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Waimalu Eats: Jin Joo Korean Restaurant

In light of the recent tensions on the Korean Peninsula making news headlines in the past month, when I went in to grab lunch for us the other week, I asked the husband/owner of Jin Joo if he knew of the similarities and differences between north and south Korean cuisine. To which he simply said north Korean food is spicier (hotter).

Well, until we get a restaurant in Honolulu named “Kim Jong II North Korean Restaurant” (notice how that looks like Kim Jon Il), we’ll just continue to enjoy the wonderful Korean food of the south from popular Korean restaurants here such as Kim Chee, Sorabol, Million, Yummy’s and what we have here at Jin Joo in the Waimalu (Aiea) area.

KHNL news “Cheap Eats” reporters Lyle Galdeira and Russell Yamanoha stopped by here back in March of this year for a review, to which they made claim that Jin Joo’s Big Bone Kal Bi was THE dish to get. So that’s what I got…


Jin Joo – Kal Bi BBQ Beef, $9.75

What Lyle and Russell pointed out with this Kal Bi is they filet the beef from one large-cut bone, versus how most other fast food Korean restaurants make their Kal Bi using short ribs that are cut thinly across a series of rib bones. The former being how Kal Bi is traditionally made in Korea.

Here’s the underside of the 3 pieces of Kal Bi on the plate…

Nice char-grilled markings.

The plate was kinda’ lacking in the banchan department though. The Korean style pickled bean sprouts were pretty good. The pickled cabbage just ok. The Kim Chee was rather limp and non-noteworthy. I wish all Korean restaurants had a plethora of Banchan for customers to pick and choose (usually 4 choices) to their own discretion, but Jin Joo is one of those that only offers house set of Kim Chee, bean sprouts and cabbage. Not connotating I don’t appreciate that, but just saying.

As for the Kal Bi, it was tender and moist, and huge points plus for the flame-grilled char-grilled burnt edges. Yet it lacked that “per Kal Bi boost” due to what tasted like they were only marinaded for a short period of time. Compounded by them not being basted with with more Kal Bi sauce as it cooked. So it lacked that sweet and spicy glazed-on finish. I just love asian style teriyaki and Kal Bi beef coated thick with ooey-gooey, glazed-on sauce, though these somewhat lacked that attribute. If only they were basted while they were grilled, the Kal Bi from Jin Joo would go from good to Kim Jong Illin’ un-B-leivable! lol Seriously.

With that, I give Jin Joo’s Kal Bi 2 SPAM Musubi.

Diner A went with the Mundoo/Meat Chun/Chicken plate…


Jin Joo – Mundoo/Meat Chun/Chicken, $7.25

His favorite item on the plate was the Mundoo…

He wasn’t as favorable towards the Meat Chun (a.k.a. Meat Jun), noting that the thinly sliced beef didn’t taste seasoned or marinaded at all, while the fried egg and flour batter didn’t add much more support the beef’s blandness. He said the chicken was moist and tender, but like my Kal Bi, it too lacked any punch from the Korean sytle sauce.

With that, he gave his mixed plate 1 SPAM Musubi.

Here’s another Kal Bi plate (I watched about 5 of them go out the service counter while waiting for my order)…

Jin Joo has dine-in tables in the small establishment with the owners as your server, or you can order take-out like we did…

Jin Joo Korean Restaurant
Waimalu Shopping Ctr
98-020 Kamehameha Hwy
Aiea, Hawaii 96701

Tel. 488-3355

The Tasty Island rating:

P.S. The other day I picked up another Kal Bi plate from Palama Market on the corner of Kalakaua and Makaloa street, next to the Kaheka Don Quijote (a.k.a. Daiei, a.k.a. Holiday Mart)…


Palama Market (Makaloa/Kalakaua location) – Kal Bi plate, $6.75

OMG, now THIS IS KAL BI my friends. This is the second time getting this plate from here, and both times prove this is one of the best Kal Bi plates I’ve had yet on the island. And for just $6.75? Are you kidding me?!

Notice they use the typical plate lunch stand style (cheaper) short ribs cuts, but that doesn’t matter. They got the marinade and cooking method down! All the banchan items (preselected) are excellent as well.

Trust me, if you want excellent Kal Bi, regardless of ambiance (it’s located in a market food court) or price, consider Palama Market near Don Quijote. Both your tummy and your wallet will thank you. Considering everything that makes Kal Bi GREAT Kal Bi, easy 5 SPAM Musubi here.

12 thoughts on “Waimalu Eats: Jin Joo Korean Restaurant

  • June 27, 2009 at 6:54 pm
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    Doesn’t Kim Chee II in Kaimuki cut their kalbi the big bone way?

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  • June 28, 2009 at 6:34 am
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    Pomai, well it not bad for the price. The mundos should looked like potstickers not deep fried. As for last entry I wrap kalua pork and cooked seasoned taro leaves inside of cooked rice to make kalua pork musubis. It your kalua pork recipe which pork was shredded to wrap in rice

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  • June 28, 2009 at 9:13 am
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    hope to get some kal-bi from palama market, and maybe some kimbap!

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  • June 28, 2009 at 10:25 am
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    Nate, yeah, that’s how Kim Chee does theirs too. The regular Kal Bi plate at Kim Chee is quite pricey now, running over $20, but they give a lot. According to the owner, he marinates his short ribs over 7 days. Kim Chee I in Kaneohe is excellent as well.

    Michael, that’s a wild-sounding Musubi! I might have to suggest that to Manabu san. The seasoned cooked taro leaves would fit right into their macrobiotic theme. I’m so making that the next time I get Luau leaves. When you say seasoned, do you mean with Hawaiian Salt? Or are there other seasonings you use as well? Also, do you wrap the musubi with Nori too? I’d think the Nori would clash with the luau (taro) leaves.

