this place makes it easy to navigate as a vegan with its extremely helpful online allergen guide. Eat your fill by choosing four of the basics, the tofu or sweet potato protein, the standard toppings, and the zesty citrus ponzu sauce. Just Poke gets bonus points for offering seaweed salad without fish. We can’t get enough!
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VegNews.AlohapokeAloha Poke

5 Aloha Poke

Despite its name, Aloha Poke was born far from the islands. The concept originated in Chicago and now has over a dozen locations from Houston to Miami to Washington, DC. Vegan options are standard but solid, and the vegan menu is simple to navigate. Opt for marinated tofu instead of your choice of cauliflower rice, plain rice, or greens, then add the salad of avocado, edamame, ginger, scallions, and seaweed. On the sauce side, the Sweet-Salty Samurai, Pure Sesame Oil, and Citrus Sesame Wine are all vegan-friendly.
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For more vegan guides to your favorite restaurants, read:
What the Founder of Veggie Grill Thinks About the Future of Fast Food
Honeybee Burger founder quits Wall Street to open vegan restaurant
How to eat vegan at Panda Express

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Sandy A. Greer