Never Go Hungry at Yakiniku Camellia

Digest Foodie Fare

April 3, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

First-timers stepping into Yakiniku Camellia Buffet may be slightly overwhelmed by the numerous items found behind the refrigerator doors in the buffet line.

  • Orange and pineapple slices, and Jell-o cleanse palates after a hearty meal.
  • Co-owner Mihee Jeon with a plateful of scrumptious, edible items from Yakiniku Camellia Buffet.
  • Diners can partake in Yakiniku Camellia Buffet's many buffet options, like shrimp, broccoli and squid.
  • Fried noodles, dried squid, fried tofu, spicy poke, imitation crab salad and choy sum round out the favorites at Yakiniku Camellia Buffet.
  • Kochu Chang, pork belly, marinated kal-bi and an assortment of vegetables appease the hungry stomachs of patrons.
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The best advice owner Mihee Jeon can give is to start at the beginning.

At the front of the buffet line are the raw meats, which include generously sliced pieces of pork belly, marinated kalbi, barbecue beef, marinated chicken, dried squid and whole shrimps. There is even fried tofu flavored with a special homemade sauce for the vegetarians.

Once customers make their selection, they can take their plates back to their tables to cook the meat over a built-in burner.

Next up are the sliced vegetables, which include green bell peppers, onions, cucumbers and more. There also are whole pieces of garlic fresh from the clove, crispy bean sprouts, choy sum and mung beans that help add texture and flavor to the meal.

A wide selection of premade specialties include imitation crab salad, spicy poke, squid with broccoli, fried noodles, tempura chicken, fried rice and red bean soup, which Mihee says people spoon up by the bowlful.

Jell-o, rice juice and fresh fruits — think generous chunks of pineapple and freshly sliced oranges — make for a refreshing completion to the meal.

Specialty drinks, including Kool Soon Dang (a white wine from Korea, $10) and raspberry wine ($8) also are available.

The entire buffet costs $14.95 during lunchtime and $21.95 at dinner, with a 10 percent discount offered to seniors and military.

On the Side

Located right next to the Japanese Cultural Center on South Beretania Street, Yakiniku Camellia Buffet has been a fixture for local buffet aficionados for the past 26 years. And for the last six years, owners Mihee and Chang Hik Jeon have been carrying on that tradition of excellence in food quality and quantity.

The couple use their own recipes in all of the pre-made dishes, which Mihee and Chang Hik prepare themselves every day. In fact, before moving to Hawaii from Korea, Mihee voraciously studied the culinary arts so that she could create foods that both taste good and are good for you.

The result is a menu that is healthy and extensive, with a little bit of something for everyone.

“We have something for vegetarians, something for the meat-eaters and something for the seafood lover,” Mihee says with a beaming smile.

Among the 50-plus choices in the buffet line is pork belly, which resembles bacon in taste and taste alone. Each piece of pork is cut thicker than your average slice of bacon, and thanks to the ingenious yakiniku cooking technique, any fat and grease is drained out of the cooking pan, leaving only a crisp, tasty piece of meat for diners to enjoy.

Another local favorite is the shrimp. Anything but tiny, these sea creatures are bought fresh each morning from the local fish market, along with other seafood delights like squid and ahi for poke and sashimi.

Other protein choices include marinated kalbi, barbecue beef and fried tofu, which Mihee says most customers enjoy wrapped in the palm-sized lettuce leaves, taco-style.

There also is a well-stocked hot station with rice and soups, along with a cold station brimming with tempura chicken wings, fried rice and fried noodles.

Even the desserts are healthy, with fresh fruits, Jell-o and rice juice replacing the stereotypical sugary sweets found at the end of most buffets.

The Jeons constantly change up the items in the buffet, which allows Mihee to experiment with new flavor profiles and marinades, which, she contends, are the secret to their success.

But one item that is a pleasurable constant at the Beretania eatery is Mihee’s homemade kimchee. Not too salty or sour, the kimchee is so popular, customers return almost daily for a taste.

“I’m always developing new things, depending on what is healthiest for the customer,” Mihee admits, making sure to note that they do not use MSG. “There are so many other restaurants (out there). That’s why we have to work so hard to offer something different.”

Yakiniku Camellia Buffet

  • Where
    • 2494 South Beretania Street
    • Honolulu, HI 96826
  • Call
    • (808) 944-0449
  • Hours
    • Open daily
    • 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (lunch)
    • 2:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. (dinner)
  • Notes
    • Free parking available.

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