On the Menu: It’s Raw Poke Shop is a splash of aloha spirit in Ocean Beach
The line outside the little Ocean Beach poke joint at the corner of Newport Avenue and Bacon Street can be longer some days than the chain of Hawaiian Islands. That’s where Chase Andrew Kalani Cruz first embraced his passion for poke (Hawaiian for “to cut, cube or slice”) and mastered the skills of preparing the authentic dish.
His first foray in the poke biz started as a high school senior when he opened Da Pokeman Fish Market in Wahiawa, Oahu, with his best friend at the time. Then, brothers Gene and Geoffrey Laroza, his older cousins, encouraged Cruz to transplant his poke talents to the mainland.
So he moved to San Diego in 2014, selling at farmers markets and breweries until the trio opened a brick-and-mortar location called It’s Raw Poke Shop. The cousins recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of their opening the exclusively takeout restaurant, along with a growing catering arm that is launching a new menu within the next two months.
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They serve poke three ways: either by weight, a bowl with choice of diced fish along with a scoop of rice, chili garlic edamame or homestyle macaroni salad made with spaghetti noodles, and, for hearty appetites, the poke plate including two choices of poke and two sides.
The menu items tied for first place in the popularity contest are kimchi ahi, spicy ahi and furikake salmon seasoned with a Japanese rice dressing blending nori (seaweed), toasted sesame seeds and assorted spices.
“I’d put my fish against any poke place in town,” said Cruz, who has his wild-caught ahi flown in daily from Hawaii. He also has other fresh catches from Hawaiian Fresh Seafood at Liberty Station, along with organic rice and vegetables from top-notch purveyors.
For those who don’t eat raw fish, there are homemade Hawaiian hot-plate specials throughout the week, depending on market availability, including kalua pig with white rice, chicken long rice (Hawaiian-style chicken noodle soup) and haupia (a coconut gelatin dessert), and Hawaiian pulled pork in a secret sauce, all washed down with assorted tropical drinks.
“Poke is for everyone,” Cruz said. That’s reflected in his shop’s eclectic customer base, including Ocean Beach locals, the college crowd, first responders (firefighters, lifeguards, police officers), seasonal tourists and a wide range of other poke lovers from Chula Vista to Carlsbad and beyond.
Cruz’s family taught him two cardinal rules for a successful restaurant: Serve great food and provide great service. The poke meister’s hard work and passion for his business help create a product that “people will travel far for [even with current gas prices], wait in line and pay your price.”
Only a block from the Pacific, Cruz listens to the waves crashing in his little piece of paradise as a stream of customers place their to-go orders. There are no tables, no chairs, no patios, no worries.
E hele kaua i ke kahakai! (Let’s go to the beach!) “That’s where poke is best enjoyed, outside with nature, whether at the pier or Sunset Cliffs,” Cruz said.
It’s Raw Poke Shop
Where: 4991 Newport Ave. (entrance is at Bacon Street), Ocean Beach
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Information: (619) 564-8421, itsrawpokeshop.com
Sassy ginger sauce
• 1 cup fresh ginger (grated)
• 1 cup green onion (chopped)
• ¼ cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
• 2 cups avocado oil
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 1 teaspoon Hawaiian salt
• 1 teaspoon white pepper
• Combine green onion, cilantro and ginger in a metal or glass bowl.
• Heat avocado oil till it’s smoking. Pour oil over the mixture.
• Add salt, pepper and sesame oil. Blend well.
• Serve over grilled fish or chicken.
• Vegetarian option: Pour ginger sauce over tofu.
— Courtesy of It’s Raw Poke Shop