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Kalihi Eats: Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Cuisine

Hidden gems in Kalihi, a.k.a. “God’s Country”, a.k.a. “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe” are still and always have been plentiful. Where Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Cuisine restaurant not surprisingly, really — based on said trends in this charming old school Palama area of this district of Honolulu — is certainly no exception.

Arirang is tucked away at the back end of a strip mall on the corner of Dillingham Boulevard and Kokea Street, across the street from Honolulu Community College. If that isn’t descriptive enough where to find the place, just look for the towering radio antenna in the palama area of Kalihi that’s based right next door to them.

Diner E and his wife really enjoyed their dining experience on previous visits to Arirang, and he highly recommended we try it. Where on this recent Friday visit, we arrived just before the lunch hour rush, and the place was empty, save for the 2-person band made up of the very friendly owner and her cook (both of whom originally from South Korea) hustling to get out a HUGE takeout phone order that looked like about 20 plates.

Hustlin’ ‘n bustin’ okole aside, of course they were more than happy to accommodate us, where upon seating ourselves in the nicely decorated, clean and cozy Korean-themed dining room, the owner quickly brought the menu and ice water to our table. Here’s a look at Arirang’s menu…

Here’s a look around the restaurant….

Check out this carved wood model of a vintage Korean Warship, which has striking similarity to Viking ship design…

They also have this live Ginseng Root that was on display in a tall glass jar in the corner where we sat…

After placing our order, the owner brought our utensils to the table, where like every true Korean restaurant does, they provide a stainless steel spoon to eat your rice and soup with…

I suppose if we were Korean, she would have provided us the more challenging-to-use Korean style Stainless Steel Chopsticks, but we’re not, so we get the easier-to-grip disposable wooden chopsticks.

Out next on our table we’re given a trio of their house Banchan dishes, including Kim Chee, Korean Style Shoyu Potatoes and Japchae…

Soon following our Banchan, we were brought a bowl each of this pipin’ hot Korean style Seaweed Soup…

In a timely basis, upon finishing our Seaweed Soup starter, our dishes arrived at the table, where we begin with Arirang veteran Diner E’s Meat Jun and Kalbi Combo’ plate…

Next we have Diner A’s dish, Arirang’s Meat Jun and BBQ Chicken combo…

The meat jun dishes are accompanied with Arirang’s house Gochujang dipping sauce

…which this sauce was so delicious, next time I’d like to get a bottle of it to-go for home use if they offer it.

Last but never least, for me, whenever I try a new Korean Restaurant, first and foremost, I always must try  the most iconic dish of Korean cuisine (or at least it’s ingrained as such here in Hawaii), where here I have Arirang’s take on Kalbi in all its char-grilled shoyu, sugar, sesame, chili and garlic marinaded-beef glory…

Same dish at a “profile” angle…

Adding yet more variety to the Banchan sides Arirang offers, each entree dish also includes a serving of Mul Kim Chee (watery Kim Chee), Sigeumchi namul (parboiled marinaded spinach) and Kong Namul (seasoned bean sprouts)…

Well, everythign looks deeee-lish! Now let’s dig in!…

How is it? Yumm-erz! Straight off the top, 4 SPAM Musubi for Arirang’s Kalbi! The marinade flavor profile is spot-on and tastes great, while having good penetration in the fibers of the beef, which was very tender. I won’t say prime-grade beef tender, but good enough where it didn’t require much effort to chew into it. Most importantly, like every Kalbi should be cooked, Arirang lives up to the “B-B-Q” part of their name (and don’t get all technical on me about the difference between “BBQ” and “Grilling”, because I do know the difference!), putting them all-important “Kogi” flame grilled sear marks on the shortribs all along its flanks. Very nice. And very tasty!

I got to try some of the meat jun from Diner E’s plate, which I must say was also 4-SPAM Musubi EXCELLENT!…

The flour and egg batter had great flavor, body and texture and not greasy at all, while the marinaded beef was absolutely delicious and tender as  can be.

