Kaka’ako Eats: Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant

‘Tis the season for birthdays, as hot off the heels of our celebration for honored guest Diner C at Bella Mia Pizzeria just a few weeks ago, not long after that it was my turn. Where on this occasion, the gang threw me an intimate birthday party luncheon at Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant.


Now believe me when I say, this isn’t like any other restaurant you’ve ever been to before, whether Korean or whatever it may be. See, Ah-Lang is known as much for its, should I say, “firecracker” of an owner, as it is for its AMAZING food. So much of a “firecracker”, that she’s been dubbed the “Angry Korean Lady”, a.k.a. Won Lam, where notice I “a.k.a.’d” her real name, and not her nick name .

In fact, the printed menu in the restaurant, as well as on their website is versed the same way, while even the domain name for said website is registered under that. Which you gotta’ admit, is a very catchy and powerful marketing tag line!

Now there’s probably all kinds of ways you might picture what an “Angry Korean Lady” might look like by just the sound of it. Perhaps it could be what you remember of that “Mama San” that kicked you out of the local “KB” (Korean Bar) 20 years ago when you were cash broke, falling down drunk and sloppily hitting on her barmaid cousin. Or maybe she could resemble your Korean neighbor who brings you fresh batches of homemade Kim Chee every time she makes some (we really have a neighbor that does that).

Well upon seeing her for the first time, you just might be perplexed by her famous nickname, as she really doesn’t look that menacing, and at least to me anyway, underneath that hardened and jaded sneer she wears, she’s quite an attractive woman!…


“I’m already angry. Don’t make me more angry.” ~ Angry Korean Lady

Yet she certainly keeps her “Medusa” hat on while at the restaurant, crackin’ a whip while at it. And with that, she’s established a set of RULES (yes, rules) patrons must follow if they want to be fed by her. Because “Angry Korean Lady” isn’t merely serving you, as more the case, she’s lovingly cooking for and feeding you like only your own mother would.

With that, like any good parent does, she nurtures and provides for you through “tough love”, where you have to earn your keep, as she’s not just going to hand everything to you on a silver spoon and platter. When you’re in HER HOUSE, you and your guest(s) become more her CHILDREN or good friend, than her CUSTOMER, which would be the best way to describe it.

Being Ah-Lang’s matriarch, Won, the “Angry Korean Lady” is a one-woman band, doing all the cooking, cleaning, serving, cashiering, purchasing, receiving, and just about every other business and housekeeping duty herself. Which wouldn’t you be angry if you had to do all that? lol Hence, because (as her tag line goes) she’s “already angry” and you don’t want to make her “more angry”, it would be wise to abide by her rules so you can enjoy the FANTASTIC Korean specialty dishes she prepares…

Just in case you can’t read that, for your convenience I’ll transcribe her rules here:

AH-LANG KOREAN RESTAURANT
HOUSE RULES
“I’m already angry. Don’t make me more angry.” ~ Angry Korean Lady
1. Write down your order and bring it to me in the kitchen. If you don’t write down your order, I won’t bring you your food. First order in, first served.
2. Food first, then water — unless you serve yourself.
3. No outside food or soda allowed.
4. You break it, you bought it — please be careful with the glass table covers. (Big glass = $200/small glass = $100)
5. If you BYOB, bring me some too, or there’s a corkage fee.
a.) Don’t bring me Coors Light — it gives me a headache.
b.) Don’t give me Yellowtail — it gives me a stomachache.
6. If you BYOB, bring your own cups and supplies. DO NOT use mine.
7. The kitchen closes 15 minutes before closing. I’ll let you know when I’m closing.
8. Don’t attach hooks/anything to the table — don’t break the glass.
9. For dishes indicated as spicy, choose your own spice level between 0-8, and write on your order as: “Spicy #_____”.

