Most of us know that Kona Cafe at Disney’s Polynesian Resort is one of the best-kept dining secrets in all of Walt Disney World.
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But these days, it’s becoming less a secret, and more of an established must-eat! If your list of advance dining reservations doesn’t include at least one meal here, then you’re sorta missing out.
What about lunch, though? Well, I’m so glad you asked…
I’ve said it before, and to date, nothing has changed: the atmosphere at Kona Cafe is boring. This is one spot at Disney World that you aren’t frequenting for the epic design choices.
The vibe is “modernized hotel lobby kind of Hawaiian chic.” And by “modernized,” I do mean last decade. That’s not to say that it’s unpleasant. You just (probably) won’t be squealing with delight as you take in every element.
Seating is functional and comfortable. I prefer these round tables to the other options however, since I feel a little less constricted here.
There are some interesting decor elements we should point out, though, especially if you look up or down. To begin, you have the seriously awesome natural light that comes from the skylights above. This is a great touch, since there are few combinations more wonderful to dine in than natural light and air conditioning.
These frosted glass “leaves” break up the monotony of the ceiling nicely and also soften the light a bit.
The fans here are one of the elements that brings “Polynesia” to this restaurant, and they keep the air circulating to make for a more comfortable space. Patterns on the amber light shades are reminiscent of Polynesian art as well.
Carpeting includes vibrant colors that remind you of a tropical setting. Be sure to look closely at those flowers — you just might discover a little surprise!
If you’re looking for a quiet place to dine, please keep in mind that Kona Cafe is located off of the open atrium at the Polynesian Resort in Disney World. There is waterfall noise, plus the general hubbub that you’d associate with a busy hotel lobby. It’s not ridiculously loud in my opinion, however — especially mid-day when most folks are in the parks.
Conversation and relaxation are still completely possible here, and this restaurant is one of our favorite “escapes” from the Magic Kingdom.
As such, after a hot, busy morning enjoying Magic Kingdom, it was a huge pleasure to hop on the monorail and take a ride straight to our lunch destination away from the park.
Note that the menu has changed just a little since our visit. But many of the options remain the same.
The lunch menu at Kona is distinct from the dinner menu, offering a few lighter options as well as sandwiches. I found lots of tempting choices here!
We decided to start our meal with an order of the Sticky Wings…of course we did. These bear more than a passing resemblance to the wings served as part of the ‘Ohana feast, as well as the ones served at Tambu Lounge (read our review of that hip spot here). And I am completely fine with that.
Sweet and savory, the wings run a close second to my favorite Buffalo-style option. The Mustard Dipping Sauce provides a little tang on the side to balance the sweetness.
I enjoy starting my meal with soup (yes. yes I do.), and for the most part, Disney restaurants really excel at this course. I went for the only soup on the menu — the Portuguese Bean and Sausage Soup.
Incidentally, this is the only dish that we had that you won’t find on the current menu. Right now, Kona is featuring Thai-Spiced Watermelon Soup. I imagine soups are changed with some frequency to reflect the seasons.
As for this soup, I enjoyed it. I reminded me a bit of a minestrone, but with the addition of sausage that’s similar to chorizo. I’m guessing it’s Linguiça, a smoked and cured Portuguese sausage. It brought a little smoky-spiciness to the broth, which I enjoyed.
Next, it was time to turn our attention to entrees, and both my husband and I were in the mood for beef (shocker).
We are big fans of the Hawai’ian Islands, so it’s always a treat to see something on the menu that reminds us of the culture there. Kona Cafe features two lunch items termed as Polynesian Plate Lunches. Both feature Sticky Rice and Pasta Salad as sides. You may choose between Pan-fried Chicken with Coconut and Mango Sauces, or Grilled Teriyaki Steak with Grilled Pineapple Salsa. I went for the latter.
The marinated steak is grilled before it’s garnished with the warm Pineapple Salsa. While the meat is cooked a little more than I’d like, it’s not dry at all, and the marinade and salsa add some moistness. It would actually be kind of nice to cut the steak into strips and eat it with the rice, like a stir fry. The more you know!
The mayonnaise-dressed Pasta Salad was fine, but nothing particularly memorable. But anything with mayonnaise is pretty much not my thing, so you might try this and lurve it.
My husband went for the interesting burger option on the menu, the Kona Surf and Turf Burger Deluxe. The burger is served with a side of Sweet Potato Fries.
Let’s talk a little about this burger, because it’s completely outrageous! The large Angus Chuck Patty is topped with Brie and Spicy Fried Shrimp. Yes…that’s Brie…and Fried Shrimp. On a burger.
It’s served with a side of Black Garlic Aioli, and the interplay of flavors and textures is pretty awesome. And even though we’ve seen a few other burgers that feature seafood around the World, this one is something special with the addition of creamy, strong French cheese and the unique flavor of black garlic in the decadent aioli.
(By the way, if you’re looking for a more mainstream burger experience, a Grilled Angus Chuck Bacon Cheeseburger is also available.)
While we both thoroughly enjoyed our entrees, we left a little room for something sweet. Desserts have changed up a bit since our last Kona lunch visit, but favorites are still available like the Kilauea Torte and the Banana-Chocolate Creme Brulee. The Pineapple Upside Down Cake is a staple here, of course.
But we couldn’t pass up the chance to have a legendary Kona Kone! And we were surprised to see that this is a completely different Kona Kone than we were used to!
The ice cream sundae is now built within a house made waffle bowl instead of an actual cone — so be prepared if you were used to the old version. It’s still topped with Chocolate Sauce, Mickey Sprinkles, M&Ms, and a Mickey Chocolate Candy.
And if that’s not enough sugar for you, it’s surrounded by fluffy pillows of blue Cotton Candy. This one is certain to bring out your inner child, and it’s definitely ample enough to share.
We also decided to sample the Pineapple Upside Down Cake once again. This cake, served with Lemon Grass and Caramel Sauces, has also been on the menu for years. While it’s not terribly original, it’s a very good version of this classic dessert, and worth a try if it’s one of your favorites.
And with that, our meal came to an end. With a good, relaxing lunch, we were ready to tackle the parks a bit more!
Kona Cafe’s great reputation remains unchanged. While it’s masquerading as just a plain ol’ hotel lobby restaurant, you and I know differently. With food that is interesting as it celebrates the flavors of Asia and the South Seas, just about everything I’ve ever sampled here has been excellent.
But I think its biggest charm lies actually in its location. While we have mentioned that the atmosphere here isn’t interesting, where it’s located — on the monorail line — is. That location makes it the perfect spot for a relaxed lunch away from the parks. If you’re like me, you appreciate the opportunity to remove yourself from the festive park atmosphere and decompress a bit in the middle of the day. There are few places where you can accomplish this feat any better than at Kona Cafe.
Is Kona Cafe one of your favorite dining spots? Get involved in the conversation by leaving a comment below!