Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is once again welcoming guests and one of the most requested hotels in Walt Disney World. “Ohana is also back, with early dinner reservations booked weeks in advance despite high prices and uneven quality. Meanwhile, Poly’s top restaurant is flying under the radar, with last-minute ADRs, fair prices, and delicious food. Like before. Like always. (Updated on June 4, 2022.)
I don’t think it will shock some Walt Disney World fans to hear that we think Kona Cafe is the best restaurant in Poly. While ‘Ohana has far more cachet, mainstream popularity, and name recognition, Kona Cafe is a longtime Walt Disney World fan favorite. Part of that is down to quality and price. If we’re being honest, part of it is also because Kona Cafe is much easier to book. Many locals, annual passholders, and DVC members just aren’t willing to jump through the hoops for ‘Ohana.
In some ways, Kona Cafe reminds me of Steakhouse 71, Geyser Point, Three Bridges, Sanaa, and Grand Floridian Cafe. None of these are the big name restaurants in their respective resorts. However, they tend to be more popular – and even preferred – among repeat visitors. All are “hidden gems” of Walt Disney World dining options that we would categorize under “Real OGs know.” That said, we’ve actually had a roller coaster relationship with Kona Cafe over the years…
Update June 4, 2022: Walt Disney World has announced that the Kona Cafe will soon be closing for what will likely be a lengthy renovation. Here is the message from Disney:
“As of August 15, 2022, the Kona Cafe will be closed for renovations. During this time, guests can continue to use the mobile ordering service through the My Disney Experience app to order select Kona Island breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings.
Right now, the Kona Cafe renovation is listed as ending in September 2022. That’s probably because the timeline only goes that far, not because that’s when the project should. end. In reality, we expect the restaurant to be closed for a few months, hoping to reopen in time for the holiday season. Because nothing says “Christmas” more than the Kona Cafe! (Actually, that’s because the holidays are busy, with resorts and restaurants booking solidly – so the Poly will need the dining capacity.)
Our hope is that this is a refresh of the Kona Cafe seating area, which, as noted below, is showing its age. I’m skeptical that the restaurant can be significantly improved given the space constraints, but I also don’t think it can be ‘ruined’ given the relatively bland design. I hope Imagineering proves me wrong on the first but not the second – they did a good job with the Wave to Steakhouse 71 transformation, so I’m optimistic about that as well.
If you want to have your “last meal” at the Kona Cafe before the renovation, the following review covers our most recent experience at the restaurant…
In the heyday of the Disney Dining Plan, we ate in Kona on every trip. I’ve eaten their New York Strip Steak at least half a dozen times, and there were several items that offered great value. Kona Cafe was also a good pocket-sized option, with several more budget-friendly options.
At some point the menu changed and became much more expensive. This came at a time when we weren’t doing the Disney dining plan as often, so Kona Cafe became a much harder sell. Dropping more than $50 per person for the meal made it easier to see Kona’s flaws, like its relatively minimal theming and “mall food court” vibe thanks to guests hanging out just outside the dining halls. tables while waiting for their ‘Ohana reservations. Now things have come full circle again…
Our most recent meals at Kona Cafe have all been spectacular, a trend that dates back to before last year and continued through the official reopening of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Most recently, we dined at the Kona Cafe for lunch while staying in one of the Poly’s “Moana Makeover” rooms.
This meal and our previous two reminded us of the Kona Cafe we fell in love with over a decade ago. A range of prices plus fun cooking, inventive items and comfort food. Still no Disney meal plan and that Teriyaki-style New York steak is long gone, but there’s lots to love about Kona Cafe!
Let’s start with the atmosphere. Nothing is different here with Kona Cafe – the seating has been more or less unchanged for years. Kona Cafe is starting to show its age with the patterns on the benches and carpeting, but it’s still okay. There isn’t much space to work with here, so I don’t even know what Imagineering could do to improve the theme.
The Kona Cafe opens on the second level of the lobby, offering views of the atrium. It is both an asset and a liability. It’s great when it’s not crowded, as it gives the restaurant a light and airy feel, and feels less claustrophobic and confined, avoiding the woes of the Wave. It’s unpleasant when the upper level of the Poly is full of people waiting for ‘Ohana. Fortunately, this is not a problem at the moment.
Our meal at Kona Cafe begins with a bread service, which is simply regular rolls served with plain butter.