I didn’t get around to asking her, but looking at a few of the rules, it appears she’s had incidents in the past where patrons have abused, wrecked or broken her furniture and/or dishware. Going along with that territory, notice there’s BOOZE involved in her rules. Namely, Won highly appreciates when you SHARE some with her, and is one of the surest ways to win her heart, or at the very least, grant you acceptance into “her house”. While she notes not to bring her Coors Light or (cheap) Yellowtail Wine for said reasons, what she doesn’t note on her rules is that her FAVORITE beer is Michelob Ultra, and of course Korean Shoju, although I didn’t get around to asking her which particular Shoju brand. If you ask, she’ll probably just tell you to get the most expensive one. lol While I wasn’t about to lug around a 12-pack of Michelob Ultra (that’s the only size I could find at the store), I did manage to stop bring her a “Bombucha” bottle of the the new Primo Beer, which I’m personally quite fond of their new brew formula.

Enough about “AKL” for now. TIme to check out the restaurant — or more appropriately as previously said, “HER HOUSE”….

That’s it. Just six 4-place tables, which yields Ah-Lang a 24-seat capacity. And judging by the numerous reviews on Yelp, if you’re on the tail end of the first-come, first-served ordering list, you WILL wait for quite a while, as Won is very particular about how her food comes out of the kitchen. Meaning, she’d rather have each table have all the necessary dishes that compliment each other, then to serve a table here or a table there, leaving each party’s order as an incomplete meal.

One of the first house rules you’ll realize you must follow upon seating yourself at Ah-Lang (because “Angry Korean Lady” certainly isn’t going to do that for you, let alone even greet you), is to get your own water glasses…

All Won will do is bring out a plastic jug filled with ice water. Then she’ll look at everyone and analyze whether she even likes you based on how you talk to her, what you ask of her, and maybe even how you look! I’ll put it you this way: 2 groups of people walked in and sat down. After looking over the menu and asking a few questions to Won, they walked right out, and Won didn’t care one single bit. lol

Fortunately the five of us in our party were “accepted” by her, where we would soon experience — because that’s really what it’s all about here, is the “Angry Korean Lady Experience” — what would turn out to be one of most memorable and enjoyable meals we’ve ever had. Period. Whether that bottle of beer we gave her got us “in”, doesn’t matter. Main thing is we walked out with very happy, and “Angry Korean Lady”, well, she stayed angry (which is a good thing). lol

I’m not sure what the reason is (other than the obvious), but this is yet another Korean restaurant popping up around Honolulu that touts not using MSG…

Also note that with $15 or more of purchase, there’s FREE validated parking in the Imperial Plaza building on Cooke Street, where Ah-Lang is located at the ground floor of.

Restaurant owners often throw in their personal keepsakes ‘n stuff as decorations, where here Won has this interesting good luck charm mounted above the door entrance…

We asked her what it signified (see that link for one suggestion), and all she said was that her mother told her put it there.

If I didn’t know where this photo was taken, I’d think it was at a place that had Portuguese ties…

What appears to keep “Angry Korean Lady” happiest is cooking (and then booze), where here she is tending to a pot of vegetable-based soup stock for her highly acclaimed Soon Dubu, as well as finishing up our order of steamed Mandoo, Meat Jun and Chive Jun, all using very, very, VERY well seasoned, seriously “old school” vintage cast iron cookware…

Being we arrived right at the 11am sharp opening time, not only was our party of five the first ones there, but we were also the ONLY ones there on this beginning-of-the-work-week lunch hour visit. Which it pretty much stayed that way throughout our entire meal, where only after about noon time rush did more people start to arrive. With that, our order came out fairly quickly, with a wide assortment of Banchan first to land on the table…

Of course, there’s Kim Chee, with Won’s take on it tasting rather “rustic” and a bit different than any store-bought brands I’ve tried…

Another Banchan standard, the usual marinaded Bean Sprouts…

One of my favorites in this spread were these marinaded strips of Fried Fishcake…

My other fave’ were these marinaded slices of Gobo…

Reason the Gobo and Fishcake were my two favorite Banchan here, is that they were both well-saturated with a nice blend of salty, sweet, acidic and savory flavor profile, with the Gobo especially having a pronounced “crunch” in texture, which complemented the main dishes really nicely.

