Mixing It Up at KoreaMoku

Columns Order of the Day

April 3, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

With a dash of Korean and a sprinkle of American, KoreaMoku BBQ keeps its patrons satisfied through culinary fusion dishes. It’s been a little over six months since the grand opening of KoreaMoku BBQ. With help from her children, Yuki and Thomas “Yoshi” Uehara, chef and owner Eun Hee Nam continues to refine and improve her menu, an amalgamation of popular Korean and American dishes.

  • Manager Thomas Uehara, chef/owner Eunhee Nam and Yuki Uehara.
  • The view from Keeaumoku Street.
  • Kimchee Pancake with Cheese ($6.95)
  • BBQ Pork Rib ($8.95)
  • Garlic Chicken ($7.95)
  • Spicy Seafood Ramen ($7.95)
  • Fried Tofu Beef Steak ($9.95)
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“My mom likes to call it fusion,” says Yuki Uehara, Nam’s daughter, who works at the small restaurant, located at the front of Samsung Plaza on Keeamoku Street.

KoreaMoku’s simple logo features two uniquely Korean symbols. One is a gat, the traditional black, wide-brimmed horsehair and bamboo hat worn by men during the country’s Joseon Dynasty. The other is a taegeuk, the round “yin and yang” symbol that represents the unity of opposites.

The taegeuk seems an appropriate symbol for the culinary fusion that takes place here. “It’s not just the Korean way of cooking,” says Uehara. “Mom adds something else to make it a little American. The Kim Chee Pancake ($6.95) is a big dish in Korea; it’s very common. But my mom adds cheese and it tastes amazing.”

The fusion continues with KoreaMoku’s Cheeseburger ($4.99 for the burger only; $6.75 with fries and soft drink). “Mom has her own sauce for the cheeseburger; it’s kind of like a Korean recipe, but also kind of like an American recipe,” Uehara says. “It makes the whole burger! A lot of people ask for some on the side so they can dip their fries in it.”

Originally from Seoul, where she owned a yakiniku restaurant, Nam opened her Honolulu eatery at the urging of her children. “I’ve always told my mom she’s a good cook,” says Uehara. When Nam’s clothing store closed, Yuki and Yoshi — both raised in Hawaii and graduates of Kalani High School — were ready with suggestions for a new business. “My brother and I said, ‘Oh, why don’t you open a restaurant? It’ll be fun!'”

Nam found a spot she liked in Samsung Plaza, fronting Keeamoku — a central location with free validated parking for customers. Deciding what to call their new restaurant was a fairly simple matter. “Mom said, ‘Why don’t we name it Keeamoku BBQ?’ So I just threw it out there: ‘Let’s name it KoreaMoku!’ People joke about it a lot, because there’s so many Korean stores and people here.”

Signs in the window and on the walls are carefully hand-printed in both English and Korean, reflecting the multi-cultural neighborhood. A whiteboard propped against the register requests that customers review and “friend” KoreaMoku BBQ on Yelp and Facebook. Word is getting out about the little Korean restaurant with big new flavors. Regulars include workers from HMSA and Walmart, students from Heald College, and others who appreciate the convenience and ease of free validated parking.

Standout dishes include Crispy Garlic Chicken ($7.95), Fried Tofu Beef Steak ($9.95, shredded steak with slices of sauteed tofu) and Duk Kalbi ($8.95), which is made with boneless chopped kalbi meat pressed into a patty, grilled and sprinkled with green onions, and served on a bed of rice, accompanied by vegetables. Those vegetables, it should be noted, are different every day, depending on the chef’s whimsy. “Today it was mac salad, cubed potatoes, seaweed and bean sprouts,” says Uehara. “Sometimes it’s lotus roots or baby radishes. It’s whatever Mom decides to make that morning!”

Traditional dishes include Bibim Naeng Myun ($8.95), made with chewy buckwheat noodles, and Tofu Stew ($8.95). “The stew is popular with Koreans,” says Uehara.

“It has kim chee, soybean sprouts and a bit of meat; it’s on the spicier side.” She also recommends the Spicy Seafood Ramen ($7.95). “It has shrimp, mussel, ika (squid), bean sprouts and a little pork,” she says. “It’s spicy, and on a cold day, it’s really good.”

But Uehara’s personal favorite is the BBQ Pork Ribs ($8.95). “That’s a dish that not a lot of Korean places sell,” she observes. The ribs are parboiled, covered with sauce and finished in the oven. “My mom likes to call it a barbecue sauce; it’s a little sweet, a little spicy, a little salty — really good. They have a bone, but they fall off the bone.”

Six months after opening KoreaMoku BBQ, Nam is already planning a revision of her menu, removing some items and adding others. “My mom kind of outdid herself when she first opened,” Uehara says with a chuckle. “She puts a lot of effort into this place. If it starts doing really great, we’ll probably open another restaurant and call it KoreaMoku II!”

KoreaMoku BBQ

  • Where
    • 661 Keeaumoku Street #102
    • Honolulu, HI 96814
  • Call
    • (808) 947-5263
  • Hours
    • 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
    • Monday – Saturday
    • 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
    • Sundays