Legendary Hawaiian chef Sam Choy brings ‘true’ island food to the Peninsula with Poke to the Max

The Godfather of poke sets up shop in San Bruno

Sam Choy’s poke tacos: ahi tuna in a soft and hard shell with edamame hummus, slaw and spicy aioli. (Photo courtesy Poke to the Max)

Hawaiian celebrity chef Sam Choy’s poke has arrived in the Bay Area.

Choy opened the first California outpost of Poke to the Max this weekend in San Bruno. He calls the restaurant, which first opened in Seattle, Washington, a “true taste of Hawaii.” The menu skews traditional with poke rice plates, loco moco and musubi — none of the create-your-own poke bowls that have proliferated the mainland.

“Our mission has always been to bring poke to the people and that’s what we will continue to do,” Choy said in a press release.

Here are five things you should know about the new Poke to the Max, located at 629 San Mateo Ave.

Reconstructed Spam musubi with egg frittata , left, and the garlic fried chicken rice plate. (Photo courtesy Poke to the Max)
  1. The restaurant is built on culinary chops. Choy is described as a founding contributor of “Pacific Rim Cuisine” and the “Godfather of poke.” Hailing from Laie, Oahu, he started his career as executive chef at what is now the Turtle Bay Hotel on Oahu’s North Shore and went on to open a James Beard award-winning restaurant in Kona, write several cookbooks (including not one, but three strictly about poke), host his own TV show and serve as consulting chef for American Airlines.
The poke. (Photo courtesy Poke to the Max)

2. The origin story: It all started with a food truck. Choy first launched a poke truck in Washington in 2013 before opening two brick and mortar restaurants in Seattle and Tacoma.

3. The poke low-down: always served fresh with rice, mixed greens, namasu, ginger and seaweed salad. There are eight varieties, including the “mo’ betta shoyu” with ahi tuna or salmon poke, shoyu, sesame oil, unagi sauce and wasabi aioli and the “Da Cali” with ahi tuna, surimi, avocado and aioli. For vegetarians, there’s a tofu poke with shoyu and sesame oil.

4. If raw fish isn’t your jam, don’t despair. Poke to the Max has a varied menu, with four different kinds of loco moco, six flavors of musubi, traditional lunch plates, salads and sandwiches. Plus, Spam fries.

5. Don’t live near San Bruno? Poke to the Max plans to work with Off the Grid to include its fleet of food trucks at local OTG markets. Specific locations, TBD.

Poke to the Max set up shop in San Bruno this week, modeled off of the food truck started by owner Sam Choy, right. (Photos courtesy Poke to the Max)

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More local eats from The Six Fifty:

Morning Wood brings ohana vibes and epic Hawaiian brunch to San Bruno

The 650’s 3-minute guide to the Peninsula’s best ramen

Exploring the aisles of Takahashi Market, the Peninsula’s emporium for Hawaiian & Japanese goods

Japan’s Ramen Nagi arrives to elevate Palo Alto’s noodle game

Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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