Marinaded Choy Sum…

These sauce-smothered cucumbers may look spicy-hot, but they actually tasted fairly tame…

Rounding up our Banchan dishes was this mixture of marinaded smashed Tofu and Watercress…

Take a little of each, and I’ll be ready for some good accompanying eats when the main dishes arrive…

Being we were the only ones in the restaurant at the time, “Angry Korean Lady” had the time to take the individual Banchan dishes off the massive serving tray and set them on the table as shown. Otherwise if its busy, I hear she’ll just drop the order on the table, tray and all, and expect YOU to remove each dish and place it on your table, then YOU take the empty tray and give it back to her in the kitchen.

Immediately following the Banchan, Won returned from the kitchen with a plate full of piping hot steamed Mandoo…

Now for the BEST PART, which is something I’ve NEVER, EVER experienced before: someone on our table mentioned to Won that it was my birthday, when to our absolute astonishment, she introduced her incredible cooking to us by personally cutting a steamed mandoo piece using just her stainless steel Korean chopsticks. Then, using her chopsticks, proceeded to personally HAND-FEED me a piece!…

We missed snapping a photo of her doing that, yet I was at least able to capture this one of her just as she finished cutting the mandoo apart. But, WOW, so much for all this “angry this ‘n that” jazz… Won really should be nicknamed the “Sweet Korean Lady” or “Super Awesome Korean Lady”! I mean, how cool is that?! When was the last time you can remember an owner and/or chef of a restaurant coming to your table and hand-feeding you your very first bite of their cooking?

Well, it was certainly the first time for me, making it one of the most memorable and endearing dining experiences I’ve EVER had. Of course part of the charm was the very notion that this gesture of good will and “motherlyness” completely caught me by surprise. I swear, it was literally a “love at first bite” initiation, in a mother-son bonding kinda’ way (with all due respect to my mother, of course!).

As for the Steamed Mandoo, each piece was larger than your typical Mandoo, making up the size of approximately the fingers part of an adult-sized man’s clenched fist. The wrapper was steamed to perfect al dente doneness, with plenty of moisture content goin’ on. While the filling medley of ground pork and various veggies had nice balance, yet otherwise subtle, flavor-wise.

The Mandoo dipping sauce tasted like the usual Korean style combination of shoyu, sugar, vinegar, sesame, chili paste and green onions, helping to punch out the subtle flavor of the pork ‘n veggie mandoo filling.

Summing it up, we’re off to a mighty Mandoo of a good start, where we unanimously gave Ah-Lang’s take on the dish a plump ‘n steamy 4 SPAM Musubi.

Next to arrive on the table was Ah-Lang’s famous signature Chive Jun, which was what I was looking forward to trying the most…

Serve ‘em up…

The Chive Jun is sorta’ like a Quiche, sans the dough crust, while having just enough egg to bind the chives, which also forms a very thin egg batter “crust” of its own on the top and bottom surface area, like every typical Jun dish should have. There’s also a noticeable flavor accent, as perhaps Won adds Shoyu, Vinegar, Sugar and/or other spices into the egg binder for added dimension.

What’s interesting is that, even though it’s made almost entirely with fresh chives (which I understand she has her own farming space somewhere in Manoa), it’s not overpowering with a “chive-ee” or “green onion-ee” flavor, but tastes just “vegetable-ish” in a green, earthy kinda’ way. How’s that for descriptions. lol It tastes AWESOME on its own, yet it does come with the same dipping sauce she serves with the Mandoo for some added “kick”.

All I can say quite frankly, is that the Chive Jun is OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD DELICIOUS and a MUST-ORDER dish at Ah-Lang, where upon the first bite, 3 out of the 5 of us immediately badged it with the highest 5-SPAM Musubi award. I’d even go as far as 8 SPAM Musubi based on the exotic uniqueness of the dish.

Soon following, Angry Korean Lady returned with a piping hot plate of her Fried Specialty Wings…

Another angle (not that it’s much different)…

Ding-ding-ding, we have another winner! I’d say these are kinda’ like the Korean version of Japanese style Karaage Chicken, yet with all “kinda’ stuffs” going on in its flavor profile. The batter was nice ‘n crispy, while being post-soaked with what tasted almost like the same sauce used for dipping the Mandoo, with perhaps a lot more garlic and chili paste added into it.

