Kona Cafe Review
Kona Cafe is a table service restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort. This review features food photos plus our take on the cuisine, value for money, and ambiance of Kona Cafe. In terms of general overview, Kona Cafe’s menu adds some Asian twists into traditional American breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The restaurant participates in the Disney Dining Plan and also accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount. Kona Cafe is a reasonably good value on the Disney Dining Plan for lunch and dinner. This review focuses on those meals at Kona Cafe–we cover breakfast in a separate review.
Being right next to the phenomenally popular ‘Ohana, Kona Cafe is a hidden gem that is sort of hiding in plain sight. It’s only a “hidden” gem to the extent that many guests overlook it in favor of ‘Ohana. I guess the more apt descriptor would be that Kona Cafe is the “ugly duckling.” Whatever you want to call it, the good news is that Kona delivers fairly well in terms of cuisine.
This is despite ambiance that, admittedly, is nothing special. Essentially, it’s an open-air restaurant that exposes restaurant patrons to the open-air atrium of the Great Ceremonial House. As the Great Ceremonial House is well-themed and relaxing, you might think this is no big deal. Unfortunately, as noted, Kona Cafe is adjacent to the incredibly popular ‘Ohana.
Even during slower times of the year, guests waiting for ‘Ohana are often loitering about right outside Kona Cafe, which is what makes it not-so-hidden of a gem. If you’re seated as far away from the outer edge of the restaurant as possible, you may not notice this, but we’ve never been so lucky. If you’re seated at one of the tables by the outer edge of the restaurant, it feels almost like eating in a mall food court. To us, this really takes the ambiance down a peg.
Ambiance is important at Walt Disney World restaurants, so that’s no minor issue, but at least the food is generally pretty good at Kona…
We first reviewed Kona Cafe after a meal there on our Walt Disney World Honeymoon when we were on the Disney Dining Plan. We had dined at Kona Cafe previously, but those were before we documented our every meal meticulously, so our “story” begins there. On that trip, we both ended up ordering the New York Strip Steak. I don’t know if that’s what influenced me to order the New York strip–what island makes a good steak!?!–but whatever influenced me, I thank.
Condensing my meal to a word, the steak was amazing. Everything a steak should be: lean yet flavorful, hearty, and with the perfect amount of fat to give the steak a little flavor without being “fatty.” A pineapple teriyaki sauce also gave the steak a different flavor than you’d find elsewhere, which was the perfect Polynesian touch. Honestly, I can’t go on for fear I will head to the airport today for Walt Disney World. The steak was perfect. In addition to the steak, I had mashed Yukon potatoes, which were also amazing. Some 6 years later, this steak is still on the menu (with minor tweaks), and I can still remember it vividly. Enough said.
On a recent follow-up visit, Sarah had the Togarashi-spiced Ahi Tuna with tempura fried vegetable and red wine reduction. While the tuna–and entire dish–was perfectly prepared, this seemed like a very small dish given the price. The presentation was beautiful, and almost as if the restaurant were striving for fine dining…but Kona Cafe is far from fine dining, so a larger portion would’ve been preferred.
I had the Pan-seared Duck Breast served with Mung, Adzuki, and Cranberry Beans plus Chorizo Sausage and spinach in a Tamarind Gastrique. In terms of taste, Kona Cafe once again hit a home run for me. However, much like my complaint about Sarah’s Ahi Tuna dish, size was an issue here. In fairness, duck entrees tend to be on the small side everywhere, but this seemed like it was on the smallish end of the small spectrum.
Friends joined us for the meal, one of whom ordered the Kona Coffee-rubbed Pork Chop and the other ordered the Grilled Curry-crusted Lamb Chops. The size on both dishes was more in line with what we expect from a restaurant like Kona Cafe, but I could swear that same pork chop was a good 30% larger when I ordered it many moons ago.
The coffee rub made for a unique dish…although I’m not so sure she thought it was unique in must-do way. Both liked their dishes, but I wouldn’t say any of us were dying to get back to Kona Cafe after this meal. Had the portions been in line with our past experiences, we would have felt differently,
During our honeymoon, our waitress brought us a celebratory treat for our honeymoon. It was a nice touch and something we appreciated, but it doesn’t affect my review of the restaurant either way, as this is probably not something most guests will receive. Still, if you’re celebrating something on your trip, it would be wise to note this when you make your advance dining reservations.
Dessert at Kona Cafe was also excellent and offered a bit of Island flair. The Kilauea Torte and Chocolate Fondue are both excellent choices, and are very appropriate choices for the restaurant. They’re all also reasonably priced, so even if you can’t do an entire meal at Kona Cafe, it may be worthwhile to stop over to enjoy dessert before relaxing on the beach to enjoy the sunset.
Overall, Kona Cafe falls a rung or 3 with this update to our original review. In our original review, I wrote that, “I strongly believe that anyone taking a trip to Walt Disney World, even if not staying at the Polynesian, should head over once for a meal and to soak up the ambiance.” I still agree with the Ghost of Tom’s Past that every guest to Walt Disney World should visit Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, but our recent experience has significantly tempered my enthusiasm for Kona Cafe. If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan and will use those credits for the New York Strip Steak, go for it. Otherwise, you might want to stick with ‘Ohana or even Captain Cook’s during your visit to the Poly. The rest of the menu and the atmosphere of the restaurant simply leave too much to be desired.