Adding to the excellent meat jun is their also-excellent house Gochujang sauce, that had the perfect balance of heat, acidity, salty and sweet, and really brought out the “Umami” factor in the Meat Jun. Perfect 5 SPAM Musubi on that sauce!

That said, on my next visit I’ve got my sight set on Arirang’s Mahi Mahi Fish Jun!

As for the Korean style Seaweed Soup we were started off with, that was equally satisfying, with the broth having a Kombu-like flavor to it that was fairly simple-tasting and light, yet very delicious…

Rounding out this “tasty town” party is their excellent Banchan side dishes, which were all as good as it gets as far my experiences eating at various Korean restaurants around the island. The Kimchi had this sort of Umami factor to it just like the Gochujang sauce…

My favorite Banchan of all is the Korean style shoyu potatoes, where Arirang’s were by far some of the best I’ve had, thanks in part due to them being made with red potatoes, which have a more ideal texture for this type of preparation, while the skin added an extra dimension to its overall appeal…

Arirang’s Japchae Korean style Long Rice Noodle banchan could have just as well been my main entree, as it was also that delicious and a satisfying dish in itself…

The owner was so kind to bring us refills of our banchan along the course of the meal, which made our experience dining here that much better!…

This time around she added Ggakdugi Kim Chee(Daikon) to the spread (shown front-center in photo above), which I liked even better than the cabbage kimchi!

Towards the end of our meal a pot of Korean style green tea was brought to the table, which is always appreciated to help break down the fats from the meat and help settle the stomach…

Americans as a whole would be that much healthier and live longer if the practice of drinking hot green tea after each meal were incorporated into our dietary culture, but that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.

All that said, our lunch at Arirang was so onolicious, broke da’ mout’ winnahz, all three of us polished our plates!…

I was going to chime in with “Burp”, but the hot green tea eliminated any feeling of indigestion. Ha-ha!

Summing it up, Arirang Bar B-B-Q Korean Cuisine restaurant is definitely highly recommended. The owner truly takes pride in every EXCELLENT dish that comes out of her kitchen from start to finish, and she’s very, very nice! The portions and prices are family-friendly, the dining room is very clean and casual, yet nicely decorated and not “divey” at all,  and there’s plenty of parking, where even if the mall lot fills up, there’s ample street parking along Kokea street.

Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Cuisine
1111 Dillingham Boulevard
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817

Tel. (808) 848-0803

The Tasty Island rating:

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

For today’s Tasty Island Bonus Content, we stop by for dessert right up the street off Alakawa at the Iwilei Costco food court to sample their new Fresh Made Gelato!…

This, actually on a different day, as I was with Diner AA and Diner C on this “mission”. Because, you know, going to Costco is always a “mission”, or can even sometimes become an absolute SPIRITUAL experience! It can!

With Diner AA buying (big mahalo!), as is their famous buck-fitty gigantic Hot Dog & Drink Combo’, you’d be hard-pressed to find a deal in town better than Costco’s new Fresh Made Gelato, which includes 3 scoops of your choice of Pistachio, Mixed Berry and/or Stracciatella (Vanilla with Chocolate Shavings)  in a HUGE sugar waffle cone for a buck-fitty as well. Deal!

Here’s the waffle cones in a specially made holder made for high volume, quick turnaround service…

Here you see they pre-scoop the gelato in balls for speedier service to the masses…

Here Diner AA holds up her combo Gelato Cone…

Angle 2…

And here’s my Stracciatella cone…

Costco Food Court’s all-new Stracciatella Fresh Made Gelato in sugar waffle cone, angle B…

How is it? Smooth, rich ‘n creamy, dense-yet-soft like every good Italian Gelato should be, and bursting with a high quality vanilla and crunchy milk chocolate flakes flavor. Encapsulating them three scoops of goodness is a very crispy ‘n crunchy, sugar-ee, almost toffee-like waffle cone that makes it all taste that much better.

