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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 22, 2006

Kunia residents get a taste of Korean cuisine

Mary Ann Armas, front, and Beth Pascual say the "Pearl's Special" is the most popular combination.

Photo by Randy T. Fujimori

Pearl's Korean BBQ

Where: 94-673 Kupuohi St., Kunia Shopping Center

Call: 678-1188

Hours: Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Sundays

Note: Catering orders are welcomed. Free delivery is available with a minimum order of $350.

Spicy barbecue pork, kim chee pack fiery punch

On a scale of 1-10, Pearl's Korean BBQ manager Mary Ann Armas rates the spicy pork somewhere between 5 and 6 on the heat index.

"We still ask our customers if they want it even spicier," said Armas, who helped open this Pearl's Kunia location last September. "But we warn them that it's already spicy since it's marinated in a hot sauce."

Luckily, cold sides of macaroni salad, watercress, broccoli and bean sprouts help cool off the taste buds. (A gulp of water also helps.)

With locations in Kahala, Manoa, Pearlridge and now this newest one in Kunia, Pearl's Korean BBQ is quickly becoming a household name.

"And we're planning to open more," said the enterprising Mike Hickey, who co-owns the stores with his brother Jim. "We're already looking at a few more locations right now. The sky's the limit."

While Pearl's offers "fast food," the main entrees are made to order. So, patrons can always count on having their spicy pork or kal bi ribs piping hot.

"We had one customer come in and tell us she could smell the aroma from outside," Armas said. "And that's what drew her in here."

Others come because of the portions. One guest last week came in hungry, but still asked for a styrofoam box to pack his leftovers.

"I can't even finish our mini plates; it's really a lot of food," Armas said. "We get families of four who'll order two of our plates and share them."

Portions here are sizeable, especially the "Pearl's Special" ($8.59), a heaping mound of barbecue beef, chicken and kalbi, surrounded by two scoops of rice and four generous servings of side vegetables.

"We have a person come in at 8:30 in the morning to prepare all these," said counter person Beth Pascual, pointing to stainless steel chafing dishes brimming with kim chee, spiced cucumber, seaweed, long rice, tofu, corn, fried potato salad, shredded daikon, somen noodles, shoyu potatoes and bean sprouts.

The same person is responsible for forming kim chee pancakes.

"Ew, what's that?" said Armas, crinkling her nose to imitate customer's initial reaction when told about the kim chee pancake. "But we let them try it and they love it."

Made with potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and green and red onions, the three- to four-inch fried pancake is a delicious accompaniment with the fish jun ($5.99 for a mini plate or $7.59 as a regular portion) or the kal bi and barbecue chicken combination ($8.29).

But it's also goes well with the yook gae jan ($7.29), a fiery soup garnish with long rice and egg or the crispy chicken katsu, which easily rivals those found at Japanese restaurants.

"We get a lot of area residents who'll call their orders in and then pick it up for dinner," Armas said. "We're quick, we're affordable and we offer tasty food."