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Are you a fan of Kona Cafe? If so, is it for the food, for the Polynesian ambiance, or for some other reason? Have a favorite dish here? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Just Got back from a long Disney World Trip. This by far was the worst place we ate. We loved everywhere else we dined. Service was fair. Sushi boring, not tasty. Poki Bowls not really a bowl. No seasoning on fish and not filling. I would not recommend or go back. Always pricey at Disney but this was ridiculous for what we got.
My husband and I love to eat at the Kona Cafe. I really love the potstickers. I was so excited to order the bread pudding dessert. I wish our waitress told us that it wasn’t the same as Ohana’s. I don’t like pineapple so I hated it. The dessert cost $12.00, which isn’t a problem if you like it. We didn’t eat the dessert, and we had to ask the waitress to take it off the bill. I thought she should have suggested that since she knew that we didn’t like it. Other than the dessert we loved the meal.
Can you see the fireworks in the evening from Kona?
We always eat at Kona Cafe for breakfast and we love it. The coffee is great and the food selection and taste is very good. As for the ambience I fully agree that it just doesn’t cut it as a Disney experience. It is more like an open air market, or a sidewalk cafe with people walking by or loitering outside. That is why I would never consider the restaurant for dinner. I would expect a better atmosphere to warrant the high cost of dining in the evening.
First off – Thanks for all of your info and tips. We just got back from our first Christmas at Disney and it was overall an exceptional trip. Kona was pretty much the only low point throughout the 4 days.
The ambiance wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great. There were a couple flickering light bulbs that created enough of a strobe light effect that we almost switched tables. But they seemed to simmer down a bit by the time our server arrived. The line for ‘Ohana was on the opposite side, near the elevators. I’m not sure if that is a permanent change or just where the crowd happened to migrate too that evening, but there was not a lot of crowd noise from outside the restaurant.
The pot stickers and steam buns were pretty good, as was the sushi. But my entree was one of the worst plates I have ever received at Disney World. I ordered the duck breast (seasonal plating was a bit different; lentils, shallot, parsnip and black-rice wine vinegar sauce). Lentils were very under-cooked, and the veg included some pretty big chunks of red peppers that I wasn’t expecting. The lentil/veg mix was also spicy, I don’t mind spicy food but I wasn’t expecting it. It was also enough blind heat to kill whatever other flavor there might have been. The duck breast itself was a catastrophe. Skin was not scored leaving way too much fat un-rendered and creating a soggy-chewy sort of texture instead of a crispy delicious duck skin, it was also poorly seasoned and the doneness was inconsistent.
This was the first meal at Disney I have sent back.
That being said; the chef came out and apologized. He was visibly embarrassed and upset that plate left his kitchen. He ensure the item was off the bill, and offered a replacement.
Mistakes happen in the kitchen, and this was a perfect storm of 3 or 4 mistakes all happening at once on a single plate. It’s rare, but it happens. They did do everything they should have to make it right, and I believe this chef is going to take measures to ensure it won’t happen again.
Unfortunately, it means we will probably not visit this one again. If we’re in the mood for sushi, we’ll hit California Grill.
It has been a newer tradition that we eat at the Kona Cafe for dinner on the first night of our Walt Disney World trips. There is a wide variety of entrees so there is something for everyone. At our table the last time we visited (week of July 4, 2016) you would find the pot stickers, BBQ sliders, Asian noodles, Steak, the lava roll and volcano roll. We all tried a different desert and none would disappoint. I don’t mind looking out and seeing the activity in the lobby because it is decorated so nice and gives me an “island Feel”. We have also had breakfast there and the Tonga Toast is truly a treat. I recommend eating here and enjoy it more than O’Hana.
I often talk about the New York Strip Steak that I ordered at Kona! We love Kona Cafe. In fact, as much as we love O’hana, I would venture to say that the New York Strip was a better meal than our last meal at Kona. I am counting down the days to our next visit so that I can have it again! Cheers!
We visited in 2014 and did not go back last year. Food was very good, but service did not meet our expectation for friendliness or attentiveness. We watched our server dote on the table next to us while all but ignoring our table and responding brusquely when we needed his attention. Meh is the final thought on our experience.
We ate at Kona in September on our last day of vacation. It was hands down the family’s favourite meal. Husband raved about the sea scallops, but I want to give a shout out to the veggie noodle bowl. One of the few vegetarian entrees I came across that thought about protein. Also. So spicy and good! But not too spicy for my 10 year old. However, my lava cake was super disappointing. Overcooked and not lava-y at all.
Great place for lunch. They made me a vegan, gluten free noodle stir-fry two different times as I have dietary restrictions. Two different stir-fries and both were amazing. Can’t wait to go back!
We made reservations for Kona Cafe last february based on your review alone. It was absolutely delicious! The chocolate banana creme brulee is adictive, and their coffee is one of the best I’ve ever had. Thanks so much for your articles, reading them is like being transported back to WDW again and again.
Thanks so much for the review of Kona Cafe. We have been there for breakfast and we love the
Tonga Toast. We have reservations for our trip in May for dinner.
Can’t wait to eat there.