Ginger soy poke bowl ($10) with sweet potato salad, crab salad and lomi tomato at Chef Ernie Gray's Poke Market.

Hidden gem in Hilo: Poke Market

It's a hidden gem to everyone but the locals
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If you know, you know: Hilo may seem like a sleepy little rural town, but it's full of ono places to eat. I was only there for a couple of days, so there was no way to go to every place that every well-meaning person suggested we visit. (My apologies to the lady who unfollowed me on instagram for not eating at the places she insisted I had to try, although I already had a full itinerary.)

Despite the schedule, we found ourselves with a little bit of time to meander through downtown, and were lucky enough to find a parking space, so we popped into The Locavore Store to get refreshments (I highly recommend the kombucha they make in-house) and started wandering. What do you know, just a couple of streets down, we stumbled on the Poke Market, which we remembered had been recommended by Brian Hirata at the Hawaii Community College.

The shop is so tiny, we couldn't get an interior shot to save our lives. See where that person is standing? They are a few feet from the counter.

Tip: go early. By the time we went in, it was already about 1:30 p.m., so the lunch rush had decimated the day's offerings. They had just enough poke for about five more bowls. 

Gray and his reason for moving to Hilo, Mariah Williams. There's only enough room for the two of them behind the counter!

Turns out, I had met Gray before. He used to be at Sansei Waikiki! He was one of the chefs at the sushi counter when I went in for a tasting many years ago, probably back when we had started NonstopHonolulu. The guy is trained by the Culinary Institute of America, knows his fish, and knows how to present local flavors.

Gray was able to cobble together some poke bowls from whatever was left in the case.

Our bowls, clockwise from top: spicy poke with lomi tomato and crab salad; Hawaiian style poke with sweet potato salad and crab salad; and ginger soy poke with sweet potato salad, crab salad, and the last of the lomi tomato. Each one-choice bowl is $10 and comes with a choice of white, brown or sushi rice, and two sides. If you want two poke choices, it costs just $12. You can also get poke parfaits for $9 and poke pocket packs — assorted five-piece packs — for $10. Oh, can you can buy poke by the pound!

We loved our poke bowls, as each was very fresh and the mix of sauces was very well-balanced. The spicy poke is a little hotter than most supermarket types, but I think you'll like that if you want to turn up the heat. The imitation crab salad is a nice touch, and the sweet potato salad is super unique, lending a hint of sweetness as it anchors the flavors. These are definitely craveable and, as you can see, are the perfect size for a picnic overlooking Hilo Bay.

I'll be back the next time I'm in Hilo ... but probably at 10 a.m. when they open!

Poke Market
41 Wainuenue Ave.
Hilo, Hawaii