Royal Hawaiian Laguna Beach: An Honest Review

Royal Hawaiian foyer
When you step through the doors of the the Royal Hawaiian you are swept away to this tropical oasis.

Are you looking for unique dining near Disneyland? You may want to check out the newly relaunched Royal Hawaiian in beautiful Laguna Beach, California. This hidden gem offers a delightful tropical escape with a rich history and a beautiful tiki design.

Royal Hawaiian bar
The bar is well-appointed, well-lit, and beautifully adorned.

We recently visited the Royal Hawaiian during its soft launch, and while we loved the beautifully designed interior, there were a few misses we want to share with you. Join us as we share our experience of this iconic destination.

Royal Hawaiian window box
Near the back of the restaurant is a window box scene.

A Historic Tiki Oasis in Laguna Beach

As one of the oldest tiki restaurants in the country, the Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach is well-known and loved by people who enjoy Tiki culture. It was opened in 1947 by Harold “Hal” Hanna and World War II buddy, Francis Cabang. They created a place where Tiki enthusiasts could hang out near the beach. Eventually, Hal sold the restaurant to Francis and his family. The restaurant changed hands several times over the years but closed temporarily in 2022.

Royal Hawaiian clam throne
The giant clam throne becomes the go-to picture spot for family and friends.

The Royal Hawaiian is now owned by Boulevard Hospitality Group and they’ve worked hard to reconstruct it to its former tiki glory. Notch Gonzales from Top Notch Kustoms was brought in to craft a rich tapestry of Polynesian-inspired designs.

Royal Hawaiian ceiling decor ships wheel
Everywhere you look, the attention to detail adds to the ambiance.

A mostly Immersive Tiki Atmosphere

Royal Hawaiian view dining room
As you step past the foyer you get your first view of the dining room.

As we stepped into the Royal Hawaiian, we were immediately transported to a tropical paradise. The vibrant decor, bamboo accents, and traditional tiki statues set the stage for an unforgettable experience. The hostesses seemed new to their jobs and were mainly focused on seating patrons rather than creating a memorable and engaging experience.

Royal Hawaiian booth
At the Royal Hawaiian, the booths are elegantly adorned with “jade” tiles and feature unique thatched roofs, imparting a sense of intimacy and exclusivity to your gathering.

The Missing Complexity of Top Tiki Drinks

Royal Hawaiian cocktail menu
The Royal Hawaiian offers the standard staple of classic tiki and contemporary cocktails.

One aspect of our visit that left us slightly disappointed where the tiki drinks. While the Royal Hawaiian offers a wide selection of tropical concoctions, we found the drinks we selected lacked the intricate flavors and balance we come to expect from other top-notch tiki bars.

Chief Lapu Lapu

Royal Hawaiian Chief Lapu Lapu
Chief Lapu Lapu – Francis Cabang’s famous 1947 Lapu Lapu has a mix of Hamilton light and dark rums, passion fruit, and orange juice.

You can only judge the drink you’re served, not the history or its reputation. Considering this is the Royal Hawaiian’s “must-have signature drink,” and our waiter was pushing it hard, I assumed this would be a slam dunk. With quality Hamilton dark and light rums, passion and orange juices, a cinnamon stick, and fresh mint, I expected much more from this drink. Unfortunately, it was a very one-dimensional drink with a slight unripened sour fruit taste.

Triple Happiness

Royal Hawaiian triple happiness
The Triple Happiness is a contemporary tiki cocktail. Described as smokey, sweet, and tropical this is a tequila and Mezcal forward cocktail.

The triple happiness cocktail is intriguingly portrayed as “Smokey,” visually presented in a tall glass nestled within a skull-shaped bowl, emanating wisps of smoke. At first glance, one might expect the drink itself to possess a smoky essence. However, this assumption would be incorrect. The true source of the Smokey taste in this drink lies solely in the Mezcal, without any discernible traces of sweet or traditional “tropical” flavors as described on the drink menu.

A well-executed brunch with mixed results

The restaurant features a range of Hawaiian-inspired dishes, including succulent seafood, grilled specialties, and tropical desserts. Since we were there for a soft launch during the weekend, we were offered their brunch menu.

Royal Hawaiian ahi poke
Tuna poke – cold ahi tuna dressed with soy, sesame oil, honey, and garlic, on top of rice. The poke was simple and good.
Royal Hawaiian Laguna Beach loco-moco
Loco-Moco – savory beef patty topped with mushroom gravy & fried eggs. Served with rice and Mac salad. This was savory and delicious!
Royal Hawaiian the full Haole breakfast
The full Haole breakfast – Spam, Portuguese sausage, ham, eggs, roasted tomatoes, (missing pickles), rice, and Mac salad. With no seasoning or sauces, the full Haole was a very basic breakfast.
Royal Hawaiian pecan banana pancakes
On their brunch menu, the pecan banana pancakes were light on the bananas and surprisingly expensive for what you get. At the very least, it should have included a protein.

Superficial Beauty

The Royal Hawaiian Tiki restaurant is undeniably stunning, with its vibrant decor and meticulous attention to detail. Every inch of the place is designed to be visually captivating, from the intricately carved tikis to the lush tropical foliage.

Royal Hawaiian hall
Even the halls are beautifully decorated.

However, beneath its beautiful facade, the experience falls short of expectations. Despite their visually appealing presentation, the drinks at The Royal Hawaiian tiki restaurant disappoint in terms of depth and complexity, resulting in one-dimensional flavors that fail to ignite the taste buds. While the accompanying garnishes do little to elevate the overall drinking experience. Furthermore, the food prices are exorbitant, leaving patrons feeling unsatisfied with the value they receive. Additionally, it’s disappointing that the restaurant doesn’t offer custom or limited edition tiki mugs, which could have added a touch of exclusivity and uniqueness to the experience.

Tips for visiting the Royal Hawaiian

  • Make reservations: while we were not blown away by the food or drinks, the beautiful decor and proximity to the beach will attract a lot of people.
  • Set the right expectation going in. You’re going to see a beautiful tiki restaurant, but at this time, don’t expect too much more.
  • Try something other than the Chief Lapu Lapu or the Triple Happiness. Neither were winners in our books.
  • Maybe skip the main brunch dishes and try some appetizers?

Suggestions for the Royal Hawaiian

Since they are just relaunching, I’m sure there are a lot of tweaks they could be willing to make.

  • Create a single-threaded story for the experience. Why is there a window box with skulls on spikes in the back of the restaurant? Why is there a giant clam shell and a fish aquarium? Find a story to tell and give the hosts and wait staff roles in that story. Include merchandise (like limited edition tiki mugs) that capture the story too.
  • The bartenders are the soul of a tiki bar. If they are not producing well-balanced and exotic drinks the rest of the experience is going to fall flat. This seemed like the biggest miss in our visit.
  • The brunch menu didn’t fully land for us and that was with the guidance of our waiter. If you’re charging higher prices, your patrons are going to expect finishing touches that elevate those current dishes.

The Royal Hawaiian boasts a captivating beauty and extensive history, and we have high hopes for its relaunch to be a resounding success. However, achieving long-term prosperity will hinge upon their ability to address some key elements that are currently absent, as these elements have the potential to transform this restaurant into a cherished and timeless tiki treasure of Laguna Beach.

About our
rating of The Royal Hawaiian
The decor was stunning but the tiki drinks, service, and quality of the dishes was sub-par.

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