Menu Please: Kahuna’s Mongolian BBQ Livens Up Downtown Redding Dining

The term “Mongolian barbecue” was first used by Chinese actor Wu Jau-nan when he opened a restaurant in Taipei in 1951. In “Unmentionable Cuisine,” the late Calvin Schwabe described Mongolian barbecue as being Taiwanese and similar to certain cookery from Korea (bul-gogi) and Japan (teppanyaki and jingisukan).  The “legend” about Genghis Khan’s soldiers cooking their meals on their shields or helmets are amusing, but Femme de Joie finds it unlikely that entire armies would be sent out on lengthy campaigns with no thought to who was going to feed all those men and instead decide that they should just rustle up some grub on their own.

The building at 2151 Market Street in Redding has been a Bermuda Triangle of bars and restaurants, some good (River City Bar & Grill), some bad (a bar M. de Joie visited long ago to hear an astonishingly loud and spectacularly awful band; she has forgotten both the name of the bar and the band), and the neither here nor there (Zippers, Rainbow Lounge, Eddy’s Grill, et al). To stretch a metaphor beyond all reason, businesses in that spot became a Flying Dutchman of doom.  Femme de Joie thinks this may be because the location is apparently invisible; when she tries to describe it to someone (“South of Jiffy Lube. Kind of across from Mallory’s Florist”), the response is invariably furrowed brows and puzzled expressions.

Succeeding where its predecessors have failed is Kahuna’s Mongolian BBQ. Though kahuna is a Hawaiian word and Mongolian is, well, Mongolian,  the name seems appropriate for a Pan-Asian restaurant concept. It’s been packing them in for over a year and is one of the few downtown restaurants open every day for both lunch and dinner.

The interior has a tiki-bar kind of feel with a lot of fake orchids and wood paneling. When a customer is seated, waitstaff asks if they have ever been there before. If this is the first visit, the procedure is explained and your order for white or brown rice is taken.  Ramps and steps lead customers down to salad bar tables filled with a selection of thinly sliced meats, raw shrimp, parboiled noodles, vegetables, tofu, and eggs.

 

 

Diners fill a bowl with their choice of ingredients and then move to a sauce bar, where they choose as many sauces as they like (Thai chili sauce, beer, garlic oil, teriyaki ,and so forth) to ladle over the filled bowls. Just to the left of the sauce bar is a shelf with shakers of seasonings (thyme, chipotle, sesame oil, lime juice, etc.).  Moving to the left is an open window to the grill itself, a small selection of last-minute additions (peanuts, coconut, sesame seeds) to toss onto the now-brimming bowl before handing off the food to one of the cooks.

The cooks do a sort of ballet around the grill, maneuvering the food with a long pair of “swords.” When it’s cooked, the food is slid off the grill into a fresh bowl and handed back to the diner.

There is a certain sameness to what all the food looks like when it’s come off the grill, a sort of swirly brownness. The end result is really up to the diner and their wise (or not) choice of ingredients and sauces. It might be tempting, for instance, to load the bowl entirely with shrimp, and some people probably do that, but it’s more fun and interesting to combine a variety of vegetables and meat with different sauces. In theory you could eat at Kahuna several times a week and never have the same flavors, textures, or ingredients repeated.

Since Asian food is chockablock with allergens – soy, peanuts, gluten – a sign says that if you tell the cooks about your sensitivity they will clean the grill before cooking your food. Femme de Joie did not witness this happening on her visits so she cannot say exactly how they clean the grill – whether that means only scraping the top of all detritus or actually scrubbing the surface to remove trace amounts. This may seem frivolous to non-allergy sufferers, but a person with a peanut allergy could die if they ate a meal cooked on the same grill that previously had peanuts on it – so ask, ask, ask.

