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Salt Lake Eats: Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In

For Aloha Friday lunch yesterday, our gang decided to head on over to Salt Lake Shopping Center for some Korean BBQ grindz at Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In. This place gets many rave reviews on Yelp, with a high percentage of the total reviews awarding them 5 stars.  I remember coming here back every now and then in the 90’s when I had a friend who lived in the Salt Lake area, and it’s good to see they’re still going strong as ever.

Soon’s is located on the left backside corner of Salt Lake Shopping Center, next to Pizza Hut, where parking in the vicinity gets tight during the lunch hour rush. Luckily we immediately scored a stall as someone had just left when we pulled in. Love it when that happens.

As you see in the photo above, a line had already been formed, and it got even busier than that as time progressed during our “dine-in” visit. It became immediately obvious this place is very, very popular.

Let’s check out the menu…

Now before we talk about what’s on the menu, let’s talk about the SPELLING here. What is with all these Korean restaurants and how they spell the dishes? Which way is correct!!!??? Notice here at Joon’s they spell it “Meat Jhun”. While at other Korean restaurants I’ve seen it spelled either as “Meat Jun”, “Meat Juhn” or “Meat Joon”. You’d think Soon’s would spell it “Meat Joon”, right? With that, they could be entirely unique and call it “Soon’s Joon”. lol

Then now, Joon’s is throwing another curve ball, spelling Bul Go Gi as “Pul Go Gi”. What in the heck is going on here!!!???

Finally, you have Kalbi, which Joon’s hyphenates it as “Kal-Bi”, which I know for a fact is grammatically incorrect. Some places also separate it as “Kal Bi”. According to Wikipedia, in the Korean language, it’s actually “Galbi” which literally means “rib”, with the full name of the dish being called “Galbi Gui”, where “gui” means to grill, although “gui” is commonly omitted.

Very interesting. I always thought “Kalbi” meant “grilled beef”.

But ah, whatevahz. As long as the food’s good, who cares?! lol

O.K., end of rant. Let’s now talk about Soon’s menu selections, which everything here is typical of what you’d find at most Korean BBQ takeouts around town. Yet no matter what, I think most carnivores out there would agree with me that you can’t try a newly-discovered Korean BBQ takeout joint without first trying their most signature dish, the Kal Bi, and that’s exactly what most of us were here for.

Let’s start with Diner C’s husband’s choice, which he chose the Kal-Bi Combo…

Soon’s Kal-Bi Combo: Kal-Bi, BBQ Chicken, BBQ Beef, Meat Jhun and Mandoo, with Kim Chee, Bean Sprouts, Pickled Cabbage and Rice. $9.15

Then we have Diner E’s choice, the Kal-Bi Mix

Soon’s Kal-Bi Mix: Kal-Bi and Meat Jhun, with Kim Chee, Bean Sprouts, Pickled Cabbage and Rice. $7.75

Diner AC chose the Meat Jhun Mix, going the low carb’ route, requesting to substitute the rice for more veggies…

Soon’s Meat Jhun Mix: BBQ Chicken and Meat Jhun, with Kim Chee, Bean Sprouts, Pickled Cabbage (substituting rice for more veggies). $7.75

Here’s a peek at the BBQ chicken buried under the Meat John (oops)…

Yours truly decided to go for the Korean BBQ “megamix”, getting Soon’s ultimate combo plate…

Soon’s Special Combination Plate: 2 Kal-Bi, BBQ Chicken, Meat Jhun and Mandoo, with Kim Chee, Bean Sprouts, Pickled Cabbage and Rice. $9.50.

Wow, that’s a quite the BBQ FEAST for less than $10 bucks!

I also got a Kal-Bi Mix for my girlfriend to enjoy later for dinner…

Soon’s Kal-Bi Mix: Kal-Bi and Meat Jhun, with Kim Chee, Bean Sprouts, Pickled Cabbage and Rice. $7.75

Diner C got herself a BBQ Chicken Sandwich…

Soon’s BBQ Chicken Sandwich. $3.95

Finally, Diner E also picked up a Bar-B-Q Hamburger for later…

Soon’s Bar-B-Q Burger. $2.75

Oh brother, Now they’re spelling “barbecue” as “Bar-B-Q”. Couldn’t they just say “BBQ”? When will the madness end?!!!! lol

Well, it sure looks like we’re in for some serious Korean “Q”! Ha ha, another way of saying “barbecue”. How fun.

