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Yakiniku Camellia Buffet Provides Endless Thrills on the Grill

By Kyle Galdeira Photos By Leah Friel
December 16, 2012

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As the sturdy and stunning flower for which it is named continues to bloom season after season, year after year, Camellia Buffet has blossomed again following a short respite.

The family-owned operation has satisfied Hawaii diners’ appetites for nearly 40 years with Korean and other local favorites that are cooked yakiniku-style on grills situated at every table. The current incarnation of Camellia Buffet is situated in Stadium Mall, at the location formerly occupied by Pizza Hut, and has drawn a host of new and returning customers eager to dig in to the all-you-can-eat buffet, which features both the traditional yakiniku meats and vegetables for grilling as well as fully-prepared selections served hot and fresh on the buffet line.

The Camellia story began in 1977 as Jaeshin Park, a former Korean Air employee who brought his family to Hawaii just years prior, opened the first of what would be nine restaurant locations, in Waikiki. After Park suffered a stroke five years ago, he and his family decided to scale back operations, eventually closing what had served as the last Camellia location in Pearl Kai in February. However, after an overwhelming show of support by customers who missed their yakiniku fix, Park’s son, Ronnie, and daughter, Kris, decided to bring back the iconic buffet to keep the restaurant’s legacy alive.

“The camellia is a very strong flower that is always in bloom, so the restaurant is always blooming, too” explains Kris, who manages the restaurant while Ronnie serves as owner. “We were going to retire completely, but our loyal customers kept calling and asking us to open a buffet on this side of the island, and we live in Salt Lake, so when we passed the location and found it was empty, that’s how we ended up here today.”

While Jaeshin has slowed down significantly after suffering the stroke, he still enjoys eating his Camellia favorites. On a recent visit by Dining Out, the former restaurateur was at the eatery enjoying some of his favorite buffet items, cooking them to perfection on the easy-to-use grill powered by butane canisters. While the original buffet in Waikiki featured an exclusively Korean menu, the current version of Camellia offers a host of Korean favorites as well as local-style dishes that make up some of the hot buffet items.

The bountiful buffet is available daily at lunch ($14.95 for adults and $7.95 for children, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and dinner ($24.95 for adults and $12.95 for children, served from 5 to 10 p.m.), and a 10-percent discount is available for members of the military and seniors, Monday through Thursday. The savory spread includes Kal Bi short ribs, barbecue chicken, spicy chicken, barbecue beef and pork, fried noodles, fish jun, mixed seafood stir-fry, Korean spicy chicken karaage and a host of soups, vegetables and fruit. The dinner selections include the aforementioned items as well as shrimp, cubed beef sirloin, Korean crab and steamed clams served in a special house sauce.

Takeout plates also are available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and include four vegetable selections and white or brown rice. Some of the plate lunches include BBQ Beef ($7.95), BBQ Chicken ($7.95), Fish Jun ($7.95) and Fried Mandoo ($6.95). Diners also can create a combination plate with two of their favorite selections for $9.95.

“Our lunch price is really reasonable,” explains Kris. “You go to any takeout place, and the kal bi alone is $11. Here, you can get kal bi plus all the other meats to cook yakiniku, plus fish and other items. We’re trying to keep our prices low so that our loyal local customers will keep coming back and enjoying our food.”

Just in time for the holidays, Camellia also offers a catering menu to aid in planning a special party or gathering. Platters of shrimp, kal bi, spicy chicken and other favorites are available in medium and large platters ranging from $45 to $185.

Yakiniku Camellia Buffet

Stadium Mall
4510 Salt Lake Blvd., Honolulu
Open daily, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (lunch) and 5-10 p.m. (dinner)