Kona Cafe: More Than Just Tonga Toast
When it comes to breakfast at Disney World, the Kona Café at the Polynesian Resort is one of my personal favorites. With mouthwatering offering such as their Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes and Tonga Toast, it is no surprise that Kona Café is an incredibly popular dining location and is typically packed each and every morning. For all the hype it receives for breakfast, however, I had heard far less about what the dining experience is like at Kona Café for lunch or dinner. Since most visitors to Disney World are typically out and about in the parks during the middle of the day, many of the restaurants at the resorts tend to be overlooked. Therefore, I was very intrigued to see if lunch at Kona Café lived up to the outstanding meals I have had there for breakfast.
Disney's Polynesian Resort has always been one of my favorites. The resort's quiet and tranquil South Seas feel completely makes you forget that you are just a short Monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom. Whether lying on the beach or by the pool, the Polynesian is the perfect spot to relax and unwind.
This resort is also a great place to go to have something to eat. Not only does the Polynesian feature one of the most popular restaurants in all of Disney World, Ohana, but also the family-friendly and entertaining Spirit of Aloha Polynesian Luau. It is easy to see how Kona Café might get overlooked by its two better-known counterparts. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Kona Café is a great dining option any time of day and offers a calm, quiet meal in a casual and relaxed setting. This makes Kona Café the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.
One of the most striking features of Kona Café is its sense of openness. Located on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House, the Kona Café overlooks the resort's lobby, featuring ample sunlight pouring in from the glass ceiling above and even a glimpse of the plants, flowers, and fountains on the floor below.
With the restaurant being so open, one might think that it would be noisy with many Guests passing by as they make their way into and out of the resort. This, however, is not the case. Despite its large, open feel, the restaurant's dining room is actually fairly small, creating a more intimate setting in which to enjoy your meal.
The restaurant's color palette of red, orange, and yellow make for a very warm and inviting atmosphere.
This is aided by large windows that, during the day, help to bathe the dining room in natural light.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is one that is casual and laid-back, reflective of its Hawaiian and South Seas theming. This theming is carried on in subtle ways throughout the dining room. Along the walls are numerous carvings and masks highlighting the skill and craftsmanship of Polynesian artists.
The tropical theme is carried farther with carpeting that features a motif of large, colorful flowers and palm fronds.
Even the light fixtures overhead lend to the exotic, tropical feel.
The Kona Café thus continues the overall feel of the resort. Just as the Polynesian provides a relaxing escape for those Guests staying at the resort, so too does the Kona Café during the course of your meal. It's casual feel makes the restaurant a great option for families with children while its quiet atmosphere and smaller size help create a more intimate setting that also make it a good option for adults and couples as well.
One of the best things about the Kona Café is its easy accessibility. Located right on the Magic Kingdom Monorail line, the Polynesian Resort is easily accessible from almost anywhere on Disney property. It is thus somewhat surprising that the restaurant is not more crowded during its lunch and dinner hours, but I think this adds to its allure. It is a restaurant to which you can go, especially for lunch, to escape from the crowds and just relax, unwind, and reenergize.
The Kona Café's lunch menu is surprisingly extensive and offers a variety of unique offerings highlighting Hawaiian cuisine with a bit of an Asian flair.
For appetizers there is the Grilled Beef Satay ($9.99), skewers of marinated beef served with bulgogi sauce, Lump Crab Cakes ($11.49) with a jalapeno-lime cream, Fried Rock Shrimp ($14.99) with a passion fruit-mustard sauce, Thai-Spiced Watermelon Soup ($6.99), Spinach Salad ($10.49) with heirloom tomatoes and duck prosciutto, Sticky Wings ($8.99) glazed with a tangy mustard drizzle and toasted sesame seeds, Pot Stickers ($7.49) topped with a creamy ginger-soy sauce, and the Kona Salad ($8.49) featuring mixed greens, blue cheese, fresh fruit, red onions, and smoked almonds with a citrus vinaigrette.
The lunch menu's entrée offerings are more on the lighter side, featuring a variety of sandwiches, which are far different from the entrees on the dinner menu. For lunch there is also the Polynesian Plate Lunch ($14.99) featuring either Pan-Fried Chicken with Coconut and Mango Sauces or Grilled Teriyaki Steak with Grilled Pineapple Salsa served with sticky rice and pasta salad. Other lunch entrees include Fish Tacos ($14.99) topped with tomato salsa and mango mayonnaise, Barbecue Pork Tacos ($11.99) with pulled pork, tomato salsa, and jalapeno-lime sour cream $11.99, Pan Asian Noodles with wok-seared vegetables and your choice of Chicken in ginger-garlic sauce ($16.99) or with Shrimp ($17.99), a Grilled Steak Salad ($15.99) with mixed greens and a cashew lime vinaigrette, and the Asian Noodle Bowl ($14.99) with spiced beef broth, strip steak, Asian vegetables, and rice noodles.
As for the aforementioned sandwiches, there are several including the Grilled Ahi Tuna Sandwich ($13.49) served on pineapple bread, the Kona Turkey Sandwich ($11.99) served on house-made bread with caramelized onion, purple-haze hoisin mayonnaise, arugula, tomato and bacon, the Kona Surf and Turf Burger Deluxe ($15.49) topped with spicy fried shrimp and black garlic aioli, and the Island Chicken Sandwich ($13.99) featuring grilled chicken breast with bacon, Swiss cheese, curry-mango mayonnaise, and fried onions on a kaiser roll.
