Polynesia in the Desert: Tonga Hut Restaurant and Tiki Bar is a Hidden Gem

In the 1960s it wasn’t hard to find a Polynesian Hawaiian esthetic sweeping across America, and in Palm Springs it too found a home. Places like Don the Beachcomber, Waltah Clarke’s Hawaiian Shop, Aloha Joe’s, and place that remain today like Caliente Tropics Hotel and the Royal Hawaiian Estates. 

Tonga Hut Palm Springs located upstairs at 254 N. Palm Canyon Drive (across from the Hyatt Hotel), houses a neo-retro Tiki bar and Polynesian/Cantonese restaurant. The bar features music and patio overlooking Palm Canyon, and inside booths to lounge while drinking traditional Polynesian-inspired drinks.

The restaurant’s booths display photos and memorabilia from Palm Springs’ rich Tiki past, as well as the hidden Tonga Room, a secret space that you access via a telephone booth that can be booked for small private parties.

The night we were there we opted to sit outside overlooking Palm Canyon and listen to the acoustic guitar sounds of Alex A singing a mix of blues, jazz, Latin and oldies. 

With a wide variety of Tiki Classics and Tonga Hut Originals we began the evening with a Mai Tai ($10) (based on the 1944 Trader Vic’s recipe) and a Mojave Punch ($10) made with Hibiscus syrup, rum, and passion fruit, topped off with the ubiquitous paper umbrella, maraschino cherry and pineapple slice. Boy did those go down quickly. It must have been the warm dry desert air.

Tonga Hut really has a large variety of appetizers and small bites you can share, and we tried two of them: Coconut Shrimp ($12) and Popcorn Chicken ($8). The shrimp were huge, coated with lots of coconut and served with both a sweet chili sauce and pineapple mango puree. I loved them both. Some of the best Coconut Shrimp I’ve had in town. The serving of Popcorn Chicken was huge; easily shared with two or more. It comes with two preparations, teriyaki orange or sesame lemon. We had the Sesame. I loved the crunch and flavor that the sesame added to the chicken pieces. I’d go back for just these two appetizers.

The entrees at Tonga Hut are a mix of Polynesian-Cantonese Tiki Style with seafood, meat, vegetables and rice. I went with the Kailua Pork ($24); slow roasted pulled pork served with grilled onions, Asian slaw and brown rice. A nice portion, all of the flavors mixed well together for a tasty sweet and tangy dish. 

My companion chose the Mahi Mahi ($22) that was a large almond crusted piece that was crunchy on the outside and moist and flakey on the inside. It was served with a nice portion of vegetables and rice. He chose the fried rice. I would definitely have that again, even though I thought the Pork more of a Polynesian-style dish.

Other items on the menu include Spare Ribs, Lo Mein, Sliders, and Huli Huli Chicken to name a few.

Our dinner was complete with a sampling of two desserts: a cheesecake with chocolate sauce, and hot Lava Cake served with ice cream and a White Chocolate Tiki. The lava cake was so good that we almost got two. However I can certainly imagine going back on a weekend for their late night menu (10 pm to 1 am) and having it with some late night cocktails.

Tonga Hut – Palm Springs
254 N Palm Canyon Dr
Palm Springs, CA 92262
www.tongahut.com
Tuesday – Thursday | 5PM – 12Midnight
Friday | 5PM – 2AM
Saturday & Sunday | 2PM – 2AM
Not handicapped accessible

 

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