Biting through that kicked-up Korean flavored batter, the tongue is wonderfully greeted with juicy, fall-off-the-bones, super-tender chicken wing meat. I might also add, overall it just had this “homemade, comfort food” edge to it that set it apart. Personally, I give Won’s Specialty Wings another glorious 5-SPAM Musubi! And that’s a lot coming from someone usually not so hot for chicken.

On to the next dish, this SERIOUSLY sizzling platter of Ah Lang’s Barbecue Chicken soon followed suit…

Da’ odda’ side (the other side)…

This tasted a lot like Japanese Yakitori, sans the skewers. With that, like the Specialty Wings, the sliced, bite-size grilled Korean style BBQ chicken strips here were juicy ‘n tender, with pronounced “kogi” seared edges sealing the BBQ deal. Awesome. That’s now 5 sizzlin’ SPAM Musubi dish number three.

Last yet absolutely not least to land on our celebratory Birthday Table was Ah-Lang’s also-famous Meat Jun…

Angle B…

Reading over the numerous Yelp reviews on this place, you’ll often come across the expression of “BEST I’VE EVER HAD” attached to folks’ description of Ah-Lang’s Meat Jun, which all of us in our group agreed after DEVOURING the plate, is SO TRUE. This is arguably THE BEST MEAT JUN in HAWAII. Probably the only people who wouldn’t agree with that are assessment, are those who don’t like meat that’s too sweet, as these are certainly on the sweeter side.

“Angry Korean Lady” makes it a point when she brings her very special Meat Jun to your table to try it first WITHOUT the dipping sauce, as she swears it DOES NOT need it..

And you know what? NO NEED SAUCE! Like any dish that’s prepared with utmost attention to preparation detail and quality of ingredients, this Meat Jun speaks VOLUMES on its own terms, not needing any dipping or basting sauce to “compensate” for dryness, toughness or lack of flavor.

I don’t know how Won does it (nor did we ask), but the super-thin sliced beef is so moist and tender, I swear you could practically suck an entire piece of this Meat Jun through a drinking straw, I kid you not. It’s like buttah’ (butter), I tell ya’, like BUTTAH!

It’s also entirely penetrated with what tastes like a mild, toned-down marinade of shoyu, sugar and sesame oil. Key is, the mildness of the well-penetrated marinade is what makes it so good, in that you can still taste the BEEF, without being overpowered by the shoyu. Yet that thoroughly-penetrated marinade also aids in bringing out the natural moisture your palate expects of the beef.

The egg batter had a slight crunch, yet was mostly on the soft and pliable side, apparently taking on plenty of the moisture from the thinly-sliced marinaded beef underneath it.

We had to try at least a few Meat Jun pieces dipped in the accompanying sauce, which tasted pretty much like Ponzu, a “citrus” flavored Soy sauce, albeit in this case made with vinegar. To which the acidic tang provided a nice and complimentary opposing contrast to the inherent sweetness of the beef marinade. That was pretty good, but seriously, once again, this Meat Jun DOES NOT NEED SAUCE, as it’s THAT GOOD “plain” as is. So AWESOME is it, that we unanimously give  the Angry Korean Lady’s Meat Jun a far above-and-beyond SUPERB 10 SPAM Musubi. Woo hoo!

Our entire meal was so incredible delicious, that amongst the five of us, we pretty much “polished” everything Won fed us…

Just as wonderful is the authentic Korean food at Ah-Lang, is the genuine spirit and heart of Won the “Angry Korean Lady”. Whom,  just like many other reviewers have noted in their experiences here, she came out and chatted with us after we were finished eating….


Hell hath no fury…

Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant is absolutely a MUST DO on your Honolulu dining itinerary, and gets the highest Tasty Island recommendation and praise.

Kamsahamnida “Angry Korean Lady”!

Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant
725 Kapiolani Blvd
Ste C119
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

Tel. (808) 596-0600

www.AngryKoreanLady.com

The Tasty Island rating:

(10) OFF THE CHARTS!!!!!! (FREAKIN’ MEAN, CUZ!!!!!)

Related links:
Anger is good for the menu at Ah-Lang – Honolulu Star Advertiser
Ah-Lang Restaurant – Yelp user reviews

P.S. My heartfelt prayers go out to the people of Sendai, Japan and Christchurch, New Zealand, due to the recent natural disasters that have caused so much tragic loss and suffering. May the entire world’s people be with you all during this time of great need.


