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Yasara Gunawardena

Ali’i Fish Company

Written by
Yasara Gunawardena

When I moved here from Hawai’i back in 2013, I scoured the internet, desperate to find a taste of home in the form of poke. Nine times out of ten, the places I checked out only disappointed - the fish was cut too small, the ahi was clearly not marinated, and worst of all, arrived with out-of-place toppings, like orange slices bathed in chilis, shredded carrots, and even pumpkin seeds.

I quickly lost hope that I’d ever find a decent-tasting poke bowl. Then I tried Ali’i Fish Company.

Yasara Gunawardena

Unlike other spots that serve the classic Hawaiian dish, this small El Segundo shop understands an essential truth: Quality fish is king. Run like an elaborate diamond heist, Ali’i has buyers on the ground at the Honolulu Fish Market every morning, in pursuit of the freshest fish possible. After hand-selecting their favorites, the expert seafood specialists fillet, package, and ship their findings (typically ahi) out to California all before the day is through.

Like any good poke counter, there are a lot of options, but you should stick to the classics. Specifically succulent cubes of ginger soy ahi (which taste as pleasant as a nap taken under a blooming tree after lunch), bright-red spicy tuna, or salmon tossed in ponzu sauce, paired with a scoop of avocado or seaweed salad.

Served simply over a bed of rice, the poke here tastes exactly like something you’d get from a Foodland counter back in the Islands. And in Hawai’i, there’s no higher honor than that.

Food Rundown

Yasara Gunawardena
Beautiful, Glowing Poke Case

Lined up neatly in a row, there are symmetrical metal bins holding onion limu (made with just sliced onions, chili flakes, and seaweed), ahi poke that’s colored red-hot like lava, and garlic shrimp, slathered in olive oil and lemon juice, reminiscent of the food trucks on the North Shore of O’ahu.

Yasara Gunawardena
Ginger Soy Ahi Poke Bowl

The best option here is the ginger soy ahi. It’s a subtle version of the dish, with a marinate so fragrant it must come from a flower-bearing plant. There’s not too much sauce, with only a light soy sauce glaze, so you can really taste the fish. Order this with a scoop of avocado.

Yasara Gunawardena
Spicy Ahi Poke Bowl

Unlike the final wing on Hot Ones, the spice levels here aren’t sadistic or capable of burning your tastes buds off, but rather create a marinade with a satisfying kick. Japanese mayonnaise is mixed with a dash of Sriracha, then studded with tiny balls of tobiko.

Yasara Gunawardena
Signature Ahi Burger

If you’re going to eat a meal here, you should probably get a poke bowl. But if raw fish just isn’t your thing, order the burger. It’s a hefty boy, with a one-inch ahi patty smothered in melted cheddar cheese then topped with alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, onions, and luscious garlic aioli. Even when cooked, the fish quality shines through - this isn’t some Starkist burger. And the sharpness of the cheddar cheese brings all the crunchy, creamy, and fishy flavors together.

Yasara Gunawardena
Chips & Kiawe-Smoked Ahi Dip

This dip is so f*cking good. Shown here with their signature ahi burger, it’s the perfect accompaniment to any meal. It’s smoked fish dip in its ideal form - filets of ahi are smoked over kiawe, a bush-like mesquite tree common in Hawai’i, then combined with a little cream cheese and sour cream, and sprinkled with paprika. I don’t really watch football, but if I were ever invited to a tailgate, I’d bring this dish.

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