McVearry and his wife, Trisha Fortuna, established Poke-Poke on Venice Beach in Los Angeles in 2010, which he said was one of the first restaurants to exclusively feature the traditional Hawaiian cuisine on the U.S. mainland.
“Once we were established, we knew Austin was a prime market for the restaurant,” he said.
After moving to South Austin they opened their first local restaurant on South Congress Avenue in 2015. Since, they have opened two others—on Brodie Lane and Hancock Drive—as well as one in McVearry’s hometown of Fort Worth.
For those hearing about poke for the first time, McVearry said he always asked if someone likes sushi.••“If the answer is yes, then you should like poke,” he said. “It’s essentially deconstructed sushi, but more fish heavy.”
Poke bowls consist of raw fish, rice and toppings. McVearry said most bowls feature ahi tuna flavored with scratch-made soy sauces and topped with vegetables pickled in-house.
His original recipe, The OG, is ahi marinated with soy sauce, onions, and sesame oil and offers a savory, nutty flavor, McVearry said. For a brighter option, he said the Aloha uses a lower sodium soy sauce mixed with rice wine vinegar and chili flakes.
Since opening, McVearry said other poke restaurants have popped up, many of which use an assembly line concept for customization. He said he prefers a simpler, more traditional bowl that does not overpower the fish with extra toppings.
“The fish should be the star, and we still think ours is done the best,” McVearry said.
To stay open during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Poke-Poke has closed its dining rooms but created takeout windows at each of its restaurants.