Tip: Meats aren't the only thing that can be grilled. Try a piece of samgyupsal (pork belly) with grilled kimchi!

AYCE Korean barbecue: My go-to spots in Honolulu

Sura, Gen and Camellia draw me back again and again
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When it comes to Korean BBQ, an all-you-can-eat deal instantly draws my attention. Korean restaurants already offer unlimited side dishes, but to make the main dishes refillable, too? This is dangerous.

I’m one of those people that eat not until I’m satisfied, but until I’m bursting. If there is food in front of me, even if I’m not hungry I’ll eat it. And I absolutely love Korean barbecue. You can name any AYCE Korean BBQ on the island and chances are I’ve been there — more than once. Sikdorak, Gen, Hanyang, Camellia, Sura, Shilawon, and the list goes on. Each is different, and old favorites have been replaced by new ones as Honolulu's KBBQ scene expands. These are the ones I go to again and again.

Disclaimer: Any decision to speed to a Korean BBQ restaurant is made solely by the reader and the author is not responsible for any pounds as a result of reading this piece.

Sura Hawaii

Sura Hawaii
Photo by Thomas Obungen

Sura is the most “Korean” of the all-you-can-eat BBQs, meaning it does a great job capturing the Korean vibe. Everything from the table setup to the music suggests you’re in the heart of Seoul. Korean ahjummas (aunties) patrol around, making sure everyone has what they need. Sometimes they even offer tips on how to better enjoy Korean barbecue.

One of my favorite things about Sura is that all-you-can-eat applies not only to the meat, but also the soups. You can choose between soft tofu, spicy soft tofu, and kimchi. They even include fried chicken, fried noodles and french fries in the all-you-can-eat menu. Garlic, jalapenos and a house special sauce are available upon request. Wait! There’s more. The little moat around your grill is filled with molten cheese and corn, macaroni and cheese, and egg. And yes, these are also refillable.

If you’re heading to the Kapolei location, they have a BYOB option, but the Honolulu location charges a corkage fee of $10 per bottle. Both offer their own drinks: Kapolei lists cocktails, wines, shots and beer, while Honolulu keeps it simple with beer and Korean alcohol.

Honolulu
Dinner 5 to 10:30 p.m.,$26.50
Happy hour 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., $22.50
Ooen daily
1726 Kapiolani Blvd .
941-6678

Kapolei
Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., $22.50
Dinner 3 p.m. to closing, $26.50
Sun–Thurs 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fri–Sat 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
91-5431 Kapolei Pkwy, Ste 200
670-2678

http://www.surahawaii.com/services

 

Gen Korean BBQ

Gen Korean BBQ
Photo by Dale Yasunaga

With 24 other locations in the U.S., Gen finally came to Hawaii in 2017. Gen brings a new modern feel to the Korean BBQ scene, with blue lights glowing throughout the spacious interior. The servers use iPads to take your order, which saves time running back and forth to the kitchen. Despite its futuristic atmosphere, Gen has stuck to Korean roots. They offer a spread of traditional side dishes and they even have radish wraps! Their menu is long with options ranging from standard meats, chicken and seafood to marinated intestines. I should also mention that while lunch offers 27 choices, their dinner menu has 8 more.

But even in a small city like Honolulu, great attractions come with long lines and wait times. As you walk past Island Burgers, Jade Dynasty and Macaroni Grill, the line outside Gen is testament to its popularity. Unfortunately, Gen does not take reservations unless you have a party of 10 or more, and then only with at least two hours' notice.

For the most part, servers are friendly, quick and accommodating. I recommend ordering your next round of meat while your current selection is cooking. That way, you’ll have seamless, uninterrupted grilling and eating! Just make sure to save some space toward the end because they also have assorted ice cream macarons for dessert!

Mon-Thu dinner 5–11 p.m., Fri til midnight, $26.99
Weekday lunch from 10 a.m., $16.99
Weekends dinner all day, Sat 10 a.m.-midnight, Sun 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
944-5227
http://www.genkoreanbbq.com/

 

Camellia

Camellia Buffet Yakiniku
Photo from Camellia's Facebook

I've been going to Camellia since elementary school, so I get a bit nostalgic when I visit. One of my favorite things back then was that I was in control of my food. I didn’t have a lot of freedom as a kid, so I loved being in charge of what I ate and how much to get. To this day, I still love Camellia for that. You simply go and refill your grill whenever you’re ready. The downside is that because a whole lot of service is not necessary, it doesn't seem to be prioritized. That’s not to say that it’s horrible, but be warned that you won’t get 5-star treatment here.

The food choices are abundant. Aside from meat, the buffet line includes items like fish jun, mandoo and fried chicken. If you want the most bang for your buck you might want to stick with the meat, but I enjoy having a variety to choose from. If I had to describe Camellia in a single phrase, I’d say “quantity over quality” — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Camellia is not extremely roomy like some other buffets, but it also isn’t too cramped. You’ll be grabbing food alongside strangers and contributing to the delicious smoky aroma that escapes the vents. I’m not sure if it’s the atmosphere, but when I dine here, everything sort of feels communal. It's almost as if I’m at a giant family party, and everyone I don’t know is just a relative I haven’t met yet.

McCully
Lunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $18.95
Dinner 2:30-10 p.m., $27.95
Open daily
930 McCully St.
951-0511
http://www.camelliabuffet.com/

Stadium
Lunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $16.95 adult and $8.95 child
Dinner 2:30p.m.-10 p.m., $26.95 adult and $12.95 child
Sun–Thurs 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5–9 p.m.
Fri–Sat 11 a.m.-3 p.m.  and 5–10 p.m.
4510 Salt Lake Blvd.
486-3311
http://www.stadiumcamelliarestaurant.com/