But there are a couple of things newbie diners ought to be aware of. From Kahuna’s website:

  • Lunch includes one bowl of stir-fry and  rice, $10.99  (you may take your leftovers home).
  • Dinner is  TWO times through buffet line maximum, including our  steamed white rice, and flour tortillas  $14.99  (If you do not finish your first bowl you make take that home, but if you do get a second there will be no to go boxes
  • Seniors (65 and older) and children (5-10)  –  Lunch $10.49   – Dinner $12.99    (same as Dinner explanation)

So if Femme de Joie understand this correctly: you may buy dinner for $14.99, for which you are entitled to two trips through the buffet line. If you do not finish your second bowl of food – which you own, since the understood contract between a diner and a restaurant is that the customer pays for their food – you cannot keep it. The restaurant will throw your food away. Bad customer!  At lunch, it turns out, you get one trip through the buffet line BUT (what the website does not tell you) is that if you want shrimp or lamb (which are included on the dinner buffet), that is $3.00 extra – making the lunch buffet cost as much as dinner, but you get half as much.

Femme de Joie must be missing something here. Such a policy can only result in arguments between customers and waitstaff, who will suffer the brunt of righteous anger, and waste of perfectly good food. However, the website does not say that a customer cannot place the leftover food in their own to-go box (which are available in bulk at Cash and Carry) or a piece of aluminum foil, thoughtfully folded and tucked into a pocket before entering the restaurant.  And really: $12.99 for a five-year-old’s dinner? If management is afraid of grifter children and seniors defrauding them left and right, perhaps a look at “small” meal option is in order.

Other than that, Femme de Joie likes Kahuna’s. It’s rather fun, you know exactly what you’re getting, and staff is friendly and helpful (though they do tend to disappear after they’ve delivered your drink and rice). It does get crowded with long lines, so visiting before or after peak dining hours is suggested.

Kahuna’s Mongolian BBQ, 2151 Market Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-244-4200. Open daily, 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Cash and cards. Beer, wine, low-alcohol cocktails. Vegan and vegetarian options. Gluten-free and other special diets accommodated (but ask about how the grill is cleaned). Parking lot. Outdoor seating available. Website at http://kahunasmongolianbbq.com/

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Chamberlain, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com

Femme de Joie
Femme de Joie's first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.
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34 Responses

  1. Avatar CoachBob says:

    I called to see the prices (to take the combo there after one of our jobs, five of us) and we’d pay out of our band fund. After hearing the $14.99 for dinner and add, say an iced tea, we’re looking at a twenty dollar bill each. If we’re gonna do that we can go to Olive Garden for all the soup and salad you want (with a dinner) and come out way ahead. Or HomeTown Buffet and really rock out for about $14 total. I enjoyed Kahunas when first opened …. then they did the typical…raised their prices out of our range. And, that silly deal of not taking the food home? Hmmm? Makes me think of some of the stupid deals at the Cedar Tree in Palo Cedro…$3.50 for coffee or tea, pay extra for toast with breakfast….just silly things people do in the restaurant biz.

  2. Avatar name says:

    I am glad to see that there is finally something in that location that may be able to last for a while. Wishing them continued success. (I have not been there yet).

  3. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    I have eaten there for both lunch and dinner. I love the whole Mongolian Bar-b-que concept for the reasons you state. It’s up to each individual what flavors they chose and the combinations are totally individual. This is one of the better ones I’ve visited. I’ve never felt the need to make a 2nd trip thru the line, but it’s nice to have that option. And yes, I agree with Bob and Mme. de Joie that the pricing is a little skewed. There are better deals to be found around town.
    Also agree with the timing in order to miss the long lines.
    I wish them well and hope the place is a success.

  4. Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

    On my first trip to Kahuna’s, it was with a friend who does not eat pork or shellfish. She told that to the cook’s, and they thoroughly cleaned the cooking surface. In fact they have cleaned the ENTIRE surface, not just her area, wiping it down and spraying it (it might be water, which creates steam). I remember that my friend seemed very satisfied that they had cleaned it well enough for her. I’m not sure if/how they clean the cooking sticks, but I’m betting they do. And they do it right in front of you, so you get to supervise and make sure it’s done to your satisfaction.

