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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 6, 2004

Ethel's Grill serves sumotori-sized portions

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Kaeo Tam, left, and Brandon Kurisu of Mililani have lunch at Ethel's Grill on Kalihi Street. The small operation run by Ethel Ishii and her husband, Yoichi, for the past 26 years serves up local, Hawaiian and Japanese cuisine in generous portions. Ethel Ishii is a big fan of retired Island-born sumo champion Konishiki.

Photos by Jeff widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Ethel's Grill, a no-frills eatery at 232 Kalihi St., serves breakfast from 6 a.m. and lunch daily except on Sundays.
This month, we look at a hole-in-the-wall place in the industrial part of Kalihi and a New York-style Buffalo-wings spot in 'Aiea.

Ethel's Grill
232 Kalihi St.
6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

My friend Geoff has been telling me about Ethel's Grill for quite some time. He said several well-known chefs (Sam Choy among them) are fans of this tiny, jam-packed spot, as are big-time sumotori (Ethel Ishii, who has run the eatery for 26 years with husband Yoichi, is a Konishiki fan). If I wanted to enjoy a no-frills local/Hawaiian/Japanese place, Geoff said, he'd be happy to accompany me. But we'd have to find parking first.

When we arrived, there was a wait for a table, but before long, we were sitting and studying the menu selections (from a printed menu, paper signs on the wall and a handwritten area as well).

This mom-and-pop operation serves gigantic portions of saimin (small $2, large $2.50, with miso $4, vegetable $4.50, and with oxtail $5.50). The large bowls are close to family-sized and would be a challenge for almost any appetite.

Lunches include rice, miso soup, salad (with a lusciously creamy herb dressing) and a drink. The $5.50 lunch menu includes selections such as chicken katsu donburi; pork, chicken or veggie tofu; beef or chicken teriyaki, fried 'ahi, pork chops and more.

Ethel's "No. 1 popular dishes" (as stated on the menu) include six choices. Among them, the garlic mochiko chicken ($5.50) had an unusual sweet, maple-syrup flavor; the Japanese hamburger steak ($6) rested in a sweet, salty and vinegary ponzu-ish sauce with grated daikon; and the tataki plate ($7) was a yummy sashimi with garlicky shoyu and bean sprouts.

For just $6, you can get a plate of fresh fish either broiled or fried, served with a green salad, miso soup, rice and a drink. I tasted the egg-dipped and fried mahi, and also the saba.

Breakfast service starts at 6 a.m. Two eggs with meat (bacon, Spam, links or Portuguese sausage) costs just $3.75 and includes rice, salad, soup or coffee. Omelets (ham, cheese, tomato) are $4.75.

Dirty Lickins'
'Aiea Shopping Center, third floor
99-115 'Aiea Heights Drive
10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays

Buffalo wings have become so common that it's hard to remember that there was a time when they didn't exist. The chicken wings — prepared in a spicy sauce, then dipped in bleu cheese or ranch dressing and served with celery — are said to have been invented at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1964. Several stories are told about exactly how the folks at the bar came up with the idea. The place still exists, by the way, and does a brisk mail-order business.

Anyway, there is something for most people to like about Buffalo wings, and now the wings are part of our national food culture. It was a matter of time before somebody built a menu around the them. Dirty Lickins' features these fried, hot and spicy treats at a relatively new spot in 'Aiea.

It offers the wings with various sauce choices (barbecue, honey mustard or teriyaki) in addition to four heat levels (mild, medium, hot and volcanic). I tried the volcanic and was able to handle it easily. Bleu cheese or ranch dressings are offered along with the wings, perfect foils for the salty-spicy flavor, adding a comforting creaminess and sharpness to your palate. If you choose to stray from the standard, authentic sauce, I thought the barbecue sauce was quite good.

A five-pack of wings is $3.75; 10-pack, $6.85; 15-pack, $9.65; and 20-pack, $12.65. Dirty Lickins' can scale that all the way up to a 500-pack for $292.50.

Also offered are plate-lunch choices, specials (lasagna, chicken Kiev, pasta dishes), sandwiches and wraps (fried and grilled chicken), salads (Caesar, oriental), yummy chili and side dishes.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.