When Pono Ono Poke on Chicago Avenue first opened six weeks ago, Northwestern foodies collectively rolled their eyes. Did Evanston really need a second restaurant that served the same Hawaiian delicacy as Aloha Poke just blocks away? What’s even the difference? Don’t worry – we visited both locations and ordered comparable bowls to provide you with a detailed breakdown. It’s time for the Battle of the Poke.
Winner: Aloha Poke
Okay, if you’re a student willing to shell out about ten bucks for what at the end of the day is a bowl of overpriced rice and fish, you’re probably not that concerned with cost. But if you’re still looking to save, Aloha Poke just slightly edges out Pono Ono Poke by offering a 10 percent Wildcard discount and an option to purchase a “little” size for $7.50. Pono Ono Poke’s most affordable bowl is a hefty $10.50 for a medium, while Aloha Poke’s similarly-sized bowl is priced a whole dollar cheaper.
When it comes to drinks, Aloha Poke offers a selection of familiar drinks at reasonable prices. In addition to typically-priced sodas, cold brew and coconut waters, Pono Ono Poke sells 16 oz juices for a whopping $8. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to drop the equivalent of one hour’s labor at my high school job on a cup of juice, it’d better give me clear skin, Prince Harry’s hand in marriage and a 4.0.
Winner: Pono Ono Poke
Pono Ono Poke definitely boasts a more extensive menu than Aloha Poke. In addition to their seven house bowls – which include Steamed Garlic Shrimp and Citrus Salmon – they offer a rotating “bowl of the month.” If a meager poke bowl isn’t enough to satiate your cravings, Pono Ono Poke offers marinated edamame, crunchy cucumbers and seaweed salad at $3.50 a pop. But keep in mind that Aloha Poke allows for greater customization with their P.Y.O.B (pack your own bowl) option and lets you choose between marinated or “naked” poke.
Winner: Pono Ono Poke
Pono Ono Poke takes the cake when it comes to serving a fresh, unique spin on poke bowls. I ordered the Sweet and Spicy Salmon bowl with white rice. The salmon was melt-in-your-mouth fatty, the rice was warm and fluffy, and the additions of mint, pineapple, sweet shoyu, jalapeño and red onion added an explosion of both color for your eyes and flavor for your mouth.
That’s not to say Aloha Poke wasn’t delicious in its own way. It certainly hit my poke craving spot, but the complexity of flavor just wasn’t there. I ordered the Aloha bowl with naked salmon, and the salmon tasted almost like it was still defrosting. The ingredients were deliciously refreshing individually, but failed to combine into something greater than the sum of their parts.
Winner: Pono Ono Poke
Smothered floor to ceiling with various plants, flowers and succulents (yes, they’re real), gently lit by hanging lights and the natural sunshine pouring through the open windows, Pono Ono Poke is like that trendy LA restaurant frequented by your favorite social media influencer. I’m pretty sure I could pay off my entire student debt if I sold just half of the Eames chairs in their 1600 square foot establishment. You’re greeted with groovy, new-wave electronic music with lyrics you can’t ever make out. Complimentary Wi-Fi, plentiful seating for various-sized groups, and a public bathroom (something Aloha Poke is lacking!) make this urban jungle the perfect place to camp out during your next study group session.
Aloha Poke is not without its own charms. The interior is a clean black and white adorned with a metal surfboard and a wall of Hula dashboard dolls. (The problematic representation of native Hawaiian people and culture in trendy poke restaurants is an article of its own.) Located on a corner, it has plenty of natural light. The lack of a public bathroom and any seating makes Aloha Poke seem more fast food than Pono Ono Poke. Plus, there’s no recycling bin, if saving the earth from becoming a cesspool of garbage is a concern for you.
What’s the verdict?
If you’re just looking for some affordable poke to go, you’re probably going to prefer Aloha Poke. They serve their food in paper bags and have a generally cheaper menu. But if you have that extra dollar to splurge and a bit of time to sit down, I would highly recommend saying "aloha" to the new Pono Ono Poke.