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Return to Ethel's Grill

The last time we visited Ethel’s Grill, we made the mistake of attempting to dine there right after a story had just been published about them in the daily paper. Hoping the hype had simmered by now, we made good on our promise by returning for a dine-in meal this past Friday, and thankfully this time around we were able to walk right in and get a table on the spot. Whew.

Now that we were able to sit at a table and absorb the ambience, I’d have to say the dining experience at Ethel’s really doesn’t feel like being in a public restaurant, but more like hanging out in your uncle and auny’s kitchen where you know everyone in there. Because it’s so small with adjoining tables and chairs practically rubbing at your elbow, you can’t help but make friends with those sitting around you. The place just has this leave-all-pretenses-at-the-door, “hang loose” vibe about it. Gotta’ love that.

To note, Ethel was out on hip surgery from September, and we didn’t see her there on this visit, so perhaps she’s still healing. Her son and daughter now run the place, while I suppose because of the increase in business since that newspaper article, they also have additional wait help.

Getting to the grindz, here’s what was on the menu for the day…

This is probably the most unique “menu board” on the island. lol

Here’s the specials…

Not only do you get the entree for that price, but it also includes a house salad, a bowl of Miso Soup AND a drink. Awesome!

Today they had fresh Andagi for sale, along with a variety of sandwiches….

Ethel’s Grill Special Tataki Sauce is available for sale in 48 oz. recycled jars for $13 each…

You could probably make A LOT of  Tataki Sashimi with one of those.

Speaking of which, we got a side order of their popular Tataki Sashimi to sample…

Ethel’s Famous Tataki Sashimi: It’s #1 in Honolulu! Our most popular Sashimi side dish is fresh tuna, lightly seared and drizzled with Ethel’s Secret Sauce!  Only $5.00!

To our delight, the owner’s son comp’d the Tataki Sashimi for us. We did’t know why either. They didn’t know I was a food blogger, so it couldn’t be that. I think they do that to earn repeat business from new customers. Anyway, mahalo to Ethel’s for the kind gesture!  

Here’s the garden salad with house-made Parsley-Dijon Dressing…

Ethel’s Grill – side salad with Parsley-Dijon Dressing. Included with entree plates.

The dressing has a well-balanced blend of sweet and acidic going on, along with a subtle snap to it thanks to the parsley and mustard. Good, good stuff. While I didn’t see any available, they really should bottle and sell their salad dressing alongside their Tataki sauce. I’d buy some. For the side salad, I give it 4 SPAM Musubi for a great dressing flavor, veggie freshness and value (included with entree!).

Also arriving before the main dish is this piping hot bowl of house-made shiro (white) Miso Soup…

Ethel’s Grill – Shiro Miso Soup. Included with entree plate.

I have to say, of all the Japanese restaurants I’ve dined at in my lifetime, as simple as it is, this is one of the best Miso Soup I’ve had to date. And this isn’t even a “Japanese Restaurant” per se.

While it can’t touch the Miso Soup served with the baby black clams we used to get from this small Tonkatsu shop in Tokyo, it’s a close second. Which I believe Ethel’s probably makes their base stock with clam shells and/or meat, as it kind of does ring of that flavor. There’s small bits of tofu and what looks like egg whites (though I’m not sure), and of course chopped negi (green onion).

I’m going 5 SPAM Musubi on the shiro Miso Soup. BROKE DA’ MOUT’ WINNAH!  In fact, so broke da’ mout’, Diner A wants to return and try their Miso Saimin. Sounds good!

Now to the main dish, Diner A decided to try their Mixed Plate…

Ethel’s Grill – Mixed Plate: Huge plate of Ethel’s best Mahi-mahi and Teriyaki Chicken. Yumm! No substitutions. $7.50

Are you kidding me? $7.50 for all that, plus a house salad, miso soup and drink? No wonder this tiny place packs a crowd! Not only a dine-in crowd, but there were also several customers who came in to pick up BOXES of lunch orders. Not one-zee, two-zees, but like for an entire office.

Moving on, Diner “Simon Kaukau” E decided on going with the classic combination, kickin’ it up a notch with the large saimin and a hamburger deluxe…

Ethel’s Grill – Large Saimin, $3.00 and Hamburger Deluxe (with onions and tomato), $2.75

Last but never least, yours truly decided on trying their evidently popular Pork Chops…

Ethel’s Grill – Garlic Pork Chops: Deep-fried Pork Chops smothered in our special Garlic Sauce! $6.75

I still can’t over the prices. Are we still in the 80’s here?

So how is it? First let’s find out what Diner A thinks of the Mahimahi…

He thought it was pretty good. Nothing he’d drive from Ewa Beach to town for, but good. The batter tasted like standard fare. He did note the tartar sauce was exceptional, tasting scratch-made, not bottled. Hey, if the sauce is good, that always works for me!

Now let’s find out how he likes the Teriyaki Chicken…

Although through his recent memory, it can’t touch Dean’s Drive Inn, he really liked Ethel’s Teriyaki sauce. Thick, with a well-balanced sugar-to-shoyu ratio. The chicken had good sear marks and was moist and tender inside.

Overall, Diner A gives Ethel’s Mixed Plate a very solid 3 SPAM Musubi.