For dinner the menu becomes a little more upscale with heartier options such as Grilled Lamb Chops ($24.99) with roasted root vegetables, swiss chard, and mango chutney, Kona Coffee-Rubbed Pork Chop ($21.99) grilled and served with mashed sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetables, Pan Seared Duck Breast ($21.99) served with cranberry beans, chorizo sausage, and spinach in a tamarind sauce, Teriyaki Style New York Strip ($28.99) grilled with a pineapple teriyaki glaze and served with sticky rice and stir-fried broccolini, and Sesame Seared Sea Scallops ($18.99).
The dessert choices are the same for both lunch and dinner and include a White Chocolate Cheesecake ($5.49) topped with strawberry coulis and whipped cream, the Kilauea Torte ($5.49), a No Sugar Added Apple Stacker ($6.49) featuring crisp cinnamon won tons served with vanilla ice cream, Banana-Chocolate Creme Brulee ($5.99), Chocolate Fondue ($6.99), Pineapple Upside Down Cake ($5.99), and the Kona Kone ($5.99), which is Kona Café's special ice cream sundae served in a waffle cone surrounded by cotton candy.
For my lunch I decided on the Island Chicken Sandwich. What struck me most about this sandwich was not only is massive size piled high with toppings, but also the intricate combination of flavors that all blended together so well. The chicken breast itself was moist and tender. Along with that came Swiss cheese and bacon that provided a hint of smokiness. There was also the light and refreshing taste of lettuce and tomato, but it was the two final components of the sandwich that really made it special.
First were the fried onions whose crispiness and bold flavor really made them stand out. Finally, the sandwich was topped with a curry-mango mayonnaise that helped give the sandwich its unique, tropical-inspired taste. The combination of curry and mango at the same time added a slight sweetness to the sandwich while also providing a little extra kick, but I did not find the curry flavor to be so overwhelming as to detract from the other flavors. In fact, that is really what made the sandwich so enjoyable because all these various flavors combined together so well. The sandwich came served alongside a generous portion of sweet potato fries. These were a fresh and flavorful alternative to typical French fries that also help to tie in better with the restaurant's overall South Seas/Hawaiian feel.
As good as that sandwich was, it was dessert that absolutely blew me away. After some debate I ended up choosing the Kilauea Torte. This chocolate cake with a warm chocolate center is a very rich, decadent, filling dessert, but you will want to eat the entire thing. The warm chocolate comes oozing out as you cut into the cake. The whipped cream and vanilla ice cream that accompany the torte provide a light and refreshing contrast that pair perfectly with so much rich, chocolaty flavor. I would not hesitate to say that this has become one of my favorite desserts in any Disney restaurant.
I found the service at Kona Café to be as equally impressive as the food. After finding out that I had never been to the restaurant for lunch, my server began to provide detailed descriptions of several menu items, pointing out which were the most popular and which were some of her personal favorites. Throughout the course of my meal my server was constantly checking in on me to ensure that I was enjoying everything. The meal progressed at a calm, relaxing pace so I did not feel as if I was being rushed at all.
When it was time for dessert, my server explained that they were making the tortes fresh in the oven and it would be just a few extra minutes. Not in a rush, I told her that it was no problem at all. When my server brought me my bill at the end of the meal she informed me that I would not be charged for the dessert since it took so long, even though in reality it was just a few extra minutes of waiting and posed no real inconvenience. This is just an example of the type of service that sets Disney dining apart. No matter what the restaurant or dining experience I continue to find dedicated Cast Members who really go above and beyond creating magic for their Guests. The service I received at Kona Café made an already good meal even better, and that would have still held true even if I had not gotten a complimentary dessert.
Dining on a Budget:
Lunch at the Kona Café is a great option if you are looking for a high quality meal at an affordable price. The sandwiches range in price from $11.99 to $15.49 and even the non-sandwich menu items are reasonably priced by Disney standards. There are the Fish Tacos for $14.99, the Barbeque Pork Tacos for $11.99, and an especially good value is the Polynesian Plate Lunch for $14.99. This is probably the best way to get the most bang-for-your-buck as you get to choose either the pan-fried chicken with coconut and mango sauces or the grilled teriyaki steak with grilled pineapple salsa and each come accompanied by both sticky rice and pasta salad. I would definitely recommend lunch over dinner at Kona Café if you are dining on a budget as the menu offerings at night are slightly more pricey.
The Kona Café is on the Disney Dining Plan and is one table service credit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are on the dining plan, you would definitely get more value if dining here for dinner as opposed to breakfast or lunch. Kona Café also participates in Tables in Wonderland and members can receive a 20% discount. There are no further discounts for Annual Passholders or Disney Vacation Club members.
The Overall Experience:
Kona Café has always been one of my favorite Disney restaurants for breakfast, but it has now become one of my favorite dining locations for lunch as well. The restaurant's quiet, casual, relaxed setting make it the perfect escape and yet it is just a short Monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom. With such easy accessibility I am actually surprised it is not more crowded during its lunchtime hours, but that is part of the restaurant's appeal. With reservations at Ohana so hard to come by and with the popularity of the Spirit of Aloha Polynesian Luau, the Kona Café offers a great alternative that you don't necessarily need to book months in advance while still giving you the same South Seas-inspiried feel. I strongly recommend Kona Café to anyone staying at the Polynesian Resort. Even for those who are not, it is worth the short trip over from Magic Kingdom. Even though it took me a while before I tried lunch here for the first time, it will certainly not be that long until I am back again.
See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.
Check out Reader Reviews of Kona Cafe and post your own too!