Totally usable, but nothing special. “Free refill” is basically what these rollers offer.
For our appetizer, we ordered the crispy pork and vegetable pot sticker with soy and vinaigrette dressing.
No, I didn’t accidentally use a photo of a hash brown…
Flipping the pancake-like food will reveal five pot stickers.
These are truly some of the best potty stickers we’ve ever had. In our ‘Ohana Family Style Dinner Review, the pork dumplings are one of the few things we praised. These are even better. The filling between the two is very similar, but what sets them above is the crunchy texture and creamy dressing. tasty and fantastic.
Speaking of ‘Ohana, you can order versions of all of this restaurant’s best dishes at Kona Cafe.
If you were to order those pot stickers, the glazed chicken wings, our final entree and the bread pudding (off the menu), it would cost you $55 – or exactly the price of dinner at ‘Ohana for one – and would be enough food for two people.
We also did the Kona Cafe To-Go and ordered the Lobster and Crab Mac and Cheese.
It’s plentiful and fantastic. Rich and heavy, with plenty of lobster and crab meat and a blend of quality cheeses. We both loved it and highly recommend this appetizer. It’s reasonably priced, especially considering the amount of seafood in it.
We also ordered the steak salad: sunny egg, homemade Kona dressing, sweet peppers, mix of kale and arugula.
I can’t even remember why we ordered this. Want to eat healthy? Either way, what you see is what you get. This salad is not remarkable or recommended.
Going back to that Kona Cafe lunch, we ordered the duck fried rice with leg confit: crispy duck spring roll, shiitake mushrooms, togarashi, grilled bok choy.
There are actually differences between the lunch and dinner menus at Kona Cafe, and the two dishes we ordered are for lunch only. They are replaced by Asian-marinated Airline Chicken and Kona Braised Short Rib for dinner.
At $32, the duck fried rice is the most expensive item on the lunch menu.
It’s worth every penny. The duck leg was tender and delicious on its own and the duck spring roll was tasty, but it was the duck fried rice itself that was the star. Tasty and delicious, it was a huge, meaty portion of fried rice. This photo makes it look smaller, but we were only able to finish halfway through – and it was perfect for leftovers. Highly recommended.
Finally, the Kona Chicken Sauté: Yakisoba Noodles, Napa Cabbage, Carrots, Teriyaki Sauce.
Upon tasting them, Sarah’s immediate reaction was, “These are better than ‘Ohana noodles.” She’s right. Like these, these noodles have a nice balance of savory and sweet flavors, with a good springy consistency, good chewiness and good thickness. The rest of the stir-fry also gave them a better outer texture. Again, we were only able to complete half. The only downside to this dish is that our smaller piece of chicken (the one on the right) was dry. Otherwise, absolutely fantastic and highly recommended (although not as much as the duck fried rice), especially for Ohana noodle fans.
Ultimately, this only scratches the surface of why we love Kona Cafe again. If anything, I feel like we are undersell with this review. We had another meal here shortly after the last major menu overhaul and it was also delicious – I can’t locate those photos, but we found the sushi to be surprisingly good. We’d also like to try dashi bowls, poke bowls and more –the next time! (Plus, the Kona Cafe breakfast is excellent.)
That said, we can still understand why the Kona Cafe is less popular with casual Walt Disney World visitors than ‘Ohana. While we’d take the food and the prices at the Kona Cafe any day on ‘Ohana, there is absolutely something to be said for the atmosphere and views of Magic Kingdom in ‘Ohana. Kona Cafe definitely lags behind in this regard, which makes it much less memorable as a restaurant. live. If the full package and creating memories is more important and you don’t mind paying too much, ‘Ohana is still the superior option. For food, Kona Cafe is the far superior choice.
Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Learn more about the hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page. To find out where to eat, read our Walt Disney World restaurant reviews. To save money on tickets or figure out which type to buy, read our tips for saving money on Walt Disney World tickets. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips article takes a unique look at smart on-the-go items. To know what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride guides will help you. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Travel Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have you dined at the Kona Cafe? Favorite starters, main courses or desserts? Have you tried the ‘Ohana menu items (or their close counterparts) served at Kona Cafe? Will you make a reservation in advance for lunch or dinner here? What did you think? Worth it for the food, ambiance or both? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any other thoughts or concerns? Questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback – even when you disagree with us – is both interesting for us and helpful for other readers, so share your thoughts below in the comments!