Answering this was difficult for me, because what ISN'T the difference between a poke bowl and a chirashi bowl? There's the rice (long-grain vs. short grain sticky) the fish (normally ahi vs. a large assortment), the sauce (none, or a light oil, or pretty much anything, if it's fusion-y, vs. an austere soy-wasabi mix, if that) the accompaniment (mixed in, and might be anything from nuts to avocado to seaweed to onions, vs. always-on-the-side pickled ginger, sliced cucumber, and maybe gobo or something)...
By the time his eyes glazed over I was only halfway done with half of my half-and-half poke bowl (half wasabi poke, half ginger poke). They really do pile it on!
But is theirs the best poke?
I've been trying to answer that question since discovering (to my elation) that I am surrounded on all sides by poke. I live in a hotbed of it. Poke places dot the coast from Venice to Newport Beach as though Hawaii itself threw out experimental colonizing tendrils across the Pacific. (Hawaii, if your tendrils are listening, we love your poke. Please send more, and eventually stage a takeover.) Even my local crunchy granola market, Lazy Acres, has a poke bar with three different varieties of poke, priced by the pound - and even more impressively, all three are great.
Not all of the poke is. Bear Flag, in Newport Beach, swings wildly in quality, sometimes delivering containers of mold-smelling ridiculousness, and other times delivering divine, sweet, sesame-seeded morsels. Island Eats Hale Aina, in Torrance, puts all its culinary wizardry into crafting its superb lau-lau, and none of it into managing to make poke that doesn't taste like someone upended a salt shaker over it in the kitchen. North Shore Poke, in Huntington Beach, must take its tips from IEHA; it soaks its poke liberally in soy sauce to the point where you may as well just drink a bottle of soy sauce. Fish King, in Glendale (not exactly on the coast, but I'll allow it) has an extremely silky, extremely gingery version with unremarkable fish, which, smartly, is overpowered by the ginger. As a ginger lover, I'm not even mad. (Yes, I'm being inconsistent and unfair by not knocking the place which chooses ginger to overpower things with.)
Honestly, the contest is simple. It's between Poke Etc. and a place called Jus' Poke in Redondo Beach, which, if you're familiar at all with dramatic setup, you'll find is the one I've chosen for the Best Poke Trophy, hands down!
Jus' Poke's Original allows the superb quality of its fish to shine, along with the chefs' carving ability. Not once have I found my teeth laced with connective tissue after a meal here. Not once. The fish is all brilliant red, cut in perfect cubes, sized for overly eager mouthfuls. Waiting in line here, watching scoop after scoop of glistening fish be plopped next to furikake-sprinkled rice and nestled between sweet and sour pickles or hot and spicy edamame or Hawaiian chips, your mouth gets overly eager for sure. It's ready for those pillows of tuna, spiderwebbed with choke ogo, a purplish, veiny seaweed, and flecked with little pieces of green onion and sesame seeds. The whole thing is slicked with lightly scented oil, but nowhere does it overwhelm. The fish is the queen and ruler of this cardboard platter, and her flavors are her subjects.