    Kat, the parking there is tight at Palama Market, so you might wanna’ go browse or shop at Don Quijote nextdoor first, then walk on over afterwards. Don Quijote has a Yummy’s BBQ in front, which serves great take-out Korean, but they’re getting kinda’ pricey. A chicken katsu plate there is $9 now. I gotta’ say though, their banchan is pretty darned good, and you get 4 choices there. The Palama Market diner only serves a preset selection as shown on the plate above. Delicious never-the-less.

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  • June 28, 2009 at 11:59 am
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    Thanks for the insight on Palama Market Pomai. Always wanted to stop by on our way back to the Pagoda but maybe next time. Can’t believe the prices and quality of Kim Chee II in Kaimuki have changed in recent times. Used to be so good and inexpensive. I still like their kalbi though. Forget the rest.

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  • June 28, 2009 at 12:41 pm
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    Pomai, yes good old Hawaiian salt best seasoning for Hawaiian food. Enjoy your Kalua Pork Musubi.

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  • June 28, 2009 at 12:53 pm
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    Pomai, I forgot to tell you I added chopped up luau leaves just a bit to rice outside and to kalua pork inside. The chopped leaves make it a nice coating to the musubi instead of nori which will change the taste of it. Just like furikake does to rice also a coating. I packed it well so it does not need nori at all. Just like Taiwan rice roll but they wrap it in plastic wrap to hold it and peel it off when time to eat. No nori is needed.

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  • June 28, 2009 at 1:06 pm
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    Pomai, awesome recipe of Michael. I will try it out also. Making it without nori is good for taste of seaweed would distract the taste of pork and luau leaves. Packing it firm and adding chopped cooked leaves to outside nice sound Ono.

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  • June 28, 2009 at 1:56 pm
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    Pomai, the price is not bad at all so when around on Oahu I will check it out. Michael recipe is almost like my recipe for rice roll without nori. I do not have luau leaves in San Francisco so I use frozen spinach cooked with some kalua pork I made to give it more flavor. I make Taiwan rice rolls the way they do in Taiwan with plastic wrap putting pork inside with spinach and roll it with rice and wrap it tight.

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  • June 29, 2009 at 4:13 pm
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    Hmm. The husband of the restaurant owner is mistaken. (FWIW, he isn’t Korean.) The food in the southern parts of Korea tend to be spicier and saltier than up north. My friends from Inchon complain about the food cooked by a friend from Pusan. Too much salt, too much chili pepper.

    Anyway, about Jin Joo. I started going there when I was a young carpenter apprentice going to school at night. Great stuff and large portions. Great for a poor young student. Generous with the banchan. Fast forward several years. Graduated from college and traveled a bit. Due to family obligations, I have returned to Hawaii.

    A few months ago, I went to Jin Joo. Ordered the Jin Joo Special plate. There was still quite a few banchan dishes, but the taste was considerably blander than I recall. The entree came and I was disappointed. The vaunted kalbi was tough and rubbery. Could probably use it as a fan belt. The bulgogi was dry and leathery. Meat jun was as you described. The chicken was cooked perfectly, but almost unseasoned.

    Jin Joo used to be a wonderful place to dine. The owner was friendly and greeted us. Now, the place felt oddly uncomfortable. The owner’s husband served my table and he was clearly unhappy about something. The owner was equally unhappy and scolded people the whole time I was there.

    My fiancee’s family owns several restaurants in Kunsan and thus they know something about food the the food service business. Her sister, who runs most of the family business, said that if the kitchen is not happy, it is reflected in the food. Amazing how these old sayings and superstitions have so much truth in them.

    As to North Korean restaurants, for a time, there was a restaurant near the Convention Center named “Wonsan”. I don’t know if they served food characteristic of North Korea, but Wonsan is a port city in North Korea. Unfortunately the restaurant has a new name and apparently new operators, so we’ll never know.

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  • June 29, 2009 at 5:51 pm
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    tenbears, mahalo for that most insightful comment. I was aware the owner’s husband had a Japanese last name, yet I figured being married to someone from Korea, he’d at least have a clue of the differences between between cuisines of different regions of Korea. He’s got a bunch of military (IIRC army) honors on the wall in the restaurant, though I’m not sure what tours of duty he served (didn’t inspect them closely).

    Funny you mention the owners being grouchy and generally unhappy, as that’s the same vibe I felt as well. Lucky I wasn’t in there long enough to get scoldings! I was really surprised she let me take a photo of the menu board, but she said OK, so cool.

    Asking Korean restaurant owners here in Honolulu about North Korea – even if it’s just about the food – continues to be a touchy subject, and they often look at me suspiciously, so I don’t even ask anymore. That’s understandable considering the current state of affairs.

    As for the Kal Bi, the marinade just didn’t have that “oomph”, which sounds like you had the same impression. It was still decent Kal Bi thanks to the grilled edges, but not as great as I had hoped. Mine wasn’t quite as tough as your “fan belt”, being easily able to cut it with a plastic knife.

    Thanks again for that very thought-out comment!

    Betty, have you ever tried the Korean style Maki Sushi with the banchan rolled up in it? Good stuff!

    Kelike, indeed, big mahalo to Michael for sharing that. I’m certainly putting that Kalua Pig and Luau Leave Musubi on my must-do list!

    Clinton, Palama Market certainly carries some unique imported foods from Korea that you can’t find anywhere else here. That’s also where I bought my Korean Stainless Steel Chopsticks and Spoon set. I need to go back and look for that Korean Natto someone suggested following the Iwamoto Natto posting.

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  • June 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm
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    Kim Chee II in Kaimuki for Kal-bi is hard to beat. Whenever I’m on island, it’s the first place I go to. The portions are large and the taste is ono.

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