“I wanted to bring a piece of K-Town to Hawai‘i,” says Los Angeles chef Chris Oh of his latest restaurant. Chingu, which means “friend” in Korean, is on track to open this April in Honolulu’s ritzy Waikiki neighborhood. It’s the first Oh-led restaurant outside of California and the first to focus on drinking as much as eating.
Oh rose to prominence in LA as a co-founder of Seoul Sausage Company and chef at Colombian-Korean restaurant Escala. In 2015, he opened Korean barbecue restaurant Hanjip with Stephane Bombet. It was praised for having the potential to revolutionize LA’s Korean barbecue scene and earned a positive review from Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold, but the restaurant abruptly closed in February.
Opening a restaurant in Hawai‘i was a longtime goal for Oh. “I love the food, I love the culture, I love the people. I think the weather is great,” he explains. “It’s really not a hard sell to open in Hawai‘i.“ Oh isn’t the first California chef to take his food to Honolulu. San Francisco pastry star Belinda Leong opened an outpost of B. Patisserie in Waikiki’s International Market Place, and fellow San Francisco chef Michael Mina opened a Stripsteak location in the same shopping center. In 2017, Mina opened nearby food hall, the Street, which houses a stall from Ayesha Curry.
Some of the Honolulu’s most essential restaurants focus on Korean cooking — including Korean plate lunch restaurants Soon’s Kal Bi Drive-In and Gina’s B-B-Q and the fish-focused Kyung’s Seafood — but Oh hopes to bring a different kind of Korean restaurant to the city. He wants Chingu to be a place Honolulu locals go to have a good time and describes it as a “bar-restaurant,” where the drinking is as important as the food. “The drunker you get, the better the food tastes,” Oh says, noting that drinking while eating is a part of Korean culture.
The food is designed with this in mind. The menu will feature updates on Korean classics, like barbecue chicken with melted cheese dip, bubbling pots of bulgogi, and table-side Korean barbecue. “You can go to a lot of places and get Korean food while you drink,” Oh says. “But what we want to do is give an updated version of it, and make it tastier and a little bit more welcoming to people that don’t understand Korean culture.”
The space, which will feature bright interiors and Korean street art, seats 100. It will be open for dinner until 2 a.m. to start. But, if locals embrace Oh’s particular style of K-Town dining in Waikiki, he’s open to adding other services at the restaurant.
Above all, he wants people to have fun at Chingu. “It’s a great way to bring my flavors and my swag to the island.”