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Where real Koreans eat Korean food

I asked seven fellow Koreans to rank their top 5 Korean restaurants in Honolulu and name their favorite dishes

Posted May 18, 2011 by Diane Seo

Where do real Koreans eat Korean food? (1 of 18)

Where do real Koreans eat Korean food?

By Diane Seo

Where's your favorite place for Korean food? It's a question I'm frequently asked, and I'm sure other Koreans are queried about this too.

Despite the proliferation of Korean BBQ take-out on the island, most realize the offerings at these "meat jun plus four sides" eateries aren't serving the most authentic Korean fare. So where do real Koreans eat? I was curious myself, so I asked seven fellow Koreans to rank their top 5 Korean restaurants in Honolulu and name their favorite dishes.

What I found from this very informal survey is that Koreans do frequent the same places and even order the same dishes, yet there are surprising wild card selections. So on to our lists... (Note: There's no correct English spelling for Korean words, so Korean dishes often are spelled differently when translated to English.)


  1. russkar
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 6:49 am – 339 Royal Hawaiian Ave # 2, Honolulu – (808) 923-0060

    This is our all time favorite.

  2. M
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Hello Diane
    I never been to anyone of those places. I got to check them out.

  3. MyongChoi
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Oh, if I had known that Korean-Chinese qualified I would’ve listed Eastern Paradise as well.

    Great article Diane! It was fun!

  4. Melissa808
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:47 am

    I LOVE THIS!! I wonder if Orine Sarangchae is BYOB? In any case, now I want to grab a bottle of soju and head over to Sikdorak with all of you! Interesting how some of the same restaurant names pop up repeatedly….that tells ya something.

  5. MyongChoi
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:56 am

    @Melissa808 Orine Sarangche is no longer BYOB unfortunately. But their liquor prices are comparable if not cheaper than other K restaurants.

  6. Melissa808
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 8:04 am

    @MyongChoi ah, good to know. and I suddenly have a craving for the black pork belly.

  7. DianeSeo
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 8:09 am

    @MyongChoi Yeah, Cathy Im just emailed me with the same thought, that she would’ve included On Dong. Oh well, I guess I decided to allow Korean-Chinese places because they’ve really become more like Korean restaurants, since the offerings cater to Korean tastes. Thanks Myong for your list. I liked yours a lot, because it had a distinctive feel to it of someone who goes out a lot for fun.

  8. Posted May 18, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I’m half Korean and haven’t eaten a most of these places. Will need to correct that absurdity soonest. :-) Thanks for the tips.

  9. 808marv
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I have heard of most of these places because I watch KBFD ;-) but never been to most of them either! Last Korean restaurant I had a sit-down dinner in was probably Yakiniku Camelia. Time to try more of the authentic stuff.

  10. 808marv
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 9:52 am

    @DianeSeo @MyongChoi I need to try more of the Korean-Chinese places in town. There’s one near where I live (Wang’s Garden) and it’s OK but I’d like to contrast and compare. I like that ganpoongi (spicy boneless fried chicken).

  11. turkfontaine
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 10:08 am

    this is good info for me. i know less about korean food than any other. but what i have had i’ve liked. i’m gonna work this list when i get back. most of the koreans i know hang out at the Keeau McD’s and they are 80 and they order a latte like this: ‘i’ll have a senior coffee, please, and twelve creams’

  12. nonstopmari
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    highly like! that’s why i like going w/ ethnic foodie guides, u get dishes u wdn’t otherwise know abt (plus at korean restaurants, u sometimes get ‘service’ dishes as a nice gesture). bookmarking this.

  13. DianeSeo
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    @turkfontaine When are you coming back? Would be fun to take people on a Korean food tour with folks like Myong Choi. Myong? You in?

  14. DianeSeo
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    @nonstopmari I’d like to see an ethnic food guide for Thai food. That’s one of the foods that I know I know very little about, and feel I’m missing out whenever I settle for yes, pad Thai and spring rolls.

  15. turkfontaine
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    @DianeSeoi’m in. usually I’m on Oahu from most of March through August. My wife’s health has been an issue this year. she may come with me (a first) when she gets stabilized. I’m hoping it will be before the end of summer, but time will tell. In the mean time I continue to enjoy NSHNL and follow along with all the fun, pausing to harass Melissa and Mari at every opportunity.

  16. aaronnamba
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    This post made me really sad. Y’all need to book a flight to Seoul, stat. Bonus: If you eat here for two weeks instead of, say, Shillawon, you’ll probably break even on your plane ticket. Double Bonus: Japanese food here is pretty good, too (aside from sushi/sashimi, which is generally awful).

    The one entry that didn’t make me sad was the guy who said he declined to comment because he only eats home-cooked Korean food. But even home-cooked Korean food is better here because of the availability and freshness of key ingredients.

    Anyway… so that at least something in my comment is on-topic… I do enjoy some things at Sorabol (yukhwe dolsot bibimbap or galbi + naengmyeon) and Yakiniku Seoul (galbi, galbitang). And to be honest, I haven’t tried some of the places mentioned, and I might have to next time I’m back in town.

    Finally, there is a correct way to romanize Korean words:

    It’s been used on all the signs & maps here for a long time, and the U.S. and U.K. have also recently agreed to start using it (finally):

    Examples: ddeokbokki, jeon, juk, sundubu jjigae

    Gimchi and galbi are the technically correct spellings under this system (and better reflect the true pronunciation), but I think you’d be forgiven for writing them as kimchi and kalbi.

  17. DianeSeo
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    @aaronnamba That’s interesting about the standardization of Korean words. I wonder how they’re going to get people here in the U.S. to follow it, since most people here don’t know anything about the Korean language, so when they see “gimchi” or “galbi” they won’t have any idea what they are.

