HONOLULU | Ethel’s Grill has been somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while, ever since chef Andrew Li (of Honolulu’s excellent The Pig & The Lady) took Anthony Bourdain there on the Hawaii episode of Parts Unknown in 2015.
It’s a no-frills diner, open since the 1960s, in an industrial area near the airport, offering all sorts of wonderful dishes since 1978, informed by owners Ryoko and Yoichi Ishii’s Japanese Okinawan-Tokyo heritage, and Mexican-Hawaiian influences.
The menu, written by hand on paper in the restaurant, features an assortment of regular dishes and limited specials. You can also check their Instagram account to find out what happening on the specials front at any given time. It’s local food, uniquely Hawaiian, but also uniquely Ethels. There are things on the menu here you simply cannot find elsewhere. By all accounts you can’t go wrong no matter what you order.
Unfortunately it wasn’t tripe day when I visited (oh how I wanted the tripe), but the famed taco rice was on the menu, along with a Japanese teriyaki burger rice concoction, which I was sold on when I saw it on the Ethel’s Instagram page, run by Ryoko and Yoichi’s kids (who also mostly run the diner these days). When I saw it described as “a favourite of mine since the 80s”, I knew that I had to order it.
Due to the pandemic, Ethel’s is only open for take out at the moment, but there’s a small bench out the front that you can use as a makeshift seat and table.
Back to the food. The taco rice is literally that. A huge serving of rice, topped with oozing cheese, taco spiced mince, and a fried egg. It’s served with crispy tortillas and is as awesome as it sounds.
The teriyaki thing, meanwhile, reminded me of the burgers that I love from Japanese burger chain MOS Burger, with rice instead of bread as the buns that hold the things together. A huge serve of rice, a beef burger patty topped with teriyaki sauce, and salad. So damn good. Both dishes come with miso soup, and to finish things off, a side of natto.
As I ate my meal, my only regret was that I wouldn’t be able to return multiple times to work my way through the menu, and try the legit looking Mexican spot across the road.
232 Kalihi Street
Telephone: 808 847 6467
Tue – Sat: 8:00am to 2:00pm