Does the name “J’s BBQ” mean anything to you? If not, then apparently, you’ve been missing out. I’d never even heard of J’s BBQ until its recent revival in SALT at Kakaako. Known for giving its customers more than their money’s worth in plate lunches, the small takeout restaurant was a haven for local Korean food before it closed in 2014 and its old location was torn down for redevelopment. Now that I’m back in my hometown and on the hunt for delicious food deals, I wasn’t about to let the new J’s BBQ go unexplored.
Judging from old pictures, the original J’s was very homey. The menu was handwritten on a giant chalkboard, and the interior looked somewhat like a hybrid between a diner and an old western bar. The different elements spelled out casual and affordable. Speaking of affordable, most things on their massive menu were under $8! But this was the old J’s BBQ. How is the new and improved J’s?
I walk in thinking I’ve come to the wrong restaurant. It still feels homey and comfortable, but modern, neat and well-organized. I have to say I was looking forward to the old chalkboard menu, but the new menu resurrects old favorites such as their meat jun, mandoo, BBQ chicken and just about everything. The BBQ chicken and fried ahi combo call to me, so I answer.
As the cashier rings me up $13.56 for the single plate lunch, I can’t help but think that J’s BBQ feels dissimilar to its predecessor. What made the original a hit was the combination of quality and very affordable pricing. It used to be one of the few places that would give your taste buds something to rave about and have you waddling out full-bellied without leaving a hole in your wallet. You could silence any growling stomach, no matter how loud, for under $10.
Sadly, this is no longer the case. Almost everything on the menu is now more than $10. It’s understandable seeing as more than three years have passed and they’re now in the newly constructed SALT. Still, one can’t help but feel nostalgic for J’s old prices, which were considered cheap even back then.
But onto the good stuff: the food. Side dishes include macaroni salad, bean sprouts, fishcake, seasoned cabbage and kimchi. This is what I love about Korean food. You not only get the main entrée, but all of these extras that come included.
The BBQ chicken is all-around perfect. I love that it has a few grill marks that give a subtle, smoky flavor. The whole thing is marinated beautifully without being overpowering. The chicken is tender with some juice still flowing and not a fraction of it is tough.
The fried ahi isn’t bad. It’s served in bite-sized pieces so it sort of looks like deep-fried poke. It’s a little dry but that might be because there isn’t any kind of sauce. Not sure if they forgot or if they normally don’t serve it with anything to dip it in, but a nice aioli or simple tartar sauce would have been great.
My friend gets the loco moco. His take: It’s "better than some other places."
Not a single morsel was spared…
All in all, the overall experience at J’s BBQ wasn’t bad at all. My visits as a newbie were well-rewarded with a heavy belly and satisfied palate. The only shocker would be the difference in price but I don’t blame J’s. I can confidently recommend J’s BBQ both to those that are unfamiliar with the old version and those that have been loyal customers since day one.
691 Auahi Street
Salt at Our Kakaako
Mon - Thursday 5:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 5:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday 5:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.