The Thrill of the Grill
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Throughout Korean history, Shila was one of three ancient kingdoms, and one of the world’s longest-running dynasties at that. The kingdom is referenced in the name New Shilawon Korean Restaurant — a title that couldn’t be more fitting for the Honolulu eatery, seeing as it serves traditional cuisine that, like the dynasty, has plenty of staying power.
The yakiniku restaurant, formerly known as Shillawon Korean Restaurant, first opened in September 1994. Though it assumed new ownership a little while ago, it continues to be run by a husband-and-wife team, head chef Jae Keun and chef Young Sun Lee, who go way back with the establishment. “Our family took over in December 2014 with the new name, New Shilawon,” says their daughter Jandy Lee, who serves as general manager. “My father has been working here as a chef for the past eight years and my mom worked here the first year when they opened in 1994.”
Jae Keun’s skilled background in handling the restaurant’s high-quality meats has helped New Shilawon successfully transition into its new chapter. Rather than pre-slicing the meat, the chef insists on cutting selections to order, ensuring maximum freshness when each tender piece meets the sizzle of the grill or is enjoyed in a shabu shabu meal.
New Shilawon is popular for its all-you-can-eat yakiniku specials (ranging from $26.95 to $29.95 per person, as well as a $19.99 lunch deal), brimming with options like beef tongue, pork belly and ribeye, just to name a few. But it also is home to all-you-can-eat shabu shabu for $31.95 per person. “A lot of restaurants have all-you-can-eat yakiniku, but I think we are the only Korean restaurant with all-you-caneat shabu shabu,” says Jandy.
For those who don’t have bottomless appetites, the restaurant’s variety-filled set menus are perfect for one to two diners. With three to choose from, there’s sure to be a combination for everyone.
Shilawon Set No. 1 ($69.95) offers seasoned ribeye, beef short ribs, pork belly, shrimp and seafood miso stew. Set No. 2 ($59.95) satisfies with seasoned ribeye, beef tongue and brisket, and miso stew. Last, but not least, Set No. 3 ($49.95) brings the heat with spicy pork, pork belly, pork shoulder and kimchee stew. All three sets are served with steamed egg in a hot-stone pot, lettuce ideal for making wraps and salad greens with house dressing.
During any meal at the Korean barbecue house, patrons can sit back and relax in roomy, well-cushioned chairs, and enjoy the clean and spacious interior. This comfortable dining experience gets better with the addition of complementary banchan, which are made in house, of course, and customized to pair well with specific dishes across the menu. The kitchen also introduces special banchan throughout the week.
A la carte selections are prime for sharing among the table, especially Seasoned Raw Beef ($24.95). The tartare-style dish brings together beef brisket and egg yolk with sesame seasonings and a refreshing burst of pickled daikon and carrots — making for a rich dish that feels light on the palate. There also is an array of Korean pancakes, or jeon. Dining Out recommends Seafood and Green Onion Jeon ($18.99), a big and fluffy mixture pan-fried with shrimp, baby clams and squid.
With such an authentic approach, it’s no surprise New Shilawon attracts a wide-spanning customer base. The eatery often hosts many Korean patrons during lunch, local families during dinner and a slew of young adults on weekends. Jandy adds that the hotspot is also great for birthday celebrations, and offers two private rooms that can accommodate up to 12 or 20 people, respectively.
The Family That Cooks Together…
… Stays together, and that certainly is the case at New Shilawon Korean Restaurant. The family business is owned by husband-and-wife duo Jae Keun and Young Sun Lee, who take the reins in the kitchen, while their son Joon serves as assistant chef and daughter Jandy manages the floor. The close-knit family imparts their amiable warmth to customers, who easily feel at home in the Amana Street establishment. The Lees also use their bond to fortify the operation of the restaurant. “Everyone knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so each member has a suitable role in the business … we are always motivated to do whatever it takes to help the business grow and survive,” expresses Jandy.
New Shilawon Korean Restaurant regularly presents seasonal specials, and customers currently can start salivating over the spring offering: Oyster Stone Pot Rice with Stew (Kimchee, Soft Tofu or Miso), priced at $15.95 for lunch and $18.95 for dinner.
New Shilawon Korean Restaurant
747 Amana St., Honolulu // 944-8700
Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-midnight