  5. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    The pricing structure is odd; however, I overlook it since Kahuna’s is about my favorite place to eat — all those fresh vegetables, shaved meats, and a very nice selection of beer on tap. Perhaps instead of having a price for two trips through the line at dinner, the owner would consider having larger bowls for dinner and the smaller ones for lunch. Since the owner took my suggestion to heart about the sauce bar — make it longer with just one container deep so that customers aren’t dragging sauce from the back containers over the front containers, dripping sauce all over the area — maybe he would consider this suggestion, too. We did try the competition (Co Co), and it was fine, but the sauce selection was not nearly so large nor was the beer selection.

  6. Avatar DougM says:

    Moonstone Bistro prices and Chucky Cheese food. I won’t be back. Save your frustration and go somewhere else.

  7. Avatar Jedediah says:

    Coco was cheaper for similar, but the sauce bar was an issue (just look at Yelp).

  8. Avatar Jaylee says:

    I Love Kahunas!!! This article was great bt made something sound confusing. This is the best reastaurant in town for Mongolian BBQ. The place is clean and customer serive is superb the wait staff is very attentive and owners almost all the time visable showinng they do care. The line is full of fresh vegetables and meats and now have added seafood. The cooks are very personable and helful. Many flavor options on the sauce bar and topings. The price really is $14.99 and you get so much food its redicoulous. You can go through and make one large bowl and take left overs home or two small bowls and be plenty full it is a good fair price. You try eating anywhere inn town and get that much food thats healthy and see what you pay for it. The sauces are homemade and if anyone out there knows how to cook will know how spendy these items can be to make. Most traditional mongolian bbq’s offer water down sauces and flavored waters and oils inexpensive meats and thats why they are cheaper. This place is different definetly an american style place. And i will gladly pay $14,99 to eat healthy have flavor and feel good about what my children are eating. Gluten free choices are my favorite things. NOW to help try and clear up the confusion, as any type buffet you cant take left overs home period!! I can’t help but laugh at the people that don’t understand this concept. Really people, you are not buying two bowls you are purchasing one bowl but if your still hungry go again. It’s not difficut to understand. I think this place has done an incrediable job on the development of an amazing restaurant that Redding needed even against all odds. Congrats Kahunas!!! You ALL are doing a fanstastic job and my family are truly your fans.

  9. Avatar Joanna Tellez says:

    I have eaten here since the beginning many times. I love the variety of meats & fresh vegetables. The staff is incredible! Very helpful and friendly. My favorite part is the infused iced teas and amazing drinks the bartender ‘ s create. All are very consistent if it is an alcoholic beverage. The “Grill Warriors ” always call me by name adding that personal touch when I am waiting for my bowl to be cooked. The server’s explain everything before you even get started. The Lamb & Shrimp are served at dinner only but are offered during lunch service for an additional charge. Now, scallops & mussels are also served at dinner service and offered for lunch. If you order 2 of these at lunch you are charged dinner price of $14.99 & are allowed to go through the making of a second bowl. The thing people aren’t understanding is that this is not a buffet. It is a Mongolian BBQ. You wouldn’t ask for a to go box at “Hometown Buffet”. (Because it is a buffet ) I love going to eat here. At least once a week I’m getting my bowl on.

  10. Avatar Dwina says:

    American Style Mongolian BBQ Yes, it’s not asian, and its helathy!!! Gluten free no msg homemade sauces and noodles good quality meat at an afforadable price. Hints why place is always packed even a year into it. I do have an allergy and they use water to clean and steam the grill at any time a customer wants it done. Kahunas does it right, great service and cooks and incrediable reviews. Another one in town opened it;s horrible and its a typical asian style mongolian bbq cheaper not only in price in quality also. I love mongolian BBQ and try them whereever my husband and I go and this place Kahunas is the best one I have ever ate at. I have to add I loved the article until i reached the part of the person writing article tells you to “steal ,”seriously take your own togo boxes or put foil in your pocket…thats horrible!!! You shoudl be ashamed to say something like that. No place allows anyone to eat that much food and take as much as they want home too. common sense right there. No one is forced to go but if you want to have some great food and flavor then well CHOSE TO EAT AND ENJOY KAHUNAS

  11. Avatar Cindy Evers says:

    I love Kahuna’s, the food and atmosphere are well worth the money. When we went we had great service and we were well informed as to the process. We will return for sure!!

