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As noon approaches at Camellia Buffet, it happens like clockwork: A large group of guests files into the restaurant. It’s a lively get-together, with the friends chatting and laughing with one another as they are joined by more. After finding their places at their table, they find their places in the buffet line, where they have their pick from a vast array of meat and vegetable selections, as well as a range of side dishes.
Located on McCully Street, Camellia Buffet serves up traditional, authentic Korean cuisine — and it has been a go-to spot for such fare for many years. Diners cook all the food themselves right at their table. Here’s how it works: You pick what you want from the buffet and cook it to your own taste. And the best part — it’s all-you-can-eat.
At Camellia, the all-you-caneat concept is something of a challenge — the food is so good that you’re going to want to eat everything in sight. While that won’t be possible, with Camellia’s great prices, return visits certainly are. The lunch buffet is priced at $17.95 and the dinner buffet costs $25.95.
The buffet includes a plentiful selection of just about anything you could want. According to restaurant manager and long-time employee Kelly Park, some of the restaurant’s most popular options are Kalbi Short Ribs and Flap Meat, which is a tender cut of beef and is featured in the dinner buffet only. Other meat entrees included in the buffet lineup are Pork Barbecue and Chicken Barbecue. Camellia also features tasty seafood such as its fresh Shrimp (served with the dinner buffet only), which is another customer favorite.
Once you’ve picked out your favorite meat and seafood dishes, Camellia also provides an array of side dishes that will complement your food perfectly. Vegetables include mushrooms and bell peppers. Other side dishes include mac salad and soy beans.
“We make our own sauces,” Park adds, explaining that the sauces include spicy shoyu and bean paste.
If you’re bringing kids along, Camellia has them covered as well. With dishes that keiki love such as Orange Chicken and Onion Rings, the buffet is sure to be a hit with your kids.
And for a refreshing bite after a tasty meal, the buffet also includes fruit such as watermelon and pineapple. To finish it all off, strawberry or orange Jell-O is served for dessert. For the dinner buffet, ice cream also is a dessert option.
Tempting as it may be to grab all of the buffet’s goods at once, Park recommends that diners approach things with a little bit more finesse. “People should not take a whole bunch at one time,” Park says. “They should just take a little bit at a time and try it first. And then if they like it, they can go back for more of what they like.”
That’s the beauty of an allyou-can-eat buffet — you can sample everything it has to offer and go back as many times as you’d like.
“People should just come in and experience it,” Park says.
On the Side
What is now touted as one of the best buffet deals in town almost never happened.
“Originally, this was just a regular, table-service restaurant,” manager Kelly Park explains. But in 1990, Camellia Buffet’s previous owner decided to try a buffet instead. And thank goodness they did.
“When we opened a buffet, we found that people really liked it,” Park says.
“We have been keeping the recipes the same as possible,” Park says. “We haven’t changed much. And we especially have made sure to keep the quality really high.”
Another thing that the restaurant tries to keep relatively the same is the prices. “We like to keep the prices really reasonable,” Park says. “We want our customers to come and enjoy the food at affordable prices.”
Most of Camellia’s offerings are traditional, authentic Korean dishes.
“We try to keep the original dishes and flavors — the same as in Korea,” Park says. “We want to bring the Korean flavors to the local people so they can try something different.”
930 McCully St., Honolulu
Open daily, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.