A Menu That Makes You Feel Like a Million Bucks
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Though it’s just a few blocks away from Hawaii’s largest shopping center, Million Restaurant is the kind of place that only the most akamai diners might seek out.
Diana Paik, whose family is originally from Seoul, confirms that tourists and even unfamiliar faces are a rarity at this tiny gem of a restaurant. “We have about 90 percent regular customers, all local people,” she says with a ready smile.
The Paik family — four sisters, a brother, and their mother, who is now retired — opened Million’s doors in 1998, and have built a reputation for excellent versions of classic Korean favorites like yakiniku and bi bim bap. Located just off Kapiolani Boulevard, their tiny Sheridan Street restaurant seats about 55 diners at big salmon-pink dinettes that can hold entire families. Shiny vacuum tubes, two over each table, dangle from the ceiling to suck up the smoke from the yakiniku grills.
To tourists and the uninitiated, those shiny metal tubes might be a startling and novel sight. But for neighborhood locals, and especially for Korean-born Honolulu residents who long for a taste of home, everything about Million is familiar and friendly, the source of delicious fragrances and flavors.
The yakiniku is the big star at this restaurant. “Korean people love our sliced pork belly ($23),” says Paik. “Everybody else loves our kal-bi, our outside skirt steak, our brisket and our beef tongue.” Three different types of kal-bi are available for yakiniku, at $24 each. The Ahn Chang (skirt steak) is also $24; brisket and tongue cost
$22. A minimum of two orders from the yakiniku menu is required for tabletop cooking.
Perhaps the best way to eat yakiniku at Million is to order a set. Each of the four sets here is priced at $45 for two people and all come with bul go gi (marinated sliced beef) or kal-bi or both, plus outside skirt steak and brisket. Set “A” adds tongue and mountain tripe. Set “B” adds tongue and pork belly. Set “C” includes barbecue chicken, and “D” includes shrimp. Changes to set menus are only $3, so it’s easy to create a meal that makes everybody happy.
All come with banchan, the little plates of heaven that accompany most Korean meals. Million’s banchan vary constantly, and might at any time include spicy raw crab, taegu (codfish), potatoes, steamed egg or Korean potato salad. And kim chee, of course. “We make our own, and we always have three kinds,” Angela Paik, who manages the restaurant, says proudly. Banchan bowls may be refilled once for free here.
Diners who prefer to have their meals cooked before they’re brought to the table may order from Million’s Special Plates menu. At $11 each, plates include favored items like kal-bi, mahi mahi jun, bul go gi, fried salmon, and chicken, some in combinations (regulars say the meat jun is especially good here). Hamachi and fried butterfish plates are also available for $12 each. At lunchtime, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., plates are priced at $9.50-$10.50.
One of the most popular items on the menu at Million is the Dol Sot (stone pot) Bi Bim Bab. Some regulars say it’s so good because the stone pot is a particular size or shape, and always served sizzling hot; many insist that it’s the best on the island. The seven different varieties here, all priced at $12, include kal-bi, bul go gi, spicy shrimp and chicken. At lunchtime, the stone pot is available with bul go gi for $8.50.
Asahi beer is available on tap by the glass for $3.50, or by the pitcher for $12 (three domestic bottled varieties are also available). Million’s cooler holds soju, of course, as well as bottles of Kooksoondang Makkoli (rice wine), Baek Sae Ju (rice corn wine with herbs), and Bok Bun Ja Joo, the delicious Korean black raspberry wine. Diners may bring their own wine for a $10 corkage fee.
Every inch of the small space at Million is used to its best advantage; a couple of tables are tucked into a nook behind the Asahi keg in the front of the restaurant, and a small room just beyond that holds a few more. But the hardworking Paik family has big plans for the new year. “In April,” confides Angela excitedly, “we are going to expand next door! There will be a lot more room.”
The new space, which once housed a salon, will add about 600 square feet to the restaurant.
- 626 Sheridan Street
- Honolulu, HI 96814
- (808) 596-0799
- Open seven days a week
- 11 a.m. – midnight