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Unless you’re standing inside the Honolulu Fish Auction, it will be harder to get fresher fish than what’s served at Uncle’s Fish Market & Grill. As they say, “off the boat, in our back door, and onto your plate.”
The day we visited, the blackboard specials menu featured four kinds of fresh fish and chips ($15.95 to $17.95). Each of the three pieces of fish was as large as we usually prepare for a meal; the serving of fries was also quite generous, and it came with coleslaw. Often, we are able to split a meal of this size and still have enough. But the absolute best part was the quality of the fish. It was so fresh! And it had just the lightest, crispy coating that enhanced the delicate flavor, rather than overpowering it with breading or grease. We get fish and chips regularly, but this was hands-down the best I’ve tasted.
Hands down, best fish and chips around.
I was delighted to see Manhattan Style Chowder on the menu along with its more common cousin, New England style. I opted for the combo of soup and fresh tuna salad sandwich ($8.95). Either the soup or the sandwich alone would be as much as I generally have for lunch. The tomato broth was filled with fish chunks the size of my thumb, no hunting around for clam bits here. It was savory goodness, but the tuna salad has forever redefined the sandwich for me. To use the same name for that steamed fresh fish, lightly seasoned and dressed, and every other mayo-laden concoction I’ve eaten before insults Uncle’s tuna creation. The mound of tuna was topped with fresh cucumbers, lettuce leaf and tomato slices on a tasty bun as large as my soup bowl. I had to pide the sandwich into two parts because it was too large to get in my mouth.
One odd thing about Uncles is that the bathrooms are across the street. The restaurant makes use of the public rest area at Pier 38. However, these were the cleanest public restrooms I’ve ever seen, so it wasn’t too much of a distraction from the meal. As I returned, I encountered a pier security guard I’d visited with earlier. She asked what we were having and recommended that next time, I try the Fresh Seafood Pasta. The linguini comes with mushrooms and either Alfredo or Marinara sauce. It is filled with all sorts of fish: sauteed fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels and clams. At $16.95, that’s a meal that would feed two of us easily, but I might want it all for myself.
The menu includes fish tacos, several types of sandwiches, salads, sashimi and poke. The lengthy list of entrees includes all sorts of fresh fish, served with steamed vegetables and rice or fries. There also are a couple of beef and chicken options, in case you travel with non-fish eaters (vegetarians could make do with the Organic Greens Salad).
Soup and sandwich combo for lunch at Uncle’s.
The prices range from $14.95 (Fresh Ahi Belly) to $33.95 (Jumbo Pacific Lobster Tail) with most right around $20. Those prices seem high for lunch but very reasonable for dinner. Given the freshness of the fish and the quality of the preparation, they’re worth every penny. Unlike Nico’s across the street, there is no open view of the pier and its working fish boats, and the only outside seating lines the street. But the table service is friendly and prompt. Only 10 minutes elapsed from the time we gave our order to the time the waitress delivered it with a smile (in fairness, we were having a late lunch on Christmas Eve; I hear there is a solid lunch rush most days).
UNCLE’S FISH MARKET & GRILL • 1135 N. Nimitz Hwy., Honolulu, HI 96817 • Opens 10am-9pm daily, 10am-3pm Mondays • Full bar, with wine beer, sake and cocktails