Diner AA said the Pistachio flavor was pretty good, while her favorite was the Mixed Berry flavor, which she says tasted predominantly like strawberry. So getting the combo of all three is kinda’ like a Spumoni cone if you will.

At just $1.50 for this giant 3-scoop Gelato Cone in a Waffle Cone is a tough value to beat, and the “fresh made” gelato itself was pretty darned delicious for a mass-production, for the masses product, where we give it 3-SPAM Musubi.

20 thoughts on “Kalihi Eats: Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Cuisine

  • December 20, 2010 at 2:35 am

    I tried the gelato, pistachio is my favorite flavour!

    Mixed berry, imo, tastes a lot like ice cream mixed with jam.. not the best in my opinion.

  • December 20, 2010 at 9:19 am

    I don’t get to Kalihi very often… but it looks like I should start gravitating there when I’m hungry on O’ahu! Arirang BBQ looks like a winner…

  • December 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Good read Pomai. I grew up there and you’re right, Kalihi has been considered “Hawaiis Center of the Food Universe” for as long as I can remember. Can’t wait to drop in at Arirang’s the next time I’m on island. All the best. Mahalo plenty!

  • December 21, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Pomai, with the Korean Wave going on all over everything Korean is now very popular. I watch a lot of KPOP and Kdramas online.

  • December 21, 2010 at 10:24 am

    AHHHHH! I was at that Costco just YESTERDAY and had no idea they were serving gelato. I live on the North Shore, so getting over there is kind of a hassle.
    Just found your blog. I’m excited to read up on local eats. I’ve seen this place in Kalihi but never thought to stop. Hub loves meat jun (but come on, who doesn’t? Vegans, I guess), so we’ll have to check it out.

  • December 26, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Anybody out there remember the real, original “Arirang’?

    • September 7, 2015 at 1:22 pm

      Yes, I remember Arirang on Kaheka, one of the first Korean bars I visited with a fellow car saleman back in 1973. He also told me his Dad was the original owner and sold the bar to his bar manager, who was Korean. It was also where I was introduced to  the old “placing the wet bar tray on the stack of money” trick, ha, ha.  Right in front of me I saw the ten dollar bill lifted cleanly from the top of the pile of money and she probably would have gotten away with it if I didn’t say something right away.

  • December 29, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    I know very well this Korean rest. I have to say this Arirang BBQ rest. is really nice food and they were very kind to us. I wanna stop in again if
    I go to Honolulu.

  • December 30, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Okihwn: You mean the golden ping pong balls, cigars and stacks of quarters?

  • January 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Where you at? Vacation in LAS at the California Hotel?

  • January 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Traci J, on break. Needed it.

    Ryan and Nate, golden ping pong balls, cigars and stacks of quarters? Now, are we talking Korean restaurant or Korean BAR? lol

    Kevin, do check Arirang out. It’s definitely worth the hunt into the Dillingham part of Kalihi.

    Mariko, your hubby should be delighted with Arirang’s Meat Jun. Up there with the best of the genre.

    Aaron, look online for the K-Drama called “Don’t Hesitate”. I’ve NEVER watched a soap opera in my LIFE, yet somehow my mother got me HOOKED on this series, and it turned being seriously addictive, with a FANTASTIC story and cast. The “evil” mother was the best part! DON’T HESITATE. Check it out!

    Paki, I got that “Kalihi is the center of Hawaii’s food universe” tag line from comment a reader made here a while ago. And it really stuck to me, because it’s TRUE!

    Marcus, see the comment I made to Paki right above.

    Ricky, it would be nice if they sprinkled chopped pistachio nuts on top of the pistachio gelato for fortification. I’d pay an extra 50 cents for that.

  • January 10, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Pomai you don’t know about the original Arirang? LOL!!


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