Kona Cafe at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is one of the most recommended restaurants on property, probably for a number of reasons. First, the resort where it’s located is one of the most iconic at Walt Disney World. But when your competition is Saratoga Springs…
And even if you’re not staying there, it’s relatively convenient via the (occasionally operating) Resort Monorail or (pending weather) watercraft from Magic Kingdom or the Grand Floridian. So if you’re looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the theme park, heading out and taking a leisurely trip during the heat of the day may make sense. You might remember that I did exactly that a few weeks ago in this ‘Ohana breakfast review. And because the resorts are typically least busy from 11am-4pm, it’s usually easy to walk up to a resort table service restaurant and get a table without much of a wait, although you always want to book a reservation as soon as you know you want to eat at a restaurant.
Tonga Toast is arguably second to only Mickey Waffles among iconic Disney World breakfasts.
Lunch is my favorite meal here with some familiar flavors mixed in with some Polynesian flair. The Pot Stickers and Sticky Wings are, of course, ‘Ohana famous, just like me.
But pricing is relatively reasonable with most entrees in the $15-$18 range. With the Pecos Bill Taco Burger at $15.99 in its own right, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that your money is probably better spent here. On the other hand, the website typically recommends eating where you are on first, second, and potentially third (and subsequent) trips. It can be fun and relaxing to head to a resort for what will almost certainly be a better meal, but the quintessential part of a Walt Disney World vacation is the theme parks. And if visiting the Polynesian is going to take an extra 90 minutes compared to eating at Cosmic Ray’s, you may not want to invest that time if it means missing out on key theme park attractions.
I’ve enjoyed a number of meals here over the years, including this $16 “Polynesian Plate Lunch – Grilled Teriyaki Steak with Grilled Pineapple Salsa served with Sticky Rice and Pasta Salad.” And while you do get what you pay for in that this isn’t akin to Disney’s standard $35 dinner steak, it’s hard not to see some value in a steak lunch at a hamburger price.
The “Pan-fried Chicken with Coconut and Mango Sauces” for the same money.
The $22 Pan-Asian Noodles with Shrimp – Yakisoba Noodles, Wok-seared with Vegetables in a Ginger-Garlic Sauce is a nice, filling seafood entree with a little bit of spice.
But enough about the past as we have the $8 “Steamed Pork Buns with Cider-braised Pork, spicy Hoisin Sauce, and Granny Apple Slaw with Roasted Brown Rice Vinaigrette.”
These are well thought out with the crispy, slightly sweet slaw contrasting nicely with the spicy sauce, soft bun, and tender beef, which also had a vinegary sweetness to it from the vinaigrette and cider-braise. At two for eight dollars, these easily shareable buns wouldn’t be a bad way for two people to start their meal.
One comparison we can make now that we couldn’t a couple of years ago is with Morimoto Asia. Obviously there are pros and cons about visiting Disney Springs versus Polynesian Village Resort, but I think Morimoto offers better quality items with a larger variety of flavors. And while Kona now officially “infuses a bit of Asian zest into traditional American meals,” a lot of that zest is going to be executed better at Morimoto. Above are the $10 “Kalbi Bao – Short Rib, Kimchi, Scallions, Soft-steamed Bao Buns,” which are also available with pork for $8, from Morimoto Street Food at Disney Springs. Much more authentic, nuanced flavor.
Back to Kona, where the $9 “Pot Stickers – Wok-seared Pork and Vegetable Dumplings with a Soy-Ginger Sauce” might be considered comfort food. These delicate dumplings always have a nice crispy sear to them before giving way to the crunchy, meaty interior with just a little spice. The creamy sauce offers a nice salty component with just a touch of sweetness. They’re pretty fantastic and nearly universally loved, though the price point isn’t fantastic given the four pieces. But I can’t think of any potstickers that I’ve enjoyed more on property, including those found at Morimoto or Nine Dragons, though the shu mai at Skipper Canteen and Morimoto offer more nuanced flavors. And Nine Dragons is of course the best restaurant ever.
The $11 Grilled Beef Satay – Skewers of marinated Grilled Beef served with Bulgogi Sauce.
These were on the bland, chewy side of the spectrum, especially compared to Paddlefish’s $15 offering that I enjoyed a couple of days later. There is perhaps a decent amount of beef here, though the lunch steak offering is only $5 more. Still, the whole skewer thing is kind of fun and the sauce has some nice garlic and pepper notes with a touch of sesame. These probably aren’t going to rock your world, but they’re “just fine.”
