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Ono Hole in the Wall Places


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#1 Quark

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 11:56 AM

At the risk of creating redundant posts, I'd like to hear about people's favorite hole in the wall places to get a great lunch. One of the toughest decisions made in the course of a work day is where to go for lunch. A friend of mine never fails to impress me with recommendations for lunch places. These eateries are within a 3 mile radius of downtown Honolulu so it's easy to jump in your car and drive to. There are also places in walking distance of Bishop Street, so if you've got a favorite, I'd like to hear about it.

Now my definition of hole in the wall is a place that has character, maybe a bit funky and tends not to use white table cloth covers and have polished utensils. It's the kind of place that might take you to the underbelly of Honolulu to risk your life for a great plate lunch. I can think of a number of places where during the day, no problem but in the evening, another story.

So to start this tread, I would suggest Ethel's Grill in Kalihi (right on Kalihi Street). I will post a picture later on my next drive by. My friend turned me on to this place. It's very small and probably holds about 25 people max. If you go in there with a nice Aloha shirt you won't necessarily stand out but you will smell like the grill after you leave.

For something like 6 bucks you can get a full on lunch with fruit punch, chicken, rice, miso soup and salad. For Ethel regulars, she will toss in a appetizer plate of sashimi and something I have not found anywhere else, Hawaiian fern shoots. This fern sometimes called pohole on Maui and ho`i`o on O`ahu is very ono and only found in wet areas like Hana. Ethel is hard working and very personable. You can tell she puts a lot of aloha into her food. This place is high on my list and hopefully will survive the recent wave of family own eateries closing down.

Kahea `ai,

Burt

#2 skchai

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 10:15 AM

Many thanks for joining us Burt. Great to have you here!

My nomination probably won't be that surpising to many but it's about as hole-in-the-wall as you can get. It's Mitsu-Ken's on School St. near Houghtailing, in Kalihi. No inside tables or chairs, and just a couple of chairs outside - it pretty much defines the concept. It's an okazuya, so it's not even open for dinner; it closes at 2pm. But if you go around 9am, there's a line snaking out the door, and extending a ways down the street. Most people order the garlic chicken, which is the best on the island - somehow they get it so crisp it can actually hurt your teeth. Lot of people get it for breakfast on top the "normal" Mitsu-ken breakfast - spam fried rice, eggs, and bacon. Makes you so heavy you can't get up again.

For Korean food, I would nominate Elim's, which has two locations near each other on Ke`eaumoku St. One is the the "Samsung" Plaza, the other on Makaloa across from Tower Records, each has six tables, max. Both specialize in "bunshik", or Korean snack foods, including a great versions of Korean mochi stir-fried in hot sauce and Korean-style shave ice. They kind of have interesting extremes in clientele - lots of families with small kids during the day, lots of bargirls and such during the night.

Will definitely check out Ethel's next chance I get.

Sun-Ki Chai
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#3 kaukaulesa

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 01:09 PM

yeah, I've been wanting to try Ethel's, but since it was featured on Emme Tomimbang's last special, with the four fab chefs (was it Roy or Alan who picked Ethel's?), I've wondered if I would even get in there at lunch time. I think you have to eat lunch at 10:30am to get a seat. :wink:

For easy access and no MSG (they'll even hold the flour coating on the mahimahi if you're allergic to wheat), I stop in at Okata Bento when I'm in Kaimuki, on Waialae Ave, next to Payless Shoes. Mahimahi bento are two nice pieces of fish, some kamabuko, daikon and a sliver of spam. Take out only. And in a world of dwindling teriburger options (Zippy's doesn't even serve teriburgers anymore, although McDonalds now does...hmmm), Okata's version is top notch.

For a nostalgia trip, go to Jane's Fountain on Liliha St. Old Pepsi signs, vinyl booths, Gabby on teh juke box and guys who look like Gabby in the booths. Order, say, barbecue pork, and you get a big plastic plate of nicely done meat, with frozen vegetables and rice, along with free cold tofu and tsukemono. The fountain no longer works, but the rest of the old-time atmosphere does more than enough to transport you to a pre-Ala Moana Center Hawaii. :rolleyes:

#4 Gary Tanigawa

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 10:57 PM

I agree with kaukaulesa about the great atmosphere at Jane's Fountain, the waitress contributes to that old Hawaii feel. I usually get saimin there (good, but my favorite is still Saimin Palace). The limited parking at both places, I think, disqualifies them for a lunch recommendation.

#5 skchai

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 02:04 AM

Have to admit I've never been to Jane's Fountain - whereabouts on Liliha St. is it?

Sun-Ki Chai
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#6 kaukaulesa

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 02:33 AM

It's just makai of Kuakini Street, Diamond Head side of the street, a couple doors from L&L.

#7 skchai

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 03:02 AM

Hey - I go Masu's Massive a lot - right across the street. Somehow I hever noticed it. Forced to check it out. . .

Mahalo!

Sun-Ki Chai
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#8 skchai

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Posted 18 February 2004 - 10:24 PM

Today I had the ultimate Hole in the Wall experience - Bert's Cafe in Moili`ili. It's right behind McCully Chop Sui and across from Chef Mavro (!), so people pass by it all the time. However, from the outside, it looks like a abandoned shack that's hasn't been inhabited in years. So I never thought about actually checking it out - when I finally did, it was like being transported into 1950's Honolulu. An ancient shaved ice machine, a rusting vintage Coca-Cola cooler, around half a dozen non-functioning cash registers, nothing that looks like it's been around for less than 50 years. And a pretty damn good plate lunch for only $4.95 - perfectly cooked liver, bacon and onions with an interesting won bok and fishcake salad (no mac salad, I'm happy to report) and two scoops. I would file a more complete report, but the lady there said that they really didn't like any publicity! She seemed almost embarassed by my enthusiasm and was apologizing for the fact that they hadn't remodeled. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host