Comments

Kaka’ako Eats: Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant — 29 Comments

  1. wow pomai! i don’t think i’ve ever seen you put a TEN musibi rating before! okay, you’ve convinced me to put this on my list of things to eat when in hawai’i list. thanks!

  2. Ten musubi! Thanks a lot. I’ll never be able to get into this place again. But you know what? It’s worth every single musubi.

  3. Dan, great observation. In immediate retrospect (without me checking), Roy’s Waikiki was another restaurant I’ve given a TEN. “Angry Korean Lady” herself is truly a very precious TEN! Love, love LOVE her!

    Paul, if I may ask, why won’t you be able to get into this place again? Did the Angry Korean Lady kick you out (to the curb)? lol

  4. Pomai, location is good and see family like to try it for meat jun and mandoo. Would like to order a soup with the meal too.

  5. 10 musubi — very impressive! But the Angry Korean Lady might have a bone to pick with you letting on that there’s a sweetie beneath all that bluster!

  6. Haha, loved reading this post! Happy belated birthday Pomai! No Korean restaurant on Guam has any kind of “jun”. Must be a Hawaii thing.

  7. Pomai-san… a belated Hau’oli la hanau! They’re gonna hafta roll me onto the Island Hopper back to Kwajalein after trying out all these many places you’ve reviewed! :)

  8. I got chills when I saw that first photo of AKL. But the food description and photos make me almost brave enough to want to try going and chance the “you going get lickins” vibe. Who knows, it might even make the flavors even more intense as my senses get heightened with that fight-or-flight instinct.

  9. Pomai, meat jun is only found in Hawaii for I searched all over San Francisco Korean restaurants and lunch trucks and no such food there.

  10. Amy, lots of mainland folks on Yelp who’ve visited and reviewed Korean restaurants here in Hawaii also attest that there’s no Meat Jun in their neck of the woods. I’ve heard some places in California have it, yet perhaps there’s some Hawaii ties with them? Dunno’.

    More specifically, as far as I know in my experience, this is the first and only Korean restaurant here in Honolulu that serves Chive Jun. Correct me if I’m wrong on that.

    Spotty, you hit it right on the nail with “heightened senses due to that fight-or-flight instinct”, which is the PERFECT way to describe it! In a sort of sadistic way, it’s almost like you want to “catch some cracks” from AKL, or the dining experience isn’t the same without that intensity. lol

    Chuck, arigato! How’s the impact of the Japan Tsunami in Kwaj? Never heard much (if any for that matter) on the news about damage on other smaller pacific islands. Only Hawaii and the west coast.

    Susan, see my reply above to Amy regarding the Meat Jun. How’s the tsunami damage on Guam? Anything significant? Looks the biggest damage to Hawaii is going to be economic due to the cancellation of Japanese visitor counts in the immediate foreseeable future to our islands.

    Debbie-chan, I understand AKL’s daughter reads and keeps up with the Yelp reviews, where several folks have already revealed the softer “Won” side of the “Angry Korean Lady”.

    Marie, just go and experience it for yourself. One-of-a-kind indeed.

  11. Happy Belated B-day! I had the pleasure of meeting Won almost a year ago-she is such a kick! Our table brought sake & soju which she enjoyed with us at the meal’s end. When she learned of a korean dessert dish that my mother-in-law had made in the past, Won came out with her version, on the house! She’s full of heart (even more so when she has a glass of soju in hand!) :-)

  12. Thankfully nothing happened on Guam although we had to evacuate to higher ground. Even when we had the big 8.1 in 1993 there were no tsunamis and no fatalities. I also think we’ll be affected economically.

  13. Aaron, we’re sure it’s called Chive Jun, although it IS categorized on the menu under ‘Korean Pancakes’, along with the Kim Chee “Jun” and Vegetable “Jun”. But you’re right, it does remind me more of Pajeon in the way it’s prepared and battered throughout with egg. Although the egg factor is very, very light.

