Dish of the Week: Abunai brings authentic, simplified Hawaiian cuisine to Downtown

Media Credit: Chuckie Copeland I Photographer

The ratio of fish to rice allowed for a harmonious balance of rich flavors in each bite all the way through to the ever-disappointing-yet-satisfying end of my meal.

Abunai – a poke haven for overtired employees and nearby students – may sit among the deep line of bleak L Street office buildings but its fresh Hawaiian cuisine delivers a rare gem to the heart of the District.

Since founder and Hawaiian native Akina Harada established Abunai as a food truck in 2016, the business has flourished into a restaurant with locations in Philadelphia and downtown D.C. Harada created a menu that remains loyal to the simplicity of Hawaiian poke with signature ingredients, like fresh pineapple and sushi-grade tuna, despite the American pressure for more mass-produced, inauthentic exorbitant cuisine.

The restaurant’s mission does not solely focus on culinary authenticity – Abunai also works to reduce its carbon footprint by using locally sourced ingredients and eco-friendly packaging.

Though the restaurant’s outdoor surroundings are drab and nondescript, its glitzy light display will draw in any curious passerby. Artificial vines dangle across the windows among color-shifting bulbs set to flash by the second. Two tall tables stand in the minimalist indoor space, yet Abunai’s otherwise out-of-place decor – sports gambling kiosks and news-projecting televisions – makes for an interactive dining environment.

Abunai poses a rare conglomeration of authentic dishes and ingredients to customers unlike Americanized poke restaurants that often mimic one another like a chain of dominoes. Their options include a spicy Maine lobster salad ($20.40) and an octopus-based “tako” poke bowl ($18) as well as hand rolls ($7.20 to $9.60) and spam musubi ($9.60) – a traditional Japanese dish. For those looking for larger portions, Abunai serves plates including Japanese curry ($13.00) and Kalua pig & cabbage ($15.60) to broaden their versatility as a specialized restaurant.

Take advantage of the Hawaiian joint’s generous specials deal – $12 for their designated daily poke bowl – from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.

I ordered the Abunai bowl ($15), in its purest state without substitutions, to sample the restaurant’s signature dish. Despite my preference for salmon poke, which Abunai also offers, I enjoyed the roughly chopped tuna accompanied by peanuts, scallions, sweet onions, masago, nori and ogo Hawaiian seaweed. The Abunai sauce – similar to the consistency of the traditional Ponzu sauce served with many poke bowls – was slightly too sweet for my liking and overwhelming on the surface area of the dish. With the restaurant offering nine alternative sauce options, the wasabi aioli looked particularly appealing to me.

D.C., similar to any city, is full of eateries serving food for far too much money. Rarely do I find non-chain restaurants offering picturesque portion sizes – yet Abunai’s poke bowl did just that. The ratio of fish to rice allowed for a harmonious balance of rich flavors in each bite all the way through to the ever-disappointing-yet-satisfying end of my meal. Little beats the feeling of unwavering confidence in a purchase.

If you enjoy quick, healthy fare at the hands of small business owners, visit Abunai’s L Street location before the holidays.

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