Anthony Bourdain ate like a local in Hawaii. Here's where he went.

Photo of Nico Madrigal-Yankowski
When Anthony Bourdain visited Hawaii, these were his favorite restaurants.

When Anthony Bourdain visited Hawaii, these were his favorite restaurants.

Courtesy of the Travel Channel

Hawaii is much more than lush beaches, palm trees and crystal clear waters. It’s a multitude of islands where cultures mingle and traditions meld, creating endless culinary blends.

Anthony Bourdain knew this. Before the chef died in 2018, he documented his favorite places to eat in Hawaii on his TV shows “Parts Unknown” and “No Reservations.” Unlike other food-driven TV shows, Bourdain didn’t find his own spots — he wanted the locals, who happened to be chefs on the island, to bring him to where they liked to eat. After all, Hawaii is where they lived, not Bourdain. These are the places that his newfound ohana (family) showcased to the legendary chef, TV personality and torchbearer of culture.

Ethel’s Grill

Located on the ground floor of a nondescript apartment building in Honolulu, Ethel’s Grill is a neighborhood spot serving an array of creative Asian-inspired dishes and classic Hawaiian fare. Before the pandemic, it was a cozy, six-table restaurant; right now, it is takeout only.

Diners can expect a rotating specials menu with a few mainstays. Perhaps most famous is the tataki sashimi — lightly seared fresh tuna resting on a bed of bean sprouts and blanketed with a housemade garlic-shoyu sauce. Other fan favorites include the loco moco, mochiko chicken and goya champuru, an Okinawan-style stir-fry dish with pork and bitter melon.

Ethel's Grill is one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite restaurants in Hawaii.

Ethel's Grill is one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite restaurants in Hawaii.

Toma C./Yelp

On Bourdain’s visit, he ate with two local chefs, Mark Noguchi and Andrew Le. As they discussed the complexities of Hawaii and Hawaiian identity, in Season 5, Episode 7, of "Parts Unknown," the daughter of the family brought out an exhibition of the menu highlights. Bourdain, Noguchi and Le chowed down on seemingly the whole menu, including pig's feet soup, a gravy-thick tripe stew, spam with bittermelon and some of the fan favorites at Ethel’s. In classic Bourdain fashion, he was humbly schooled, as were all of the viewers, on the complicated history of Hawaii and its many cultures, all over delicious food.

Ethel’s Grill, 232 Kalihi St., Honolulu, Oahu. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., takeout only. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Tasty Crust

With its faded Coca-Cola sign, pleather booths, classic vinyl countertop that stretches nearly wall to wall, and metallic stools lining the dining counter, this diner looks straight out of a 1940s magazine.

In fact, the restaurant first opened in 1942, during World War II. The restaurant serves the same food it did 81 years ago when it first opened — its “world famous pancakes,” loco moco and the plate lunch, among other dishes.

The plate lunch in Hawaii is a staple at almost every restaurant.

The plate lunch in Hawaii is a staple at almost every restaurant.

Vince N./Yelp

The plate lunch is perhaps one of the most recognizable Hawaii staples — a choice of protein, such as chicken katsu, served alongside perfectly cooked white rice and a mayonnaise-based macaroni salad.

Bourdain, while eating alongside local journalist Daniel Ikaika Ito, orders the chicken katsu plate lunch, a furikake ahi tuna plate lunch and a hamburger steak plate lunch — two hamburger-like patties of beef drowned in what is described by Bourdain as a “dark, sinister, sticky, shiny gravy.” Ito shows Bourdain how to eat the hamburger steak combo like a regular: placing a patty on top of a scoop of rice, spooning over some gravy, topping it all with a forkful of macaroni salad and then cutting it with a fork to get a little bit of everything in each bite. After he chows down, Bourdain calls the plate lunch “fundamentally local.”

Tasty Crust, 1770 Mill St., Wailuku, Maui. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 6 a.m.- 8 p.m.; closed Monday.

Puka Dog

Located on the island of Kauai inside the Poipu Shopping Village, Puka Dog serves up award-winning hot dogs, according to the Travel Channel.

The shop specializes in Hawaiian-style hot dogs. This unique style of hot dog all starts with the bread — a handmade Hawaiian sweet bread made fresh daily. Instead of the more well-known style of bun, which opens at the slit cut across the top, a Hawaiian-style hot dog presents the link of meat inside the bun, like a tube.

All of the magic happens inside the bread: Along with the Polish sausage, or vegetarian hot dog, a classic Puka Dog comes with a garlic-lemon secret sauce with three levels of heat, Aunty Lilikoi’s passion fruit mustard and the addition of a tropical relish, which comes in mango, pineapple, coconut, banana or star fruit. This style of hot dog can truly only be found in Hawaii.

Puka Dog is famous for its Hawaiian style hot dogs.

Puka Dog is famous for its Hawaiian style hot dogs.

J'aime K./Yelp

When Bourdain arrives at the shop, he asks what makes the quintessential Puka Dog experience.