    Susan, I believe the tsunami’s economic impact on Hawaii in total dollars includes not only property and infrastructure damage, but also projected lost visitor (tourism) revenue. I don’t recall that 8.1 ’93 quake you’re referring to. I’ll have to look it up.

    Alyce, thanks! Hey, care to elaborate a little more on this Korean dessert dish your mother-in-law used to make? I’m not very familiar with Korean desserts, as usually by the time I’m finished eating the (usually huge) main course at Korean restaurants, I never bother looking for it. Ha ha! Actually, IIRC, I don’t recall seeing Korean desserts featured on the menu at said restaurants around town here.

  14. Chive Jun! Holy cow…. that I gotta try. Now I need a paper towel to wipe the drool off the keyboard. I bookmarked this one for future reference…. everything looks amazing. Clearly the Angry Korean Lady is doing exactly what the universe chose her to do. I am definitely going to this place.

  15. Mahalo for the review Pomai! Thanks to you we checked out Ah-Lang this weekend and we were not disappointed. The vegetable jun was awesome and my husband said the barbeque chicken was the best he ever had. We will definately be back.

  16. Sorry Pomai! Got stuck in the Sierra this weekend. My mother-in-law called it Yakbap which she used to make around the Christmas holiday. It’s also known as Yakshik. This is mochi rice made with dates, honey and pine nuts-steamed for many hours. Since it was so labor-intensive, we would make a huge batch and freeze whatever we couldn’t eat, to have later on in the year.

    The dessert that Won made for us, is called Hotteok which is a pancake with a filling made of brown sugar, cinnamon and honey. I guess you can use any kind of filling but this is the most popular. I understand that there’s even a Hotteok food truck in LA. Maybe Oahu needs a Korean dessert food truck!

  17. Oh, a shout-out to the Bay Area folks. There is a restaurant in San Jose’s Japantown, called Omogari and it serves meat and fish jun. Very tasty when you get homesick for the Islands!

  18. Just went here on Friday and the food was amazing! I could hear the Angry Korean Lady from the kitchen. She was mad because I asked her to make the kimchee pork with a spicy level of 3.

    FYI Kim Chee Pork is only spicy level 5 and above.

  19. Marcus, the universe also dictates, that once you lay down that bass, you best seat yourself at Ah-Lang, where your karma then dictates you order Chive Jun and Meat Jun. Upon eating these two dishes, you shall attain eternal happiness and enlightenment. lol Seriously, though!

    Alyce, OK, “Hotteok” it is! I’ll DEFINITELY relay your entire comment to Won when I return, and hopefully if she’s not too busy, she’ll be able to make it, as it sounds dee-lish!

    As for a Korean Dessert Food Truck idea, hmmmm… interesting! ????????? hmmmmm…. thinking….

    Wokintime (nice name!), I notice Won places high priority when you order on how spicy you want it. Being indecisive in that regard can get her even more “angry”. Rough eh? lol

  20. Pingback: - My Korean Food

  21. Pingback: The Angry Korean Lady of Honolulu: a restaurant I plan to patronize while in … – Boing Boing | Constant Diarrhea

  22. About the bottle-and-scissors charm: I don’t know about the scissors part, but Bacchus D is a Korean hangover preventative, according to my husband (who was stationed in Taegu in the early ’80’s). It’s kind of like thick Kool-Aid with vitamins in it. Maybe the charm is there to ward off hangovers?

    • Dictyranger,

      Mahalo for the explanation about the good luck charm. Reading the Wiki on the product, sounds similar to Red Bull, which I can’t STAND the flavor of. Ick! I’d rather drink Robitussin. Perhaps Won drinks the stuff to keep her mind “clear” as folks throughout the day booze with her as she works. A-ha!

      According to that scissors links, from a Christian aspect, an open scissors nailed to the door is said to symbolize a Cross to keep evil spirits out.

      I remember my dad, who was pure Portuguese with strong ties to the culture, kept a scissors by his bedside to scare away the “fatsedas” (sp.?), which is Portuguese for evil spirits. I guess it wasn’t effective all the time, as my mom said he used to wake up in the middle of the night on occasions, scared out of his mind, saying the “fatsadas” were holding him down on the bed, where he couldn’t move at all or call for help. I’d say he was just having a bad dream, but who knows!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>