This blog post on Million Pocha has taken a long time to come to fruition … so long, in fact, that it’s not quite something new, but enough people know about it that it’s not a hidden gem, either. But it’s so good, I need to tell you more.
It opened back in November, but I didn’t discover it until February. At the time, I balked at the prices: $15 for a plate of chicken wings? Too expensive. Gizzards for $15? Outrageous. And $30 for cheese pork ribs? Are you kidding? It just seemed like too much, and I didn’t think I’d want to come back.
But at the end of the night, it didn’t seem too bad once we split the check. We were full, and it cost us about $25 each. I wanted to go back with real Korean foodies, though, since I don’t feel comfortable commenting on another culture’s authenticity. Myong Choi and his fiancee are on a diet; Diane Seo is always busy. We finally settled on a date, and I went back with Diane and two good eaters, Jaymes Song and Peter Kang.
First-timers usually make the mistake of going to Million Restaurant on Sheridan Street. This is actually Million’s sister restaurant, more of a bar than the usual kal bi, bulgogi and chicken with several sides. It’s across the street in the old Casino hostess bar, next to Butterfly Lounge, but have no fear, it’s now catering to a younger, hipper drinking and foodie crowd.
You’re probably wondering why the funny name. “Pocha” is short for pojangmacha (포장마차), which means “covered wagon” in Korean and refers to a street food vendor — I guess their term for food truck. Peter said when you go out with your friends in Korea, it’s a progressive night of eating and drinking, and since the pocha is the last place to close, it’s often the final stop before heading home to get one hour of sleep.
One of the first things you’ll probably order is the fried mandoo to help fill you up, because it is one of the cheaper items on the menu. These are okay, but they are just like anyone else’s mandoo. Order it for the people who don’t like surprises, but don’t order it for the sake of filling up.
When the plate of garlic fried chicken wings came, I thought, “Is that it?” But trust me, don’t think about it … just eat it. The wings are beautifully crisp, with an addicting salty-sweet flavor (more salty) and, of course, large chunks of garlic. It comes with a “salad” of shredded cabbage topped with mayonnaise and what looks like ketchup, which is my parent’s classic ghetto-style French or Thousand Island dressing. Don’t think, just eat.
If you aren’t keen on having garlic breath, the classic tong dak, or fried chicken, is still a good choice. It’s not as breaded, so not as crunchy as the garlic chicken, but no less flavorful. This is great on its own or dipped in the seasoned salt provided; the meat is moist and it’s served piping hot, so be careful!
I highly recommend any of the pajun, or pancakes, especially the kim chee pancake. In most Korean restaurants, these tend to be a bit doughy; here, it’s got a great little crunch to it. My Korean friend Kristy later told me she knows their secret: They mix tempura flakes into the very cold batter to give it that lightness and crunch while minimizing the soggy, doughy texture found elsewhere. I dream about these pancakes all the time.
You almost can’t go to a Korean bar and not order Military stew ($30) or budae jigae. It’s a Korean take on hot pot — a hodgepodge of common ingredients thrown together as a bubbling pot of spicy stew. Processed foods are the signature elements, and ours did not disappoint with ample servings of ramen noodles, kim chee, hot dog pieces and Spam. Side note: Budae jigae originated after the Korean War, when food was scarce. Because processed foods were cheap and easy to keep, it proved to be an easy (and tasty) dish to pull together.
We really enjoyed Million Pocha’s version of budae jigae. Nothing surprising, but decadently comforting to everyone at our table.
In Korea, odeng guk or fishcake soup is a common street food that’s typically eaten as a light meal. It also goes well with alcohol, and thus, makes for a great bar offering. Nothing too unique about this version, but it did help offset the fried, spicy fare and shochu we were indulging in.
There’s quite a bit of soup on the menu, and one of the more unique ones is the clam soup. It looks plain, but it’s actually very comforting and savory, with rich clam flavor.
One of my favorite things at any Korean restaurant is the bibim nyang myun, a cold salty broth with arrowroot noodles, cucumbers, a hard-boiled egg and kim chee. This one doesn’t have any sliced apples or pears in it, but it’s still pretty good, although it’s less sweet, and more salty.
Don’t expect to go to Million Pocha for ramen; like the mandoo, it’s okay, but not truly a meal. But if you need a little extra to fill you up, I guess it will do.
I’m not sure what it is with Koreans and cheese, but I love what they do with it. My Korean friends say this is the best cheese corn in town, so I’ll take their word for it. Basically, it’s a skillet with corn, and melted cheese. That’s it. It tastes like how it sounds, just corn with cheese, but it’s so good that you have to have it. The last time I went to Million Pocha, my friends scarfed this down and ordered another.
And now for the dish all men will fall in love with, and crave for days: Cheese pork ribs ($30).
Not that women won’t love this, too, but manly men who love meat and cheese are all over this. They get spicy barbecue pork ribs, then warm the grill to melt two kinds of cheese. Then they wrap each rib in a cheese cocoon and serve it up. Brilliant! Why is this not a mainstream item found in more restaurants? The meat is tender, with a slight spiciness that goes well with the cheese.
Million Pocha is full of food that I now crave, and you probably will, too. K-Pop fans will also love it, as they constantly play current music videos on the flat screens around the perimeter.
“This is a real Korean bar,” Peter said. “Duck Butt was a spot that Koreans hung out at, but it became super popular with everyone, even tourists, so now my people are migrating to places like Million Pocha.”
1340 Kapiolani Blvd.