First Look: Gen Korean BBQ House
Be sure to arrive with an appetite.
Left: Banchan and thinly sliced brisket. Right: Inside the restaurant at Ala Moana Center.
Photos: Maria Kanai
On a recent Saturday night, there was a seriously hungry crowd basking in the neon-blue lights outside Gen Korean BBQ House. A two-hour-wait kind of crowd. The all-you-can-eat yakiniku chain hailing from L.A. replaced former Tsukiji Fish Market & Restaurant at Ala Moana Center in March this year, and, like most new places that open in our town, it arrived with a lot of hype.
We weren’t keen on waiting, so we came back for a weekday lunch instead. At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, there was no line (although there was one by noon) and we were seated right away. Customers nearby were a diverse mix of families with babies, a huge group of seniors, touristy couples and a smattering of solo eaters. It’s a big space with a friendly and energetic, almost club-like vibe, seating up to 300 people. Mainstream pop music from Power 104.3 FM pulsed through the restaurant, the neon-blue theme framed the interior, and giant vents loomed above each table, but they weren’t intrusive.
The AYCE (all-you-can-eat) lunch is an astonishingly affordable $15.99, and comes with seven kinds of complimentary banchan, a big bowl of green salad, white rice and 28 kinds of meats, vegetables and seafood to eat during a two-hour time limit. There are nongrill items too, such as spicy popcorn chicken and tofu stew. Dinner’s $26.99, with a larger selection.
Our server rattled off his three favorites: beef bulgogi, premium Angus brisket and marinated finger short ribs. Get half orders of a dish to start, he recommended, so you can save room for different foods. Everything arrived promptly, and there was plenty of table space for it all. We also ordered jap chae (mixed vegetables with glass noodles), marinated garlic chicken with jalapeño cheese fondue, marinated pork belly with smoked garlic and Gen’s premium top blade steak.
Yes, it’s a lot of food—but it’s AYCE! The standouts, affirming our server’s good taste, were the tangy beef bulgogi, thinly sliced brisket and short ribs. In fact, a member of our party loved the short ribs so much, he ordered three of them. They were that good. It’s fun using the rice wrappers and the paper-thin daikon radish slices—two of the free banchan—and wrapping them around the meats.
The AYCE lunch was surprisingly afforable—and you get a lot of food. We grilled garlic chicken, short ribs and Gen’s premium steak.
For $15.99, we were impressed with the quality of the meats, too. They’re delicious and tender, even more elevated when dipped in Gen’s original sesame sauce and an interesting mixture of salt and green tea.
We also had excellent, fast service. For a new restaurant, the service is spot on. Water, rice bowls and banchan were all refilled right away, our grill changed four times so our meats didn’t get burned and all of our dishes showed up within minutes.
There are $3.98 macaron ice cream sandwiches at the restaurant front, and you can’t order them at your table. We tried the cappuccino and mango flavors on our way out, and they were OK. We wished that the macarons had that crackly, crunchy texture, rather than that of soft cakes.
But that was really our only complaint. Gen’s a fun, solid addition to the Honolulu dining scene and we guarantee you won’t leave hungry.
Ala Moana Center, Ho’okipa Terrace, Upper Level 4, near Macy’s, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 944-5227, genkoreanbbq.com