  12. Avatar Sammy says:

    I love kahunas I think you get more then enough food for your money!! And such great food and service, always.

  13. Avatar Debbie H says:

    I love Kahunas! The food is great and the staff is amazing!! Worth every penny. Here to many many years of eating at Kahunas.

  14. Avatar Aria says:

    Kahunas is one of my favorite places to go for dinner or lunch! This article is spot on until you get to the end. The author mentions hometown buffet while criticizing kahunas to go policy but does not state that you can’t take to gos with you from their either. I think it’s fair enough that you pay for what you get, good, quality food and service. You should come check it out and not take the word of someone that would tell you to steal.

  15. We love Kahunas and their healthy food choices. I love the homemade sauce creations. One bowl is plenty of food for a persons stomach! I learned to make a small bowl so they didn’t have to throw too much away. The price is amazing. The servers, cooks, and owners are the best. Eat at Kahunas!

  16. Avatar Rocco says:

    Kahunas Rocks!!! From a man that eats at Kahunas at least twice a month and I mean i make a very large bowl I don’t understand the confusion its a bunch of no need drama. This place has amazing food and GREAT prices a family place. My kids love it and my 5 year old does not get charged infact they allow my 5 year old and 6 year old share one bowl and my 3 year old is alowed to eat free off my wifes bowl or mine they just bring us a plate for her. So check it out lady before you bash something that we all want to stay succesful and open you might want to know more of the facts. I have never been to any mongoian bbq or buffet in genral that you could ever even take your first bowl if not finished to go thats just the way it is. At Kahunas you buy ONE BOWL at $14,99 and if your still hungry get the second BUT stupid people out there you don’t get to eat and take one to go thats just luticrest they could not stay in business if more people thought like that. I feel the genreal consense of Kahunas is EXELLENT FOOD, SERVICE, FLAVOR, and PRICING theres only maybe 1% that feel differently. I would highly suggest every family to take there kids and wife and go in and enjoy some good food and fill your bowl and just be happy that we have a restaurant like this in town!!!!!! Thank you Kahunas

  17. Avatar Carrie says:

    I’m confused on the advice to bring your own to go box or foil? I’m actually shocked that was even suggested….. I LOVE Kahunas restaurant and the friendly staff. I’m happy that a small family business is here and doing so well. So good for you kahunas you must be doing something right to have these kind of articles written about you. I will definitely be back soon!!

  18. Does anyone else have the feeling that some of these comments weren’t exactly organic?

    • Avatar Jeff Gore says:

      A sudden influx of different mononyms using commas to delineate dollars from cents? Seems legit…

    • Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

      Thank you….I was getting a bit dizzy. There I’m better there.

  19. Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

    Gentle Readers:

    All these comments have certainly been enlightening, especially the creative spelling that livens up the repetitive cut-and-paste nature of some of this evening’s remarks.

    Femme de Joie is also fascinated by one comment that states she referenced Hometown Buffet in her review. Try though she might, she simply cannot find it in the article, and would be ever so grateful if someone – perhaps one of the young people who all found time between 5:46 PM and 8:47 PM to write down their very original and non-coerced thoughts – could point out where she mentioned that other establishment.

    Lastly, Femme de Joie would like to thank the fine people at Yelp, who mine out the “reviews that are not currently recommended” from the legitimate reviews. Otherwise one might think that Kahuna’s owner’s two five-star reviews were objective and unsolicited, and not merely to drum up business. Of course, Femme de Joie tries to think the best about everyone and believes that all of these comments were of the writers’ own accord and personal deeply-held beliefs.

    Thanks for reading and commenting,
    Femme de Joie

  20. Avatar CoachBob says:

    Yep, much like the Searchlights “Best of Redding” joke, I was thinking the ballot box was being stuffed by employees.

  21. Avatar George Parker says:

    I dunno, but I love Kahuna’s. The food is fresh and healthy…and *quick*! Seems to me that *any* fresh and healthy food you get is going to be a little pricier than average, so that was not an issue for me. I went there for a work lunch once and ran into my chiropractor, who had taken his entire staff out. If you know how picky my chiropractor is about food, that’s saying something right there. Kahuna’s is one of the top three ‘go-to’ places in Redding for me.