First let’s check out the Meat Jhun (a.k.a. Meat Juhn/Jun/Juun/Jon/Joon/Joohn/Jhoon)…

Here you see how thin the marinated beef under the egg batter is…

Dip ’em in the sauce and sample ’em cuz…

What makes Soon’s Meat Jhun stand out is their egg batter, which has a nice crispiness to it and good body, while the thinly sliced marinated beef under it is tasty and tender. The dipping sauce is a little sweet and a little spicy, and that really brings the Meat Jun (oops) home. Solid 3 SPAM Musubi on their Meat Junn. (oops)

Now let’s try the Mandoo…

Like the Meat Junn (oops), the Mandoo’s “shell” has a nice crispiness to it, while also having good “chew” to it as you bite through. The filling tastes like a simple mixture of ground pork and cabbage, and perhaps a little sesame oil. Overall a very good example of Korean Mandoo. Good enough where I’d consider ordering a plate of just that. 4 SPAM Musubi for Joon’s Mandoo.

Now let’s sample the BBQ Chicken…

This is actually Diner AC’s piece, where making healthier choices, she removes the skin…

Here’s my BBQ Chicken, where you see I’ve pulled the thigh bone apart from the butterflied meat…

Notice the skin has that always tasty “koge” or “papa’a” burnt edges. That’s flavortown 101 right there folks.

OK, enough looking already, let’s sample a piece…

Oh man. We have a winner right here. Now THIS is how you do Korean BBQ Chicken! This is by far the best dish here. It’s flavorful, moist and tender, with the Korean style marinade nicely permeated throughout the chicken’s meat fibers.

That skin (O.K., I confess, I eat the skin) being wonderfully glazed with the Korean style marinade, while the sugars in it caramelize on the surface all over, while holding on to some of that smokey essence from the flaming grill when it was cooked. Om-nom-nom-nom onolicious! I give Soon’s BBQ Chicken a “who needs Kalbi when we’ve got this!” 5 SPAM Musubi!

Diner C also thought very highly of her BBQ Chicken Sandwich, giving it a “I’ll be back for more!” 4 SPAM Musubi…

Now let’s try the Kal-Bi…

The cut is rather thin; like about 1/4″. With that, it can’t touch the “Big Bone” cut like that at Jin Joo in Waimalu Shopping Center. Yet, these ribs do share that fantastic Korean marinade like their excellent BBQ Chicken. Only problem I had with it was the meat was a little tough. Not horribly tough like a rubber slipper, but enough where it took some effort to cut through it with my plastic knife, and also to chew on. Thankfully it was very tasty and quite juicy. Summing up their Kal-Bi, thanks to the great marinade, “Koge” edges and juicy meat, I’ll give Soon’s Kal-Bi 3 SPAM Musubi.

The banchan (vegetable sides) were all ono as well, where I especially likde their Kim Chee, which was deeply marinated, and not one of them “Jiffy Kim Chee” recipes, if you know what I’m talkin’ about.

We all give Joon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In a unanimous 3 SPAM Musubi, with a few “polished” plates to prove it…

Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In
Salt Lake Shopping Center
898 Ala Lilikoi St
Honolulu, HI 96818

Tel. (808) 836-7665

PDF Menu download (2 pages; current as of 5/10)

The Tasty Island rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related links:
Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In – ‘Ono Kine Grindz
Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In – Yelp user reviews

21 thoughts on “Salt Lake Eats: Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In

  • May 9, 2010 at 5:28 am

    Pomai, that some feast at this place for that price even. My friends in California just informed me of KOME in Daly City jam pack 7 days a week for buffet it in Yelp too. Good price and good food. Wish one day to open up a buffet also like KOME. Is it true Daniel Kim of Lost to star in new Hawaii 5-0 filming soon?