  18. aaronnamba
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    @DianeSeo It’ll take time for sure, but it’ll be really, really nice to get to the point where no one has to ask things like, “I like sushi, but I’ve never tried soo-shee, what is that?”

  19. Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    All I know is the Kalbi at Kim Chee II will be my last supper. I love going out with all the Korean peeps and trying new things. We should do every ethnicity! I’m down for it!

  20. Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Why isn’t melissa_kim up in these comments defending her peeps?! :)

  21. Melissa808
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    @DianeSeo @nonstopmari I started thinking that I should do one on what Chinese people eat, but our dinner society is kind of secret. hee hee

  22. Melissa808
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    @johngarcia melissa_kim we should have a video of people pronouncing the various dishes correctly. I remember how impressed I was when Melissa pronounced “kal bi” and “bul go gi” with the authentic roll & spit.

  23. tmtiwamoto
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Ooo, I would be down for some good Korean home cooking. Nice article!

  24. Posted May 18, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    @Melissa808 melissa_kim I LOVE that idea! A Korean food pronunciation guide.

  25. Posted May 18, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    @russkar I like how you added the number so people could actually make a move and stop talking about where they wanna go someday. Hey go tomorrow!

  26. Posted May 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    It’s hard for me because most of you know I was adopted by a Korean Family when i moved to Hawaii nearly 30 years ago. I love Korean food more than anything in the world. The dichotomy for me is traditional Korean food at my Mom’s vs the Mutated Korean dishes at most local spot that have been adapted for western or local palette (or to save the business money).

    I understand and actually like both the true and bastardized dishes. My Faves are Ah Lang, Shillawon, Sikdorak I base this on Daeji Bulgogi and Meat Jun(which oddly enough is no were near a Korean dish) . I never eat Kim Chee out because it will only disappoint. My mom’s is epic.

  27. aaronnamba
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    @docrock You have a point there, I do kinda like some of the “local-style” dishes, like the strange, flat meat jun that seems to be half egg.

  28. Yong
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    I thought I knew all the Korean restaurants in town but I’m excited to read about spots I didn’t know about that other people list as their top five. I guess I’ll be eating out more.

  29. russkar
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 5:23 am

    @docrock : Went to Yakiniku Hiroshi last night. So amazing.

  30. M
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 7:13 am

    I like all the banchan dishes that comes with your meals.

  31. MyongChoi
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 11:29 am

    @Melissa808 @DianeSeo @nonstopmari LOL!!!

  32. MyongChoi
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 11:29 am

    @DianeSeo @turkfontaine Always!

  33. spamandkimchi
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    @aaronnamba thanks for sharing. Even if the Korean government’s romanization system is a little goofy (who’s gonna guess that “eo” is pronounced “uh” at first glance) there is a set of rules to follow. Anything goes spelling makes me grouchy, though I do switch back and forth between g and k sometimes. After all my last name should technically be spelled Go not Koh.

  34. spamandkimchi
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    @MyongChoi really appreciated your list. For jjajjangmyeon, I put my money on Eastern Paradise over On Dong, but the hand-pulled noodles at Nihao (on Keeaumoku) are pretty tasty.

  35. spamandkimchi
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    It’s not a restaurant, but the banchan shop next to Orine Sarangchae is my go-to joint when I want to feed a lot of people real Korean food relatively cheaply. I also love the tuna kimbap at Family Sushi House (1020 Keeaumoku, 596-7177, open Mon-Sat 8am-6pm). Each roll is 3 bux+, which makes me sigh for the days of 1000won kimbap from the Seoul subway vendors, but they are quality and super worth it given the way less tasty kimbap rolls from Palama.

  36. nonstopmari
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    @spamandkimchi it’s nice to know family sushi is still there. tiny and too easy to miss unless u know it’s there. i’m not korean, but i like the one w/ cheese :)

    next to orine is keeaumoku produce. the only place where i’ve found hamburger jun, and i love their shichimi (sp?) wrapped in lettuce and dipped in shoyu/rice vinegar/chili sauce.

  37. DianeSeo
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    @nonstopmari @spamandkimchi I’m going to try the tuna kimbap at Family Sushi House. I’ve been there, but only had the traditional kimbap. Thanks for the recommendations.

  38. DianeSeo
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I went to Sikdorak this morning for sul lang tang. I was really happy to see the serve-yourself kimchee and gak dukee on the tables. I haven’t seen that since I lived in LA. I have to try more things, but this may be a new go-to place for me, especially since it’s open 24 hours and I tend to want to eat Korean the most in the mornings.

  39. nonstopmari
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm


    @DianeSeo @spamandkimchi thot this sounded familiar. family’s tuna kim bap IS the one w/ cheese. 

  40. spamandkimchi
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    @nonstopmari @DianeSeo @spamandkimchi

  41. spamandkimchi
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    @nonstopmari @DianeSeo American cheese works surprisingly well with white rice. I know a bunch of kids who grew up on a steady diet of “cheese bap” – one slice of american laid over hot white rice. ^_^ I think the tuna kimbap there is way better than the regular beef one… maybe it’s the cheese!

  42. spamandkimchi
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    @DianeSeo Oh nice call! I definitely have those mornings where I need a big bowl of broth. Will have to follow your lead and hit up Sikdorak on those days.


About Diane Seo

Diane Seo, the editor and co-founder of Nonstop Honolulu, is the Digital Media director for Upspring Media. Prior, she served as managing producer of Metromix Honolulu; manager of The Honolulu Advertiser's TGIF section; Managing Director of New Media for the ATP, which runs men's professional tennis worldwide; a senior editor at and a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

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