  22. Avatar Canda Williams says:

    We love Kahuna’s and especially enjoy the new outdoor seating. Fresh and delicious food, and incredible homemade sauces! One of our go-to places!

  23. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    What a great article! Thank you Femme de Joie. I am not cheap, but I have a “meat to vegetable and carbohydrate” calculator that I can’t shut off in my head. Ever. I loved the venue and the wait staff and performance around the round grill. Any disappointment I felt about the food I ate was my fault. Again, thank you for this article!

  24. Avatar Richard C. says:

    My wife and I have eaten at Kahuna’s many times ( it is within walking distance of home), and have often taken family and friends there for both lunch and dinner. And though I agree that some of the glowing reviews above are, shall we say, suspiciously similar and perhaps self-serving, we certainly agree on their general content. The food is excellent, service friendly and efficient, and the atmosphere is comfortable. But we agree with Doni that the pricing structure of lunch vs. dinner is quite odd. Nonetheless, we are fans of Kahuna’s and always look forward to the consistently dining experience.

    BTW, thank you for the recent review of the Thai Hut, which we had not previously known existed. We have since eaten there several times, and have found the food, service, and value to be superb. Even my Thai brother-in-law found it to be exceptional.

    • Richard, just to clarify, I am not Femme de Joie. Her identity is a secret, as are the identities of all authentic restaurant reviewers.

      But I’m flattered you thought so.

      🙂

  25. Avatar Hal Johnson says:

    Dining at Kahuna’s has transformed my life. Since I became a frequent patron there, my reading comprehension has improved, I’m running a mile in less than five minutes, and the acne on my buttocks has cleared up.

    Okay, none of that is true, but I did eat there once, and I liked it.

  26. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    As I stated above, Kahuna’s is my favorite place to eat in Redding. But as Femme de Joie said, the pricing structure is very odd. Case in point: I went there this afternoon at 4:30 which meant that dinner pricing was in effect. I was having an order to go which I frequently do in the early afternoon. As Femme de Joie pointed out, at dinner, a customer can make two trips through the line but take-away isn’t allowed for the second trip. That’s fair. Lunch is one pass through the line but any leftovers can be taken in a to-go box. Again, fair. But when purchasing a meal to go after 4:00, the box is the same size as the lunch to-go box, but the price is upped to the dinner price. I wonder why an evening to-go order isn’t priced the same as a lunch to-go order when the same size box is provided. Splitting hairs? I suppose. But the price of dinner is several dollars more than lunch. I’ll still continue to patronize Kahuna’s, but if I’m taking an order home, I’ll go before 4:00 — or eat there even though I never go through the line a second time. But if I choose to go through the line a second time, it’s free.

  27. Avatar Chris K says:

    I went in there once shortly after it first opened to have a beer while waiting for my oil to be changed at Jiffy Lube next door.
    I asked the bartender gal if I could see a menu to get an idea of what kind of food this new place served.
    She replied that they don’t have menus there and that you picked out the things you wanted from the tables and then took it over to the kitchen window to have it cooked for you.
    This seemed kind of confusing to me, so I settled for just the beer.

    But it all looked really neat so I have to check out the food sometime.

    • Avatar EasternCounty says:

      You won’t be sorry. It’s great food and a fun way of eating. You choose what you like, watch it being grilled, and eat hearty. Then the next time you go, you are more prepared when choosing the sauces. The pricing structure, however, can be confusing.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      That’s actually not a bad idea, to print up some sheets with the menu items you can choose from and make that available to patrons. On one side you could list the ingredients (the meats, vegetables, adornments) and on the other list the sauce and prepared sauce mixes available, with their ingredients. This way people could actually sort of plan out what they want ahead of time, maybe cutting short a little bit the queue once people actually start filling their bowls. I know I felt a little bit pressured to keep moving on when I was in the sauce lane because I wanted to check everything out and see what it was, but there were people behind me, so I hurried myself along a bit more than I really wanted to.