    The Soon Meat Jhul is something I never had before so it will be what I will try the most. Always looking special that no where else make it.

  • May 9, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Kelike, I’ll have to look-up KOME on Yelp. I also really wanna’ try Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant on Kapiolani Blvd., which many “Yelpers” continuously rave about. As for Daniel Kim, I believe you’re right. I remember hearing about that in the news. I know he’s a part-owner of The Counter in Kahala Mall, along with D.K Kodama and one other partner. If you hit Soon’s, make sure to get the BBQ Chicken. It’s awesome.

    Kat, well, Soon’s sure has been around for quite some time now. I remember frequenting the place back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  That’s probably why the BBQ is so good. That gas grill is well-seasoned!

  • May 9, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    All that grilled meat! What a glorious, delicious sight!

  • May 10, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Pomai, my cousins in San Francisco like to read your and find Hawaii special food to enjoyed. This entry made them so unhappy for there no Korean Restaurant in San Francisco they could find serve Meat (Gogi Jun). They like price in Hawaii for it also.

  • May 21, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    How I miss Soon’s! Used to go there back in the 80’s when they were BEHIND, kind of on-da-side of Pioneer chicken. (remember that place?)

    My fave was their bibim kook soo! Spicy and sweet, but not too much! Thanks for the memories.

  • June 3, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Made it to this place after swap meet on a Sunday morning. Should have gotten the combo that had 2 of the kal bi ribs. The ribs, mandoo and little foil packet of goodness were the best items on the plate. We drove all around that strip mall and finally found it tucked away, to the left of the Safeway. Good call Pomai!

  • December 10, 2010 at 5:28 am

    Ah, about your rant about the names of Korean dishes – you can use different systems to Romanize Korean: Revised, McCune–Reischauer, or Yale.

  • October 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I lived on Soon’s while I was in the service 1990-1993, it was the best food in town, I wish that you all could deliver to Wyoming, I have missed the combo plate.

  • April 1, 2012 at 2:13 am

    When stationed at Hickam in the 80’s, I used to go to Soon’s for dinner once a week. Always loved all their dishes, and I still eat Kimchi, which can even be found in the regular supermarket here in West Virginia. I went back in 2003 and had a combo plate. Still delicious. Love Kalbi.

  • October 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    What time do they open on week days?!

  • August 31, 2014 at 5:08 am

    I lived in Hawaii from 83-88 and the one thing I miss most concerning food is and always will be Soon’s Special Combination Plate: 2 Kal-Bi, BBQ Chicken, Meat Jhun and Mandoo, with Kim Chee, Bean Sprouts, Pickled Cabbage and Rice. It may not be the largest restaurant that was ever built but if it were no one would ever leave. They only deal in cash – this keeps Identity thief down! and what was the other lame negative? “He couldn’t find the place?” Just look for the building that looks like it is on fire with the most “yummiest smelling smoke” you’ll ever smell. Or if you have absolutely no sense of direction and are farther out look for the smoke cloud.

  • August 31, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Those sandwiches look awesome. Genius. A big of won book Kim chee instead of onion might work.

  • December 11, 2014 at 8:35 am

    While stationed at Pearl Harbor from 80-83, before we could afford to buy a car, my wife and I and I would hoof-it from a high rise apt. Bldg. down by Aloha stadium to your store! As newly weds we could afford to eat your food multiple times a week! We worked our way form the top of your menu to the bottom, multiple times before we left the islands. I’d trade her my sprouts for her kimchi. Now that’s love. We now live on the currently frozen tundra of Minnesota! We can buy some decent kimchi up here, and I can put together a decent take on the sprouts, and we’re still having a great time trying duplicate some of your mainstay’s. God willing, we’ll be back! Aloha!

  • December 28, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Brah I need the meat jun recipe. How do they get it so crispy amd flaky

  • January 10, 2017 at 8:03 am

    The BEST place to work…ate everything for free..did not get tired of the food. We would make our own combos :)


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