Now let’s see what Diner “Simon Kaukau” E thinks of his saimin (I’m going to start spelling his other nickname “Saimin Kaukau” lol)…

As you see, there’s sliced ham, kamaboko (fish cake; the pink and white thing), part of a fried egg and negi (green onion) garnishes.

Sample cuz…

He was favorable of the broth, which he thought was based on Katsuobushi or Hondashi  (bonito). I had a taste of it and didn’t detect that, but more like some kind of  “secret” shellfish stock, albeit very, very mild. Similar to Forty Niner Restaurant’s Saimin broth. Not really, but kinda’. Ya’ know? Maybe it’s the same stock they use to make their miso soup?  He said the saimin noodles were a little overcooked; not dreadedly soggy, but enough to make note of.

Overall he was satisfied, giving his Saimin from Ethel’s 2 SPAM Musubi.

Now let’s find out what he thought of his Hamburger Deluxe…

“Eh, it’s OK” he said. It didn’t have that magical char-grilled finish that we always hope for, while the beef patty itself wasn’t anything outstanding in flavor. It was cooked right at medium, so thankfully it still had some moisture. The bun and the veggies were nice and fresh, so points for that. Overall, 2 SPAM Musubi for the Hamburger Deluxe.

Now let me try this “famous” garlic pork chops…

Whoah! Did pork chops marry pancakes? lol That’s exactly what these taste like. For realz. Like they coat it with pancake batter then deep-fry it, then coat it with Maple Syrup mixed with Teriyaki Sauce.  I can’t explain it any better than that.

Did I like it? Quite a bit. I wasn’t blown away by it, but it’s really, really good. The syrup made it a little too sweet though. Scale back on that and I think it’d be better.

The pork inside was decently moist and tender, while I only wish they were boneless, as I ran into some I had to cut around. Funny enough, I didn’t really taste much garlic though.

The maple syrup (probably corn-syrup-based) Mrs. Butterworth) was the most pronounced flavor in this dish. Enough where I felt like had just finished breakfast, not lunch. Go figure. Gotta’ say though, it’s the most UNIQUE pork chops I’ve ever had.

With all things considered, I’ll give Ethel’s Garlic (ehem, Maple Syrup) Pork Chops an exotic and tasty 3 SPAM Musubi.

Saving the best for last, let’s sample Ethel’s famous Tataki Sashimi…

Oshii yo! Ding-ding-ding, we have a winner. I won’t go 5 SPAM Musubi, but definitely melts-like-buttah delicious 4 SPAM Musubi for Ethel’s Tataki Sashimi.

Thin slices of seared Ahi that just melts in your mouth. While it probably isn’t at the price they charge, this Ahi certainly tasted top-grade to me. The Tataki sauce with the slivers of marinaded garlic is delicious and not overpowering, and it truly compliments the fresh Ahi without overpowering it. While the broccoli sprouts and bean sprouts add a wonderfully “green” flavor and texture contrast to the silky ahi sashimi as well as make a nice presentation.

For the most part, a flawless dish.

Next time I come here, I might consider ordering the plate version of this, which is still an amazing bargain at just $8.00!

If you visit Ethel’s, the Tataki Sashimi is a must-order side or main dish. They also sell it in party platter size for $36.

I also wanna’ try their Shoyu Ahi Belly plate. That “#1 in Honolulu” Tripe Stew on the menu sounded tempting as well.

It doesn’t always take 4 or 5 SPAM Musubi-rated dishes for Diner A to polish his plate, as once again he lives up to his legend with Ethel’s Mixed Plate…

Of course you don’t expect anything to be left on that Tataki Sashimi plate…

Ah, oishikata. Onaka ga ippai.

Ethel’s Grill

232 Kalihi Street
Honolulu, HI 96819
(808) 847-6467

Business hours:
Mon-Sat. 5:30am to 2:00pm

Ethel’s Grill Menu (<click to download/view PDF)

The Tasty Island Rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)

Related links:
Kalihi Kai Eats: Ethel’s Grill – The Tasty Island
Ethel’s Grill – ‘Ono Kine Grindz
Ethel’s Grill serves sumotori-sized portions – The Honolulu Advertiser
Cheap Eats:  Ethel’s Grill – KHNL NBC NEWS 8 Honolulu
Hungry chefs head to Ethel’s Grill – The Honolulu Advertiser
Ethel’s Grill – Yelp user reviews

3 thoughts on “Return to Ethel's Grill

  • November 21, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Pomai Brah, glad you return back to Ethel’s Grill. The tataki sashimi is what I go for. Every eaterys have own special that stand out. I now will try Dean Drive Inn taro burger which Kelike Brah comment about it.

    It mysoju and now days tv cutting back on Asian shows so great to watch online. Watch-movie-online-tv now showing Twilight New Moon and you can order Tampopo online from library and sent to any branch to pickup it so easy.

  • November 21, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Pomai, last time I went there with a friend and and said “they got pig feet”. My friend said funny workers feet look pretty normal to me. Yeah right ha ha.
    I like the amount for that price sure return often. Glad this time you gave it 3 musubis

  • November 22, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Michael, I had my eyes on the Pig’s Feet Soup and Oxtail Soup as well. It was just too hot of a day for that. When the winter chill sets in I’ll go back and try that.

    Kimo, when you go into Ethel’s, you’ll notice EVERY table has a plate of Tataki Sashimi. Not one table didn’t have it.

    I wonder if the Waikiki library has Tampopo in stock? I’ll have to look up the system’s website.


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