“Every great culture has its own strange, local, mutant form of the hot dog,” he says in a voiceover. “And Hawaii is no different.”

He marvels at the process in which the employee makes the Puka Dog — the bun is first “impaled on something vaguely medieval-looking” to create the center of the tube. Then, all of the condiments are poured into the bun-tube, one by one, from beer-like taps. Bourdain is surprised at how “high-tech” the process was for 2008, when the episode of “No Reservations” ran. He called it “kooky,” but was all in on the experience. “I’m sold,” he said.

Puka Dog, 2100 Hoone Road, Koloa, Kauai. Open daily, 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m.

Da Ono Hawaiian Food

Da Ono serves up some of the most traditional indigenous Hawaiian foods on the island of Oahu. Along with plate lunch combos, which come with a side of white rice and scoop of macaroni salad, Da Ono specializes in grilled and barbecued meats, such as kalua pig and barbecue short ribs. Other items include poi — taro root mashed into a thick paste — and lau lau plates, a traditional method of steaming fatty pork and salted butterfish encased in taro and ti leaves. The interior of the restaurant has walls lined with vinyl album covers, framed art, maps of the islands, and pictures of favorite customers.

Lau lau is a classic Hawaiian dish of salty pork and butterfish wrapped in taro and ti leaves.

Lau lau is a classic Hawaiian dish of salty pork and butterfish wrapped in taro and ti leaves.

Artyom K./Yelp

On Bourdain’s visit to Da Ono, he notes that local chef Colin Nishida (more on him later) says this is where “you get the soul food of the islands.” The two chefs start off their meal with “handbag-sized” portions of lau lau. Bourdain calls it “uniquely Hawaiian — a true fusion of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino influences.” Nishida explains that when many cultures were brought over to the islands as slaves to work on plantation fields, they brought “homestyle food” with them. Bourdain is thoroughly impressed with the fare, and admits he wasn’t expecting it to be so good.

Da Ono Hawaiian Food, 726 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu, Oahu. Open Wednesday through Sunday, noon-8 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Side Street Inn

Established in 1992, the Side Street Inn is an award-winning restaurant with two locations in Honolulu — the original location in the Ala Moana neighborhood and another in the Kapahalu neighborhood. Dishes include a fan-favorite fried rice, deep-fried “spicy chicken” coated in a housemade garlic sauce and pan-fried island pork chops. The restaurant has become a regular stop for locals over the decades.

A few months before his death in 2018, chef and founder Colin Nishida was named Restaurateur of the Year by Honolulu Magazine. Nishida was known as a chef’s chef, and the original iteration of the restaurant was a place where cooks would come eat after their shift ended. It has since grown into a highly popular restaurant, thanks in part to Nishida’s vision.

Side Street Inn is known for its garlic fried chicken, known locally as "spicy chicken."

Side Street Inn is known for its garlic fried chicken, known locally as "spicy chicken."

Courtesy of the business owner/Yelp

At Side Street Inn, Bourdain gets his fill of “hearty, unpretentious food,” which is what every chef wants after their work shift is over. The group of chefs that Nishida assembled for Bourdain to meet all fawn over the fried gizzards that come out of the kitchen first. They even eat a specialty item that night — baby abalone.

“Once again, my ill-informed preconceptions of what to expect in Hawaii end up buried in an avalanche of great food,” Bourdain says among his new friends.

Side Street Inn Ala Moana, 1225 Hopaka St., Honolulu, Oahu. Open Tuesday through Friday, 4 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon-8:30 p.m. Closed Monday.

Side Street Inn Kapahalu, 614 Kapahalu Ave., No. 100, Honolulu, Oahu. Open Monday through Friday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

La Mariana Sailing Club

La Mariana Sailing Club is perhaps best known as part of the set for the long-running TV show “Hawaii Five-O.” Originally opened in 1957 by Annette La Mariana Nahinu and Johnny Campbell, it is a popular tourist destination. The bar serves bar food, such as mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers and chicken wings, but it also features fresh local seafood, like ahi tuna, calamari and shrimp. The drink options heavily rely on classic Tiki concoctions, such as piña coladas, mai tais and rum punch. However, the place is also known for its take on margaritas, including lilikoi, mango or lychee versions, and a li hing mui variation. Today, La Mariana Sailing Club is the last original Tiki bar on the island of Oahu.

La Mariana is one of the last "non-ironic" tiki bars in Hawaii.

La Mariana is one of the last "non-ironic" tiki bars in Hawaii.

Michael C./Yelp

The bar, which is near the airport, is “one of the few remaining, old-school, original non-ironic Tiki bars left in Hawaii,” Bourdain says. While Bourdain tries different Tiki drinks, he endures a brain freeze and admits he is entering dangerous waters while drinking all of these cocktails. In the end, he comes to fall for the kitschy bar, saying, “I’m loving this.”

La Mariana Sailing Club, 50 Sand Island Access Road, Honolulu, Oahu. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

If you ever visit Hawaii and want to eat like Anthony Bourdain, these are the spots you want to put on your list.

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