In the past, I’ve tried the $13 Lump Crab Cakes with Jalapeño-Lime Cream, which are a bit strange in that the texture is similar to a potato pancake filled with a whipped seafood spread rather than your typical lump crab. The flavor is there and the cream offers a nice zip, but you might want to save your money for BOATHOUSE.
And of course, the popular $10 “Sticky Wings – Glazed Chicken Wings with tangy Mustard Drizzle and Toasted Sesame Seeds” that are available from a number of outlets around the Poly Villy.
Cocktails are available and they should be able to fix you anything Tambu would offer:
The sake and plum wine selection is a nice touch.
I tried the $10.75 Kona Cool Sundown – A refreshing blend of Vodka, Chambord, and Cranberry Juice. And that’s exactly what it was.
The $16 Loco-Moco – Traditional Hawaiian Brunch staple which features a tower of Rice, a grilled Hamburger Patty, House-made Chorizo Gravy, Two Eggs-Any Style, and topped with a Tomato Salsa. It’s also on the breakfast menu for two dollars less.
This is a relatively new addition to the menu though there’s certainly a reason it’s been a staple elsewhere. The rice provides a nice firm base for the standard hamburger patty, which is probably the weakest link in the dish. But the chorizo gravy has a meaty spice to it and makes for a really delightful creamy texture with the fried egg on top adding a little crispiness. The tomato salsa tops things off with a bright red color and some fresh flavors to liven everything up. It’s probably not the most authentic representation of the classic dish, but it comes together nicely and is a filling entree with some unique flavors.
The $18 “Kona Surf and Turf Burger Deluxe – Our Grilled Angus Chuck Burger topped with Passion Fruit-Onion Jam, Spicy Fried Shrimp, and Sweet Potato Fries.”
Kona has offered a similar burger for years now.
The sweet potato fries have a really nice crispiness to them and it “feels” like they accompany the burger better than your typical french fry. The course salt adds an addictive quality that makes it difficult to stop eating them.
I ordered this one with Brie, Spicy Fried Shrimp, and Black Garlic Aioli back in 2013. But the current version is pretty good with the sweet passion fruit in the jam contrasting nicely with the chunky onion. The shrimp have a nice crispiness to them and the subtle spice adds a needed kick of flavor given the lack of cheese. It’s an above average burger that would certainly be worth $2 or $3 more than Magic Kingdom quick service if you get the opportunity.
I ordered the Fish Taco – Seared White Fish with Tomato Salsa and Mango Mayonnaise served in a Taco Shell with Pasta Salad and Smokey Bacon Slaw.
Three tacos arrive to an order, each filled with very lightly breaded and fried fish underneath the greens and tomato. The dominant flavor was the sweet mango from the creamy mayonnaise, but there wasn’t enough of it with the fish offering a pretty generic fish flavor and little spice in the breading. Each taco was pretty bland with the corn in the tortilla overpowering the filling, which seems like it’s not what we want.
I like cold pasta salad, but Kona’s doesn’t seem to have a lot of flavor, despite seemingly including all of the pieces that should make a flavorful pasta salad. You should be able to switch it out for the sweet potato fries if you like.
Sushi is also available at the restaurant, the Kona Island bar to the left of the restaurant, or to go from the Island bar:
And I think they typically do a pretty nice job here, offering sushi better than your typical grocery store, but perhaps not as good as your favorite place back home.
The Kona Combo Plate, for example.
The Volcano Roll is always presented in a fun way, though it’s less authentic without a freeway running alongside it and a larger hole in the middle.
This is the Sashimi, which comes with salmon, tuna, and the chef’s choice, which in this case is hamachi, in addition to four pieces of tuna roll. It’s not a ton of food for $17, but it’s packed with protein and surprisingly filling with some fresh flavors.
Overall, Kona Cafe is a good excuse to visit Disney’s Polynesian Resort, offering better food than you’d find at the majority of Magic Kingdom restaurants, at prices that are typically closer to quick service. I don’t think it’s overwhelmingly better than the majority of resort restaurants, but the flavors are largely straightforward with some twists that most people will recognize. The Wave at the Contemporary is your best bet for quality food around this price point for both lunch and dinner. But Kona is potentially more vibrant and casual, but also busier and less intimate.
Still, consider that to an extent, “food is food.” And eating at Columbia Harbour House may be a better investment than spending two hours traveling to and eating at Kona. On the other hand, if you’ve “seen it,” then you may appreciate the break. Those that spend some time enjoying the Polynesian’s grounds will find the most value.