8 Classic Honolulu Dishes That Just Won’t Quit
These dishes never seem to get old.
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It’s easy to get caught up in the flash and dazzle of a new dish. But, often, nothing hits the spot like a familiar classic, a dish we eat over and over. We find reliable comfort in these dishes that never seem to get old.
Photo: Steve Czerniak
Seared ‘ahi sashimi with fresh cabbage, kaiware sprouts and crunchy bean sprouts: If Ethel’s signature dish sounds like something a mom wants you to eat, that’s because it is. When owner Ryoko Ishii’s son Ban was little, tataki-style (lightly seared outside, raw inside) was the only way he would eat sashimi, so that’s how Ishii made it. Regulars who remarked on the dish found side orders brought to their tables gratis. Those side orders became full-order menu items, shoyu-pickled garlic chips were added as a garnish, and today, ‘ahi tataki ranks up there with mochiko chicken as Ethel’s most requested dish.
232 Kalihi St., 847-6467, $7 side order, $11.50 full-order meal
Onaga baked in Hawaiian salt crust
Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams
Chef Mavro opened in the 1990s, years after George Mavrothalassitis came up with the recipe for his salt-crusted onaga: a fillet of fresh snapper baked in a fish-shaped crust of heavily salted dough that’s cut open with dramatic flourish tableside, the steaming fish revealed and served with a sauce of tomatoes and ogo seaweed. Mavro jokes that customer requests for the onaga make him feel like Mick Jagger getting asked to sing “Satisfaction”—again. But those requests mean the dish returns for a few weeks each year. If it’s not there, you can order it a few days in advance.
1969 S. King St., 944-4714, part of a $95 four-course prix fixe dinner
Lemon Crunch Cake
Diamond Head Market
PHOTO: STEVE CZERNIAK
Three layers of fluffy sponge cake alternate with layers of pastry cream, lemon curd and a curd whipped-cream mix, all topped with a crunch of toffee bits: It’s a taste as iconic to Kelvin Ro’s plate lunch and takeout spot as it is to downtown Honolulu’s old Alexander Young Hotel, where it came from. “We’re not inventing new cuisine, we’re going back to the basics,” says Ro. “People tell me, nobody makes this nowadays. I get tickled when I can do that for them.” You can taste something similar, though not quite the same, at the Alley at ‘Aiea Bowl, and that’s because pastry chef Shane Masutani once worked for Ro.
3158 Monsarrat Ave., 732-0077, $4.25 a slice, $38 whole 9-inch cake
Melting hot dark-chocolate soufflé
Photo: Steve Czerniak
Twenty-five years after he put it on his menu, customers still come up to Roy Yamaguchi to gush about his chocolate soufflé. “They remember where they’ve had it, they bring their kids to try it. It’s pretty cool stuff,” he says. “I don’t even attempt to take it off the menu.” The flourless cake with a dark-chocolate center that oozes forth when you cut in is Roy’s best-selling dessert by far. At Roy’s Waikīkī, the busiest in the chain of more than two dozen restaurants, molten chocolate soufflés fly out of the kitchen at the rate of 100 to 150 a night.
Multiple locations, $9.50