We were excited to learn that a Hawaiian restaurant opened on the Eastside recently. When she was running an errand at Crossroads Mall last week, my wife first noticed it, now in the space previously occupied by Jones’ BBQ and then Burney’s BBQ. So far, I haven’t found a satisfactory Hawaiian restaurant in the Greater Seattle area, so I was holding out hope that Island Grill would satisfy my ono kine grindz craving whenever I got one. In short, sad to say, this is probably the worst of its kind that I’ve ever experienced.
Before I get to the food, there were some telltale exchanges between me and the people working there. When I noticed BBQ chicken on the menu, I asked if it was huli chicken. All I got was a blank stare, whereupon I repeated my question. “No, BBQ chicken” was the answer I finally got back. Okay, never mind. I then ordered a combination plate of kalua pork and BBQ short ribs with a side of macaroni salad. While I was paying, I asked the cashier, “Are you from Hawaii?” Again, a blank stare. I was beginning to get a sinking feeling.
Let’s start with the rice. Only one scoop. In Hawaii, it’s always two scoops. But, as I’m trying to reduce my carb consumption, this was not a big deal. It’s a small detail that screams a lack of authenticity though, even if the rice was cooked nicely. The mac salad was the worst I’ve ever had—macaroni with little slivers of carrots, dressed with a sweet mayonnaise. It lacked something. Several things actually. Opinions vary on this, but I prefer my Hawaiian mac salad to have a slight vinegary tang and bits of green onions and celery, both of which lend some complexity. And how about some salt, even if it isn’t Hawaiian salt? Still, the pasta was cooked to the soft stage, which is how Hawaiians like it.
I was reminded of the catchy query, “Where’s the beef?” when I started on the BBQ short ribs. Sliced thinly as kalbi should be, the meat to bone ratio was extremely small, on top of which whatever meat could be found was tough and chewy. The teriyaki flavors were good though. The kalua pork was tender, so tender that it was almost mushy. It lacked no discernible smoke flavor and was under-seasoned, a bland interpretation.
I won’t be going back to Island Grill. It has a long way to go before it even approaches Ono’s or Helena’s in Honolulu.
15600 NE 8th St
Crossroads Mall Food Court
Bellevue, WA 98008
That’s too bad, but not unexpected. We have tried a lot of Hawaiian between Bellingham and Vancouver, Wa. They are mostly disappointments. Alas, the one shining exception – Pai’s Lemongrass Huli-Huli Chicken – is no more…. Pai has moved away in October. Hawaiian Sun in Everett makes a very good Mochiko Chicken. A real headscratcher is Marination. It seems to land on many “Best Food Trucks in the USA” lists, but we thought it was just awful. Many “plate lunch” joints, even in Hawaii, serve so-so food but a huge quantity of it. A good example is L & L in Edmonds. This seems to satisfy many “locals”.
We did have the mochiko chicken at Hawaiian Sun, which we did like and commented that the chicken pieces were rather large. We were not impressed with the other dishes we had there, including a saimin and kalua pork.